(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.)
Harrington, who, to be fair, only arrived on the job weeks after the Lesotho crisis erupted, on Wednesday made his strongest comment to date about the whole affair. Speaking “as a friend of Lesotho,” he told a roundtable of half-a-dozen Basotho journalists (plus yours truly) that he saw a “missed opportunity” by the newly elected regime: “The government had a chance to show it was moving forward … Instead, it sends a message to society that it is being led backward.”
More specifically, about the “divisive, polarizing” commander of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), Lt. Gen. Kamoli — whose dismissal on Aug. 29 the US deemed “legal,” who then reportedly led a coup attempt the next morning, and just last week was officially reinstated, Harrington said: “I don’t know the legal arguments that were used. Any sovereign government has the right to appoint whomever they want.”
However, said the Ambassador, it now seems “The person held responsible has been rewarded.” One police officer was shot and killed on Aug. 30, he noted, and “that family deserves justice.” [MJ note: I myself attended the police officer’s funeral, and wrote about it for AFP.]
Regarding Wednesday’s US State Department statement about fresh reports of LDF “kidnappings and abuse,” the “murder” of opposition supporter, etc., Harrington said: “It raises concern the LDF is doing as it pleases” – in breach of the democratic principle of civilian control over the military. [MJ note: In February, I wrote for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian about Lesotho’s “untamed” military. The question today is, does the LDF remain untamed? Or, is it now “tamed” – but receiving a green-light from above? Either way, cause for worry.]
Harrington also called on the government to provide security to ousted Prime Minister Tom Thabane – now the opposition leader – who fled into South Africa for a second time last week, claiming a murder plot against him, and remains there to date. As Harrington noted, “The security environment today is generating concern about whether Lesotho has truly moved past the difficulties of the past year.”
[MJ note: Speaking of accountability, SADC’s lead mediator to the Lesotho crisis, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, seems to have mustered just one line about the renewed crisis in Lesotho – this May 26 Twitter tweet: @PresidencyZA DP Ramaphosa says SA remains ready to assist people of Lesotho for everlasting peace and security.]
Harrington urged Lesotho Prime Minister Mosisili or other senior officials to break their silence, speak out about the recent incidents, and calm public fears. “Basotho from all walks of life are expressing to me their unease about public safety, and they deserve to hear from their leaders about these issues that have caused so much concern.”
Regarding that second MCC “compact” — whose dollar-amount has yet to be determined for Lesotho, “The MCC is clear that the generosity of the U.S. taxpayer will go to governments that appear to be governing well.”
If the new government doesn’t address Kamoli, accountability and its own stated objectives of security-sector reform and de-politicization of the military, Harrington said: “The process of [MCC] eligibility is ongoing … We’ll see where we are come December.”