(The following piece appeared Feb. 19 in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian. For more on another root-cause of Lesotho’s crisis – political violence – please click here. For more background on Lesotho’s security accord, click here.)

M&GlogoThe nerves of the coup-prone mountain kingdom are frayed as a SADC-monitored poll nears to return it to political stability.

Michael J. Jordan

Lesotho's "renegade" Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, smiling after signing the Oct. 23 peace deal. (Photo: mjj)

Lesotho’s “renegade” commander, Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – In the first few months after Lesotho’s crisis erupted in August, much of the blame was pinned on the aggression of the country’s military commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. But now, just days before the kingdom’s Feb. 28 election aimed at resolving the impasse, there are indications that Prime Minister Tom Thabane may have an entire rogue military on his hands.

The Aug. 30 coup attempt saw Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers chase Thabane from his official residence across the South African border. Simultaneously, troops attacked three police stations, killing one officer and injuring nine others.

For South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the lead mediator in the crisis for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a crowning achievement came in November when he exiled Kamoli from Lesotho. Cut off the snake’s head, went the rationale, and then nurture unity between the army and police, and between the army and a democratically elected civilian command.

Yet today, ahead of the poll SADC moved forward by two years, the LDF has made a move that shows just how big the problem is. On February 13, the military issued a one-page declaration stating that, “in its quest to fulfil its mandated duties to protect the Basotho nation”, it would immediately begin “patrols and vehicle checkpoints” in “various places” nationwide.

Ramaphosa scrambled to nip this exercise in the bud, producing an agreement in which the government, the LDF, the police and Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) agreed that the army will “remain in barracks” and “only assist” if the IEC requests it. Nevertheless, this manoeuvring by the LDF has sparked fears that voters may be intimidated or that violence may break out.

“The saddest part is that the prime minister, as commander-in-chief, is helpless to do anything about the LDF,” said a Basotho businesswoman, who insisted on anonymity. “SADC and Ramaphosa must be very clear: if they’re truly for a lasting peace in Lesotho, they must bring the LDF to order and depoliticise them.”

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(The following piece appeared Feb. 13 in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian. For more on another root-cause of Lesotho’s crisis – corruption – please click here.)

M&GlogoAfter a deadly shooting earlier this month, the SADC is being criticised for ignoring the cause of Lesotho’s crisis: political violence.

By Michael J Jordan

The Basotho bystander shot dead in the Feb. 1 political violence. (Photo: mjj)

The Basotho bystander shot dead in the Feb. 1 political violence. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – It’s a season of denials in Lesotho. On Sunday, Feb. 1, the afternoon calm in the capital Maseru was shattered by the crackle of gunfire in the street just outside the gate of King Letsie III’s royal palace.

Two of Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s bodyguards, travelling alone, were shot and wounded. At least one Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldier was also shot and wounded. A private security guard, drawn by the din, was killed in the crossfire.

The government says troops fired first. The LDF deny this, saying Thabane’s men (soldiers themselves) fired first – at a checkpoint the LDF set up to protect the Maseru headquarters of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), here to “restore peace and security” after last August’s coup attempt in which soldiers raided Thabane’s official residence and the national police headquarters, killing one police officer and injuring nine.

But SADC says it did not invite LDF protection that day. Days later, Lesotho’s government says four LDF soldiers were arrested in South Africa on their way to “finish the job” – of killing Thabane’s two bodyguards as they recovered in a Bloemfontein hospital.

The South African Police Service denies this: “No one has been arrested.”

What no one denies, though, is that in a country plagued by a long history of political violence, especially around elections, the Feb. 1 shoot-out was yet another act of political violence. Coming just weeks before the critical February 28 elections – which SADC moved up two years earlier to restore “normalcy” to the mountain kingdom – it is causing concern.

“When we hear about soldiers shooting at each other, people dying, conflicting statements about why exactly soldiers were there, it causes confusion and fear for ordinary Basotho,” says Sofonea Shale, co-ordinator of Development for Peace Education, a leading voice of civil society.  “When a security guard is caught in the crossfire, don’t think violence is too far from you. Tomorrow, that could be you.”

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(The following commentary was published Feb. 13 by South Africa’s Daily Maverick. It was also published a day earlier on The Mantle in New York.)

It’s not all doom and gloom in tiny Lesotho – although between the healthcare crisis, the spiralling unemployment and the dangerously messy political situation there is enough of that to go around too. MICHAEL J. JORDAN profiles the youth-driven peace concert that demands a brighter future.

By Michael J. Jordan

MASERU – In a sea of unrelenting bad news around the world, we in the media should sometimes look harder for good news. Especially for me today, an outsider up to my ears in a tiny African kingdom I’ve grown to care about deeply.

With Lesotho and its mind-boggling range of health, development and democratization challenges – and now mounting fear of imminent election-related violence – it’s simply too easy to write about the negatives.

That’s why I’m stunned to have stumbled across a genuinely positive story: a new Basotho-youth organization unveiled its plan to host a huge pro-peace concert, Stand United Music Festival -this Saturday, Feb. 14, two weeks before the vote.

At first I dismissed the concert as a cute idea, but not necessarily news-worthy. Now I see a greater symbolism, which even inspires me to write about it.

Let me explain. Though, first a disclaimer: I’m not writing this piece because my documentary-film partner is a co-organizer, or that my wife works for one of the sponsoring agencies. (Let them do their own damn PR! Or, check their poster.)

No, I write for two reasons. We journalists have an obligation to seek out “good news,” as well. Sure, bad news, especially scandalous stories, help “sell papers.” But we have a duty to our audience to be as fair and accurate as possible. Disproportionate focus on the negative – the low-hanging fruit – may present a distorted image of a society. Particularly, when reporting from faraway lands.

For example, I now live next door to South Africa, and all I hear about it is crime, corruption, cronyism and incompetence. Surely there are some positive trends to report about “The Rainbow Nation,” two decades after Apartheid?

Now the second reason: the media must also recognize the vital role we play in shaping and influencing a national psyche.

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By Michael J. Jordan

The Basotho bystander shot dead in the Feb. 1 political violence. (Photo: mjj)

The Basotho bystander shot dead in the Feb. 1 political violence. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – A top Lesotho official has distanced his government from a Minister’s assertion last week that four Lesotho soldiers were arrested in neighboring South Africa, while on their way to “finish off” two of Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s bodyguards – as they lay recovering from a recent shootout.

“At my disposal, I don’t have any concrete information to confirm or not to confirm these arrests,” Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka said Wednesday.

Lesotho is two-plus weeks from Feb. 28 elections intended to restore peace and security, after a coup attempt convulsed the tiny African kingdom last August.

The Feb. 1 shootout in broad daylight between Lesotho soldiers and Thabane’s two bodyguards sparked fears in a country plagued by bouts of election-related violence during its half-century of independence. It also spurred greater criticism of mediation efforts by the regional peace-and-security bloc, the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo then ratcheted tensions on Feb. 5, when he announced that four heavily armed Lesotho Defence Force soldiers were arrested on their way to the provincial South African hospital where the two bodyguards – soldiers themselves, who had reportedly tipped off Thabane about the Aug. 30 putsch and helped him escape into South Africa – lay wounded.

“We believe the four arrested intended to finish off the soldiers who they didn’t kill” earlier, Molapo told AFP. Molapo, though, declined to provide their names or location, for the claim to be verified. An LDF spokesman denied the arrests, saying all soldiers were accounted for in Lesotho.

Two days later, South African Police Service National Spokesman Solomon Makgale told AFP: “The SAPS has not arrested Lesotho soldiers.”

From the Lesotho government, this was the latest sensational claim of security threats, without providing evidence – in a political atmosphere filled with unsubstantiated accusations between the government and its opponents.

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(The following article was published Feb. 6 by international news agency AFP.)


Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Four Lesotho soldiers have been arrested in South Africa where they planned to kill two of the prime minister’s bodyguards recovering in hospital, Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo said Friday.

The bodyguards were wounded in a shootout in Lesotho’s capital Maseru on Sunday, allegedly because they foiled an August 30 army coup attempt by tipping off Prime Minister Tom Thabane and helping him escape across the South African border.

With tensions mounting ahead of elections on February 28, the wounded bodyguards — who are also soldiers — are wanted dead, Molapo told AFP.

“We believe the four arrested intended to finish off the soldiers who they didn’t kill on Sunday,” he said.

Molapo added that the two bodyguards had been moved from hospital in Bloemfontein to a “more secure” medical facility in South Africa.

As of late Friday, South African police had yet to confirm the claim. “For now, we have no information about the alleged arrest,” SAPS National Spokesman Gen. Solomon Makgale told AFP.

A Lesotho Defence Force spokesman earlier this week denied that the bodyguards had been targeted, saying they had fired first after ignoring an army checkpoint. The spokesman could not be reached Friday to comment on the latest charge against his soldiers.

Molapo said he would join a Thabane-led delegation to Pretoria on Friday, to discuss the tiny African kingdom’s “deteriorating security situation” and other election-related issues with South African President Jacob Zuma.

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(The following article was published Feb. 2 by international news agency AFP.)


Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Lesotho’s military on Monday rejected government claims it was to blame for a shootout that killed a bystander and injured two of the prime minister’s bodyguards, as tensions in the tiny African kingdom remain high following a failed putsch.
The army instead accused the bodyguards of firing first in Sunday’s incident, which took place at a checkpoint in the capital Maseru and comes less than a month before national elections.
“The two refused to stop at the checkpoint and started shooting,” the Lesotho Defense Force spokesman, Major Ntlele Ntoi, said in a statement. “The LDF Command condemns this regrettable and provocative attack.”
A senior advisor to Prime Minister Tom Thabane told AFP on Sunday that Lesotho soldiers had deliberately targeted the two bodyguards -– soldiers themselves -– perhaps as revenge for tipping off Thabane last August and helping him escape before troops raided his residence in a botched coup attempt.
But on Monday, government secretary Moahloli Mphaka said the authorities were still trying to gather all the information.
“We are still busy consulting and getting the true story of what happened,” Mphaka told AFP. “We don’t want to make a statement that will confuse the nation, because we need the facts of what exactly transpired.”
The incident has sparked concern there could be more violence ahead Lesotho’s February 28 elections, which are being held more than two years early in order to restore stability in the impoverished country. The failed August 30 putsch exposed friction between the Lesotho military and the police and tensions remain.

(The following article was published Feb. 1 by international news agency AFP.)


The corpse of the dead man caught in the crossfire Sunday. (Photo: mjj)

The corpse of the dead man caught in the crossfire Sunday. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Two bodyguards tasked with protecting Lesotho’s Prime Minister Tom Thabane were shot and wounded on Sunday and a bystander killed in the crossfire, five months after a failed putsch in the tiny African kingdom, one of his senior advisers said.

Both the injured men were soldiers who had tipped off Thabane about the planned August 2014 coup when the military attacked several police installations and the prime minister’s residence, killing one police officer, the adviser said.

“The two guards went against their own men that day, absolutely,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggesting that Sunday’s assault could be linked to the failed coup.

The shootings outside the gates of the Royal Palace of Lesotho King Letsie III also come four weeks before national elections in the impoverished country of two million which is surrounded by South Africa.

The bodyguards were not accompanying the prime minister at the time.

“We’re still trying to figure out the motives. My gut-feeling is that what’s happening now is to frustrate the election process,” the adviser added.

Lesotho’s February 28 elections are being held more than two years early in order to restore stability following the August 30 coup attempt.

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