MEMBERS of the international community have commended the recent return of three opposition leaders from exile in South Africa, calling on Lesotho’s political leaders to “seize the opportunity” by working towards bring peace and stability.
In a joint statement issued on Friday, the United Nations in Lesotho, Heads of Mission of the European Union and its member states accredited to Lesotho as well as the heads of mission of Canada, Norway and Switzerland accredited to Lesotho, urged Lesotho’s body politic to collaborate in bringing an end to the country’s political challenges in light of the exiled leaders’ return.
Former premier and All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane, Thesele ’Maseribane of the Basotho National Party and Keketso Rantšo of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho returned to Lesotho on Sunday last week after an almost two-year self-imposed exile in the neighbouring country.
The trio had fled in May 2015 saying they had been alerted of a plot to kill them by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), an allegation the army has vehemently denied. The opposition leaders had accused then army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli of masterminding the alleged assassination plots and insisted they would only return home when he had been removed from the military command.
Dr Thabane had also fled the country on 28 August 2014, while he was still prime minister, claiming some LDF members were out to kill him and topple his government.
A month after the exiled leaders fled the country, former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao was killed by his erstwhile LDF colleagues on 25 June 2015, purportedly while resisting arrest on suspicion he was the ringleader of an alleged mutiny plot. Soon after the killing, government requested the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help probe the tragedy and to interrogate the issues that caused the Mountain Kingdom’s perennial instability.
SADC then established a commission of inquiry led by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi which carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015.
The 10-member commission subsequently made several recommendations chief of which were the removal of Lt-Gen Kamoli “to restore Basotho’s trust” in the LDF and a probe into his predecessor’s killing as well as the prosecution of those found to be responsible.
The commission also recommended security, public sector and constitutional reforms, among others, as well as the return of the exiled leaders to participate in the reforms process.
After government relented on its insistence that Lt-Gen Kamoli was not going anywhere, the former army chief was retired in December 2016 paving the way for the exiled leaders’ return.
The opposition leaders’ return was presided by SADC Facilitator to Lesotho, South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa, who also suggested a government of national unity (GNU) as opposed to the no-confidence motion on the Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led government mooted by the opposition when parliament reconvenes on 24 February 2017.
However, the opposition has stressed that they would only be amenable to a GNU if they are at the helm, arguing that they now constituted the majority in parliament after the two main ruling parties split.
For their part, members of the international community have called on the country’s political actors to prioritise “national interest” to ensure lasting peace and stability. The exiled leaders’ return, they say, is an opportunity for collaboration.
“The United Nations in Lesotho and the Heads of Mission note the return of opposition leaders on 12th February. With this return, we strongly encourage all political leaders to seize the opportunity and, mindful of the national interest, collaborate towards enhancing political stability in the country,” reads part of the joint statement.
“We commend the sustained commitment of SADC and local civil society and church leaders to supporting Lesotho, including the most recent visits by SADC Facilitator, South African Deputy President Ramaphosa. We also welcome the commitment of SADC to provide expert support to constitutional and security sector reforms.”
The members of the international community have also offered support in the implementation of reforms.
“As long-standing partners and friends of Basotho, we stand ready to support the efforts of Lesotho and SADC in the pursuit of increased stability and the expeditious implementation of reforms in an inclusive process. We encourage Lesotho’s leaders to dialogue and build consensus to achieve the reforms. Solid progress on these would in turn foster an environment conducive for the much needed sustainable development, inclusive growth and durable peace.”
Lesotho’s development partners, who also include the United States, have emphasized they took into consideration governance and rule of law issues in assessing Lesotho’s eligibility for donor support.
The Mountain Kingdom has been given until March 2017 to address the Americans’ African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility concerns which include implementing the rest of SADC Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.
AGOA provides for duty-free entry of goods into the US from designated sub-Saharan African countries, including Lesotho, and applies to both textile and non-textile goods. Lesotho’s textile and garment industry, which is anchored on AGOA, employs more than 40 000 people, in addition to other downstream sectors.