MASERU, Lesotho – The passport is stamped U.S., but I’m unabashedly a citizen of the world, with a toehold on four continents: from New York to Hong Kong, Prague to Lesotho. As a foreign correspondent, journalism educator, communications consultant, and father of three, I’m based in Lesotho, high in the mountains of southern Africa. As the lone Western correspondent here, I’m covering the tiny Mountain Kingdom‘s unique political crisis for Agence France-Presse, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, and others. Meanwhile, I’m also teaching Health Journalism in one of the world’s sickliest societies. And from next-door South Africa, I’m co-producing a documentary film – The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story – which explores racial healing and equal opportunity in The Rainbow Nation, twenty years later. At the same time, in Hong Kong, I’m a five-time Visiting Scholar teaching International Journalism, mostly to bright, young mainland Chinese; and in Prague, I’m Senior Trainer of a biannual course in story-telling from around the world. In fact, post-Communist Central Europe flows through my veins; that’s where I launched my own foreign-correspondent career two decades ago. Thank you for visiting my website – and for reading! … Michael
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(For more of my reporting on the “criminal cover-up” in Lesotho, read this March 24 piece South Africa’s Daily Maverick. For a more sweeping piece on Lesotho’s post-Aug. 30 crisis, read my Feb. 27 piece for Foreign Policy.)
MASERU – In Lesotho – a country marked by high-level lawlessness over the past year – one heavyweight has finally demanded “accountability” … or else.
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Lesotho Matthew Harrington clarified that Washington hasn’t “threatened” to cut aid or freeze programs over troubling steps the new government has taken since snap Feb. 28 elections.
However, Harrington didn’t rule out the possibility that the Millennium Challenge Corporation may deny Lesotho a second massive “compact” this December.
From 2008-2013, the MCC gave Lesotho a whopping $362.55 million for health, water and private-sector projects, including 138 new or renovated health clinics — in a country that according to all major health indicators, is one of the sickliest in the world. (This on top of the $225 million the US has given here since 2007, through PEPFAR, to combat HIV/AIDS in Lesotho, which suffers the world’s second-highest rate of infection. For those keeping score, that’s nearly $600 million for a tiny African kingdom few Americans have even heard of.)
Yet a key MCC provision is “accountability,” which in Lesotho includes “accountability for the events of Aug. 30,” Harrington said. “The MCC has made very clear that accountability will be taken into consideration – and we’ll be watching very carefully if anyone will be held accountable for the actions of that day.”
The US has been largely silent during the months of crisis-resolution efforts, deferring to Lesotho’s neighbors and the regional powerhouse: the Southern African Development Community, led by South Africa. Yet not once during months of mediation did SADC seek “accountability” for Aug. 30 — or try to tackle Lesotho political-violence itself.
Today, though, more Basotho, especially within the suddenly emboldened, vocal civil-society circles, are looking to the two leading “beacons of democracy” in Maseru — the US Embassy and European Union Delegation — to help them defend the rule of law. (The EU has yet to speak up, as the US now has.)
MASERU, Lesotho — Is Lesotho starting to unravel … again? Clues abound.
First, the shooting death of a Basotho businessman close to the ousted ex-Premier Thabane and his ABC party – with whispers of army involvement. Then, the alleged “kidnappings” of Lesotho Defence Force soldiers by fellow army comrades.
And now this, yesterday: Thabane, the new opposition leader, flees back to South Africa for a second time — claiming an assassination plot against him.
In November, I reported for AFP about another alleged plot to kill Thabane — but that was never substantiated. (And forced me to realize how much misinformation and disinformation permeated the otherwise fresh air of Lesotho.)
Nevertheless, is it time yet for more Cyrial Ramaphosa mediation — on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) — which ignored Political Violence in Lesotho, the first time around?
MASERU, Lesotho – Dear friends! I’m pleased to announce a “status” update.
I returned to post-crisis #Lesotho last month, after another memorable stint with my student-journalists in Hong Kong. Back in Lesotho, I’ve shifted away from the “Corruption and Political Violence” beat I made my own since September. Instead, today I wear a different hat: as a Health Communications Consultant.
In the country that suffers the world’s second-highest rate of HIV infection (a mind-boggling 23%!) – where UNICEF figures suggest that more than 10 percent of the entire populace has been orphaned by one or both parents – I’m proud to lead a storytelling project about the most innocent victims of the HIV epidemic: the Basotho children categorized as “Orphans and Vulnerable Children.”
I’m particularly pleased to be doing this project for one US NGO on the frontlines of this great national tragedy, Management Sciences for Health. MSH, with financial support from USAID, has nurtured a small army of grassroots Lesotho NGOs, all of them scattered among the rugged Maluti mountains.
Since that 23%-figure hasn’t budged in more than a decade (!), from my perch here in the capital — and from the perspective of an international community largely focused on the HIV epidemic — it’s easy to conclude that “nothing” is being done to fight HIV in Lesotho. Now I know better.
Last week I visited the first handful of Lesotho NGOs, who raise awareness of HIV, malnutrition, abuse of children, and other topics among the peaks and valleys around Qacha’s Nek and Mohale’s Hoek. If it weren’t for these social workers and community activists – and their battalions of primary and secondary caregivers in virtually every embattled village – I’d be more pessimistic about HIV in Lesotho.
More on that soon! Updates to come. One objective of mine is to raise awareness about this entire OVC calamity, as it also opens a window onto all the health and development challenges that confront Lesotho – and southern Africa itself.
Thank you for reading!
For better or worse, Lesotho has moved on from last year’s constitutional crisis. But how much do we really know about the attempted coup (or was it?) that sparked all the troubles on that fateful August day?
By MICHAEL J. JORDAN
In crisis-struck Lesotho, democracy has prevailed – and a criminal cover-up continues.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who served as premier from 1998 to 2012, was sworn in last week for his second stint in power: the inauguration cemented Lesotho’s second straight peaceful handover of power, while ushering in its second straight coalition government – both rare achievements in sub-Saharan Africa.
Yet, with the snap February elections coming six months after a coup attempt that rocked the tiny African kingdom, this is a hollow victory for democracy – even with the imprimatur of well-meaning outsiders. As the Daily Maverick’s Simon Allison astutely observed, Lesotho has experienced a bloodless “democratic coup.”
Indeed, nothing exposes this sham – perpetrated by the new leadership, with the ongoing complicity of their foreign enablers – more than the whitewashing of the putsch that sparked Lesotho’s political-security crisis in the first place.
The enduring mystery of what exactly happened that day – who did what and why – would, if exposed, likely destabilise Lesotho once more. It would also rattle surrounding South Africa, which relies heavily on Lesotho’s water. And it’d unravel the desperate, quick-fix efforts by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – the region’s diplomatic bloc, led by South Africa itself – to restore “peace and security” to Lesotho. In other words, it’s in no one’s interest to unlock the truth.
Not once, during the six months of SADC “facilitation” efforts, up through today, have SADC officials – particularly its lead mediator in Lesotho, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – touched on the mutinous army revolt on 30 August last year.
(The following Dispatch was published Feb. 27 on ForeignPolicy.com. For more of my reportage on other root-causes of Lesotho’s crisis: high-level corruption, ongoing political violence, the untamed military.)
As southern Africa’s democratic success story Lesotho goes to the polls, the prime minister’s anti-corruption crackdown has brought a bitter power struggle into the streets.
MASERU, Lesotho — On Feb. 1, just outside the gates of the Royal Palace in this tiny African kingdom, shots rang out, shattering the Sunday afternoon quiet.
Two bodyguards of Prime Minister Tom Thabane exchanged a hail of gunfire with soldiers from Lesotho’s defense force. When the shootout was over, both bodyguards and at least one soldier had been wounded. A bystander, reportedly hit by 23 bullets, was killed. It’s still unclear who fired first. The incident — sudden and bloody on the streets of the capital, Maseru — thrust a bitter power struggle between the ruling coalition government and its adversaries back into daylight.
It was only two years ago that Lesotho, a mountainous enclave of not quite 2 million people, fully encircled geographically by South Africa, appeared to be a new democratic success story in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite having a past marred throughout its half-century of independence by military coups and post-election violence, the constitutional monarchy pulled off a stunning political achievement: Lesotho’s 2012 parliamentary elections produced a peaceful handover of power from longtime Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to the feisty opposition (which had been persecuted after splitting from the ruling party in 2006). And the new leadership went on to create one of the continent’s rare coalition governments.
But now, only days away from the country’s critical parliamentary elections set for Feb. 28 — which are being overseen by a regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), that has refused to publicly acknowledge the high-level corruption and political violence at the root of the unrest — that shootout may have been a harbinger of worse things to come.
With shared roots in the country’s first post-independence party, the factions are distinguished more by personality than politics, with little difference between their ideologies. But as one civil servant who requested anonymity said, “Whichever side doesn’t get to be a part of the next government, I’m afraid they will cause some troubles — I think they’ll fight.”
Dear friends and supporters! My partner Danny and I are thrilled to unveil our new promo for our documentary film on racial healing in The New South Africa, twenty years later – The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story.
Click here to view it. The top-notch cinematography is drawn from our last production trip to Ventersdorp, which many of you helped fund. We would’ve gotten this trailer out sooner, but Lesotho erupted in crisis. And, well … duty called!
That said, we’d never forsake this film. Step by step, we’ll get there. Do let us know what you think of the promo.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to read my six-part travelogue on the making of this film, please click here. Thank you!