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(The following piece was published Sept. 16 by AFP, the French news agency.)

Lesotho may head to the polls soon in an attempt to restore political stability, as the country’s leadership crisis appears to be intensifying.

by Stephanie Findlay with Michael J. Jordan in Maseru

Hundreds cheer returning ‪Lesotho‬ PM Tom Thabane outside his official residence on Sept. 16. But what was there to cheer? Thabane looked glum. Didn't wave. (Photo: mjj)

Hundreds cheer returning ‪Lesotho‬ Prime Minister Tom Thabane outside his official residence on Sept. 16. But what was there to cheer? Thabane himself looked glum. No smile, no wave. (Photo: mjj)

PRETORIA, September 15, 2014 (AFP) – Lesotho’s leaders plan to head to the polls early to restore political order following stalled peace talks between deadlocked political parties.

As a result of the coalition government not being “fully functional”, Lesotho’s leaders are planning to “shorten the mandate of the coalition,”  said South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on Monday.

Lesotho is currently due to hold elections in 2017. The country should now focus on “free, fair and incident free democratic elections for a fresh mandate,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.

After weeks of failed talks, South Africa hosted an emergency meeting of regional leaders to negotiate a peace deal for Lesotho.

South African President Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, chairperson of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), sat down with Lesotho’s leaders to hash out a solution after rival party leaders failed to patch up their differences.

Along with the early election date – to be announced “as soon as possible,” according to Nkoana-Mashabane – SADC said it will send an observation mission, led by South Africa and including Zimbabwe, to Lesotho for three months to ensure peace and stability.

“Are we deploying soldiers to Lesotho or Kingdom of Lesotho as SADC? The answer is, ‘No’,” said Nkoana-Mashabane. “They need to go back to the electorate,” said the minister, “but they need to be assisted so that political challenges don’t get mixed up with the security challenges.”

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(The following piece was published globally on Sept. 12 by Xinhua, the Chinese news agency. It appeared in Namibia, for example.)

News Analysis: Amid Lesotho’s political crisis, no easy solutions

By Michael J. Jordan

MASERU, Lesotho Sept. 12 (Xinhua) — Two weeks into a political crisis in Lesotho that threatens to erupt in civil strife between party supporters, observers agree that any resolution would have repercussions for this tiny African nation.

South African President Jacob Zuma, whose country fully encircles Lesotho, had visited the mountain enclave Tuesday, to mediate among political leaders and resolve what has become a parliamentary and military standoff.

On Friday, Zuma, representing both South Africa, the regional power, and the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), for whom this is another test in conflict resolution – was expecting Lesotho’s tripartite coalition government to remove a key stumbling-block to peace: a concrete date to re-open Parliament, which Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended in June.

SADC leaders will meet Monday in Pretoria to discuss the Lesotho crisis.

For Thabane, though, re-opening Parliament may be political suicide. As he did in June, Thabane would likely face an immediate vote of no-confidence, and loss of his premiership. Or, he could call for new elections for the 1.8 million Basotho.

Meanwhile, a second issue, which rattles regional security, also remains unresolved: what to do about the “renegade” military commander, Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli. He is reportedly heavily armed, protected by loyalists, and refuses to accept his Aug. 29 firing by Thabane.

The country is at a historical turn which just two years ago was a beacon of democratic progress in southern Africa.

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(The following piece was published globally Sept. 12 by Agence France-Presse.)

South Africa will convene regional leaders Monday after they failed to resolve a Lesotho crisis sparked two weeks ago by an aborted coup.

By Michael J. Jordan

MASERU (AFP) – Lesotho’s deadlocked political parties failed to meet a Friday deadline for a fresh peace deal, prompting South Africa to call an emergency meeting of regional leaders.

After promising President Jacob Zuma they would decide by Friday when to re-open Lesotho’s Parliament, rival leaders failed to resolve a crisis sparked two weeks ago by an aborted coup. Reopening the legislature – which was shuttered in June – is seen as a key step toward restoring normality in the tiny mountainous state.

On Aug. 30, an attempted coup by renegade general Tlali Kamoli saw the military assault several police stations prompting the prime minister to flee the country. One Lesotho police officer was killed, and nine others injured in the unrest.

Prime Minister Tom Thabane has since returned, protected by South African guards, but a Pretoria-brokered peace deal quickly disintegrated. On Friday rival party leaders failed to patch up their difference, instead calling for the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) to step in.

“How can you open your own Parliament when you still have foreign troops here, protecting you?” asked Thesele Maseribane, one of those who fled and is now under foreign guard. “Everyone’s interested in Parliament, but what about what recently happened here? This is not a movie. This is reality. This was an attempted coup.”

Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party has been blamed along with Kamoli for the putsch. Kamoli has refused a prime ministerial order to resign and has apparently raided government armouries in preparation for a showdown.

His allies have warned of a “bloodbath” if he is forcibly removed.

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(The following article appeared Sept. 10, 2014, in the French news agency, AFP.)

Jacob Zuma (right) arrives at the Lesotho airport and greets the man seen as main instigator of the country's crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane looks on, smiling from Zuma's right. (Photo: mjj)

Jacob Zuma (right) arrives at the Lesotho airport and greets the man seen as main instigator of the country’s crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane looks on, smiling from Zuma’s right. (Photo: mjj)

By Michael J. Jordan

Maseru, Lesotho (AFP) – Rival Lesotho leaders vowed to resolve an 11-day crisis that has spurred calls for regional military intervention in the tiny African nation, after South Africa brokered talks.

The sparring factions agreed to hold further negotiations and present a concrete date for reopening Lesotho’s parliament to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Friday.

“We had very frank and good kind of discussions,” said Zuma Tuesday after the three-hour meeting, aimed at keeping a week-old peace deal alive.

“We’re just about to get there,” said Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who suspended parliament in June and has struggled to preserve his coalition government — a rarity in African politics.

But the parties remained silent on how to tackle the “renegade” Lesotho military commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who is accused of triggering the crisis on August 30, one day after he was fired by Thabane.

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(The following article appeared Sept. 2, 2014, in The Christian Science Monitor.)

Just two years ago Lesotho was referred to as a democratic success story in Africa. But its attempted coup presents a test for the Southern African Development Community, committed to peace in the region.

By Michael J. Jordan, Correspondent

Two years ago, this tiny nation high in the mountains of southern Africa earned acclaim for passing the latest test of African democracy: It pulled off the region’s first peaceful handover of power. Lesotho then went one step further, forming what some call the first and only coalition government in all of Africa.

This week, however, these claims to democratic fame have been put to the test. An attempted military coup early Saturday sent Prime Minister Thomas Thabane scampering into South Africa – and the entire police force into hiding. A power vacuum still persists after four days.

“It’s a test of one of Africa’s democratic ‘success stories,’” says the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Lesotho, Karla Hershey.

But the attempted coup goes beyond Lesotho, presenting a major challenge for the Southern African Development Community, the 15-member union committed to “peaceful settlement of disputes.” SADC has been burned by Lesotho before, and has been hesitant to take decisive action after this weekend’s attempted coup.

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(The following commentary was published on July 28th by GlobalPost. A longer version was earlier published by The Lesotho Times and The Mantle in New York.)

Basotho women await immunizations for their infants outside a sunny, rural clinic. (Photo: mjj)

Basotho women await immunizations for their infants outside a sunny, rural health clinic. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – Some rankings instill pride. Others instill shame, and should inspire every effort to get off that list.

Two years ago, in a report for GlobalPost, I described how tiny Lesotho, a landlocked country high in the mountains of southern Africa, achieved a first for the entire region: a peaceful handover of power from ruler to opposition.

Two years later, the Basotho people of Lesotho have quietly climbed the wrong list. UNAIDS, reporting the “hope that ending AIDS is possible,” now ranks Lesotho as suffering the world’s second-highest rate of HIV infection; at 23 percent, the tragedy has touched nearly every Basotho family.

The rate of Lesotho’s HIV affliction hasn’t changed in a decade. The country, under a fragile coalition government, has become a case study for the limits of international development assistance, and a cautionary tale for what happens when a country is reluctant to tackle the real issues that plague ordinary people.

The Basotho resist the need to confront the broader health crisis that makes their country, by nearly every health indicator, one of the world’s sickliest.

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(The following commentary was published on July 24th in Lesotho, in The Lesotho Times. It was originally published in New York, on July 15th, on The Mantle.)

A Basotho nurse preps an infant for immunization in a rural health clinic. (Photo: mjj)

A Basotho nurse preps an infant for immunization in a rural health clinic. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – Lesotho, a mini-model of African democracy!

That’s what I trumpeted two years ago, when reporting the great political achievement scored by the ethnic Basotho of Lesotho.

In the latest test of democracy in Africa, Basotho political elites produced their first elections without violence, then carried out a peaceful handover of power – a first for southern Africa.

Today, though, this beacon of democracy flickers dimly. Amid the jockeying for power, some whisper of a coup. Even South Africa – which surrounds “The Mountain Kingdom” and sent in soldiers before – warned Lesotho to cool tensions.

Yet all this gamesmanship obscures the real crisis: in Basotho health. Indeed, while the politicians fiddle, Rome burns. (Or in Lesotho, while Roma burns.)

The 1.8 million souls who dwell in Lesotho rank, by virtually every health indicator, among the sickliest on the entire planet. Moreover, Lesotho has become a case-study for the limits of international development assistance – and a cautionary tale for what happens when a nation is reluctant to tackle the real issues that plague ordinary people.

For starters, Lesotho suffers an HIV infection-rate of 23 percent, a tragedy that has touched and traumatized every Basotho family. I’ve seen this first-hand, while preaching the virtues of Health Journalism here for two years. All along, I’ve cited Lesotho as enduring “the world’s third-highest rate” of HIV infection – among those within the most sexually active ages: 15 to 49 years old.

But while Basotho lawmakers play politics, Lesotho quietly achieved a bit of notoriety: the UN agency, UNAIDS, elevated Lesotho from third to second place. (Behind only Swaziland, our neighborhood’s other mountain kingdom.)

Curiously, Lesotho’s new ranking is not because the infection rate has risen.

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