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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.)

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.)

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.)

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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(The following Op-Ed was published Jan. 28 by South Africa’s Daily Maverick.)

Journalists are the primary watchdogs in any democracy, but what happens when those watchdogs lose their bite? In Lesotho, a pliant, uncritical media is failing to hold anyone to account in the run-up to the February elections. By MICHAEL J. JORDAN

Former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili (right), and his #2, Monyane Moleleki, a former Minister of Natural Resources accused of fixing diamond contracts, aim to oust Thabane in Feb. 28 elections. Then, likely sweep away all related criminal cases. (Photo: mjj)

Former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili (right), and his #2, Monyane Moleleki, a former Minister of Natural Resources accused of fixing diamond contracts, may be hoping to sweep away all corruption cases. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru, LESOTHO – For any democracy to thrive, its media must act as watchdog – holding leaders accountable for their words and deeds. And, yes, take a bite if they fail to deliver.

That’s why it’s so troubling to see how toothless my colleagues in the Lesotho media truly are, especially when their nation needs them most – one month away from the critical 28 February elections. Basotho voters must choose which leaders to entrust with guiding them out of months of political and security crisis, sparked by 30 August coup attempt.

There’s more at stake than the fate of a tiny mountain kingdom that just two years ago was touted as a democratic success in Africa for its peaceful handover of power – yet was derailed by its sixth putsch in half a century of independence, which laid bare endemic corruption and political violence.

More broadly, there may be repercussions for the regional power, the 15-nation Southern African Development Community. Lesotho is the latest test of SADC’s ability to resolve conflicts, yet its lead mediator, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, hasn’t uttered a word in public about the root causes of corruption and political violence. If this election spawns bloodshed, would South Africa have to send in troops – as in 1998?

Then there’s the international community. It’s spent well over $1 billion in foreign aid over the past decade to help the Basotho tackle their severe health, development and economic challenges – yet has little to show for it. Just the opposite, in fact: the HIV rate refuses to budge from 23 percent, and Lesotho is sliding down the UN Human-Development Index. The prime culprits: corruption, cronyism, incompetence and pervasive apathy.

So, which Basotho politicians, parties and ministry officials would foreign donors prefer as their next set of partners, especially as some deepen their investment here? Or would it be time for the international community to consider whether to pull out of Lesotho – as the Irish Embassy did last year (though Irish Aid remains) – and devote their dollars elsewhere in sub-Sahara Africa?

Back to the Basotho journalists, then. With Lesotho facing this fork in the road, the burden of a noble mission falls to the media: to better inform and educate society, enabling voters to make wiser decisions about whom to elect. Who’s telling the truth? Who isn’t? Who’s delivered results? Who hasn’t? And why? Continue Reading »

(The following article was published Dec. 12 by South Africa’s Mail & Guardian.)

M&GlogoThe tiny country struggles to prosecute highly placed politicians accused of financial crimes.

By Michael J. Jordan

MASERU, Lesotho – Timothy Thahane, former Lesotho finance minister and a former deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank, has been accused of defrauding a Lesotho farming project of R24-million.

Former Finance Minister Tim Thahane rejects the charges against him. "Don't put me in league with others accused," he told me. (Photo: mjj)

Ex-Finance Minister Thahane claims his innocence. “Don’t put me in league with others accused,” he told me. (Photo: mjj)

And he’s not alone, but just one of a handful of current and former Lesotho ministers who are accused of corruption. Yet none of them has been tried in court – let alone prosecuted.

Last month Thahane’s lawyer, Qhalehang Letsika, astonished the country’s high court with his reason for why the judge should once again postpone the trial of the 74-year-old. He admitted he had proposed the November court date in September, but the court hadn’t confirmed the date with him, so he wasn’t prepared to proceed.

High court Justice Tseliso Mona­phathi expressed his frustration: “It now seems to be the tradition to postpone these high-profile cases … this should not be tolerated. It affects the reputation of this court and all the courts in this country.”

Letsika told the Mail & Guardian this week: “The intention is not that my client shouldn’t have his day in court. We are ready to appear in court, defend his rights and prove that the charges are baseless.”

But this is more than a saga of how one tiny African country struggles to prosecute financial crimes perpetrated at the highest levels, which ultimately hinder its development. The ruling coalition also asserts that corruption is a root cause of Lesotho’s current crisis sparked by an August 30 coup attempt.

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(For more on the initial accusation against SADC commanders, please click here.)

By Michael J. Jordan

MASERU, Lesotho – Three weeks later, it’s unclear if the Southern African Development Community has sent home two commanders assigned to protect top leaders in tiny, crisis-struck nation, but whom Lesotho’s government then accused of leaking information that jeopardized Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s security.

Neither government officials nor SADC officials want to discuss it – in a country still swirling with rumors and accusations since an Aug. 30 coup attempt.

“There is no further information to share, as this is a matter between the government and SADC,” Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka said Friday.

Mphaka sent the letter to SADC on Nov. 17, on behalf of Thabane’s government, and said he expected rapid removal of two men they accused of detailing the premiere’s movements in secret meetings with opposition forces.

Lesotho is still unnerved by the putsch three months ago, in which soldiers reportedly raided Thabane’s official residence – forcing him to flee into South Africa – and a simultaneous assault on three police stations that killed one cop.

Heavily armed police protection for Thabane and other top officials has since been provided by SADC, the 15-nation bloc responsible for regional peace and security, and by its most influential member, South Africa.

Thabane spokesman Thabo Thakalekoala said SADC police told him the two commanders “have left the country for their country of origin,” however, SADC itself refused to confirm this.

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