(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, Lesotho – With Lesotho swirling in crisis once more, a symbolic anniversary almost slipped by without me noticing.
Seems hard to believe now, but just three years ago, Lesotho was hailed as a democratic trailblazer, setting a new standard for all of southern Africa.
High in the pristine Maloti mountains, this tiny African kingdom – its half-a-century of independence scarred by military coups, political violence and blood-stained elections – pulled off a national election that saw a peaceful handover of power, followed by creation of one of Africa’s rare coalition governments.
I was still new to Lesotho, wet behind the ears after living in Africa only six months. Nevertheless, from that election, I produced my first foreign reporting from Lesotho. For The Christian Science Monitor, Democracy 101: Tiny Lesotho Holds Peaceful Elections. For The Global Post, Lesotho Leads Southern Africa in Democracy.
Amid so much gloom about the health crisis gripping the entire Basotho nation, this political achievement provided a ray of hope. Three years later, then … Happy Anniversary, Lesotho Democracy!
Right? No, nothing to celebrate in The Mountain Kingdom. Here are the headlines of three leading weeklies, over the past few days:
*From The Post, Kamoli Cracks the Whip: As in Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, the “renegade” commander of the Lesotho Defence Force who reportedly led the Aug. 30 coup-attempt. Now reinstated with nary an inquiry clearing him of treason-and-murder charges. Army-linked mayhem of recent days moved US Ambassador Matthew Harrington to wonder aloud if “the LDF is doing as it pleases.”
*From The Public Eye, Detained Soldier Recounts Ordeal: As in, one of an unknown number of soldiers who Kamoli and his LDF loyalists have rounded up for an alleged “mutiny” plot against the new government. Defenders of the soldiers claim they were “kidnapped and tortured,” targeted for their allegiance to the former commander-in-chief, ousted Prime Minister Tom Thabane.
*From The Lesotho Times, Rantšo Flees Lesotho – As in Keketso Rantšo, Lesotho’s top female politician, who last year broke from and challenged her Party boss – Mothetjoa Metsing – to defend himself from corruption charges “like a man.” Metsing – also accused of co-conspiring with Kamoli to launch the Aug. 30 putsch – is currently the Deputy Prime Minister and seems very, very close to Kamoli.
Rantšo, meanwhile, reportedly fled to South Africa, joining fellow opposition leaders Thabane and Thesele Maseribane. They fled to South Africa a week earlier, claiming a “murder plot” against them. Their rivals deride them as “drama-queens.”
Oy, what a mess. Tales of murder and mutiny plots, kidnappings and torture. A well-connected businessman, murdered. Corruption cases, disintegrating. Courts, intimidated. Security services, in disarray. One Lesotho NGO says it’s in touch with the International Criminal Court; a second says it’s inviting the International Red Cross to investigate treatment of prisoners.
Meanwhile, the Lesotho government is mostly mute – as is the regional power that mediated here to restore “peace and security,” the Southern African Development Community. While civil society calls on the outside world to defend “rule of law,” many Basotho shudder at the thought of worse things yet to come.
So, it’s high time to ask the question: “Who lost Lesotho’s democracy?” Were the hopeful elections of 2012 all a mirage? Or a case of mass delusion? Me, included?
Which Lesotho media, then, will mark the anniversary with a series that explores what went wrong – and why? Which international organization will host a three-day conference – or at least one panel-discussion – for all government “partners” and non-governmental stakeholders to chronicle the lessons-learned and “best practices” drawn from this experience? Then, chart a realistic path forward?
Wishful thinking, of course. Yet this is how I choose to commemorate an otherwise unhappy anniversary for my Basotho friends – and southern Africa itself.