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(The following article was published Dec. 4 by South Africa’s Mail & Guardian.)

M&GlogoThe mountain kingdom needs a robust, confident media to cover events without fear or favor. But it’s unlikely in this polarised society.

By Michael J. Jordan

MASERU, Lesotho - The barbs are flying at me faster, flung by a hostile crowd.

Here I am, the lone Western correspondent in this tiny African kingdom that still feels volatile since the August 30 attempted military coup that sent the nation’s prime minister scurrying next door into South Africa.

Ambushed on Nov. 25 to discredit my reporting, I resisted. Though, I apologized for its "unintended consequences." (Photo: Irene Seme/Public Eye)

Ambushed on Nov. 25 to discredit my reporting, I resisted. Though, I apologized for its “unintended consequences.” (Photo: Irene Seme/Public Eye)

I am suddenly on trial, as a kangaroo court deals me a harsh lesson – and reveals what a minefield Lesotho is for journalists covering this crisis. Specifically, I’m forced to defend my reporting on the latest, Hollywood-worthy claims: “Lesotho hunts foreign ‘mercenaries’, fears assassination plot”.

A top government official alleged that Nigerian and Ghanaian soldiers-for-hire had slipped into the country, armed to the teeth, to hatch a plot to assassinate Lesotho’s leaders – to throw the tiny nation into even deeper crisis and harpoon the February 2015 elections, already moved up two years early by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is mediating to restore some semblance of “lasting peace” here.

For the “mercenaries” claim, I’d asked two people if there was any clue on the identity of these alleged assassins. Thesele Maseribane, the third leader of the ruling tripartite coalition (who’s also the minister of gender and youth, sports and recreation) floated two nationalities: Nigerians and Ghanaians. Then I spoke to the police’s assistant commissioner of police, Sello Mosili, who confirmed this. So that’s what I reported – their allegations.

Some online media – in Lesotho, too – focused on the nationalities. Even worse, one weekly here turned my story’s allegation into their story’s fact: “Police hunt Nigerian, Ghanaian mercenaries.”

That sensationalist twist unfortunately sparked anxiety among the hundreds of Nigerians and Ghanaians living in Lesotho. They say it’s led to unkind comments from Basotho and feeling threatened on the streets.

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MASERU, Lesotho – Where are the Basotho voices?

It’s World AIDS Day in Lesotho – now the world’s second-most infected, with so many discouraging stats.

One thing I’ve learned after three years here, about the limits of international-development assistance: Lesotho needs Basotho champions.

Just as Magic Johnson did in the U.S. in 1991, brave Basotho in Lesotho must step up to say: “I’m the face of HIV; enough of this deadly stigma.”

Likewise, it’d really help if a brave Lesotho official were to step forward: “I’m the face of corruption; enough of the greed that stunts our growth.”

Though, I’d settle for one out of two …

(The following article was published Nov. 19 by international news agency AFP. For more about the claims of foreign “mercenaries” in Lesotho, please click here.)

AFP

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Lesotho has demanded the expulsion of two senior officers from a SADC police mission, accusing them of sabotaging the security of Prime Minister Tom Thabane and other top officials.

In a confidential letter to the Southern African Development Community and its lead negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, the government expressed “certain reservations” about a South African Lieutenant Colonel and Brigadier.

“Once we request that they be immediately released from their services, it’s effectively saying they are expected to be,” Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka told AFP Wednesday.

“I believe quick action will be taken,” he added.

The southern African bloc deployed more than 100 police to protect Thabane and other government officials following an attempted coup on August 30, which forced the prime minister to briefly flee to neighbouring South Africa.

“The handling of this issue could be a recipe for disaster,” Mphaka said. “This is not meant to harm the integrity of those officers, but to protect the integrity of the SADC observer-mission.”

Mphaka refused to give details of the specific allegations against the two officers, but another senior government official said the two commanders were accused of conspiring with Thabane’s rivals to “sabotage the mission.”

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(The following article was published Nov. 10 by international news agency AFP. For more about Lt. Gen. Kamoli’s alleged peace-deal breaches, please click here.)

AFP

Coalition partner Thesele Maseribane, speaking at the September memorial for the officer killed during the putsch, now accuses rivals of further destabilizing Lesotho. (Photo: mjj)

Coalition leader Thesele Maseribane, speaking at the September memorial for the officer killed during the putsch, now accuses rivals of further destabilizing Lesotho to undermine elections. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - Lesotho police are investigating allegations that foreign “mercenaries” plan to kill Prime Minister Tom Thabane in a bid to further destabilise this crisis-hit nation still reeling from an attempted coup.

Senior police and government officials told AFP on Monday that government offices had been evacuated and the prime minister and King Letsie III cancelled public engagements Sunday amid intelligence suggesting a plot.

Assistant Police Commissioner Sello Mosili said a team of perhaps 14 Nigerian and Ghanaian soldiers-for-hire reportedly entered Lesotho through a rugged, mountainous southeastern border area with South Africa.

It is believed they have a stash of weapons.

“That’s information that we’ve heard from local people in the mountains,” Mosili said adding. “It’s still under investigation.”

Thesele Maseribane, a government minister and the third leader of the ruling tripartite coalition, said his armed South African guards evacuated from his office on Friday, ahead of intelligence that mercenaries were on their way to kill him.

“It’s not about security for me or for the prime minister, but about the security of the nation,” Maseribane told AFP Monday. “Are my people secured? My answer is, no.”

The assertion of mercenaries in this mountain enclave, which is encircled by South Africa, is just the latest chapter since an August 30 putsch that saw Lesotho Defence Force soldiers raid Thabane’s official residence, forcing him to flee into South Africa.

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(The following article was published Nov. 6 by international news agency AFP. To read more about the security accord announced on Oct. 23, please click here.)

AFP

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

Lesotho’s “renegade” Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, smiling after signing the Oct. 23 peace deal, is now accused of breaching it. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) — A top Lesotho defence official has urged regional powers to “remove” an influential military commander for flouting a peace deal meant to stabilise the tiny African country two months after an attempted coup.

The defence ministry’s principal secretary accused Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli of harassing rivals and marshalling forces, despite an agreement to relinquish his command.

Echoing a confidential letter to South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Thato Mohasoa told AFP on Thursday that the Southern African Development Community should “remove” Kamoli, who is accused of being behind an August 30 coup attempt.

“SADC should use any means at their disposal — including persuasion,” he said.

Kamoli is accused of ordering a pre-dawn military raid on Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s residence and the national police headquarters.

On Oct. 23, Ramaphosa announced the "three chiefs" would be sent on a "wonderful leave of absence" - presumably, not together: Kamoli, Tsooana, Mahao. PM Thabane, to Ramaphosa's right, again looked like a man defeated. (Photo: mjj)

Ramaphosa, announcing the “wonderful leave of absence” for Kamoli, Tsooana, Mahao. PM Thabane, far left, looked like a man defeated. (Photo: mjj)

Under a deal inked last month Kamoli agreed to hand over control to his deputy commander and exercise no “authority or undue influence” over the army during an indefinite “leave of absence.”

In the letter, first obtained by the Lesotho Times, Kamoli is accused of holding multiple meetings with underlings, stating he was still “substantive commander” of the Lesotho Defence Forces.

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(The following article was published Oct. 23 by international news agency AFP.)

AFP

A surreal scene in Maseru.

A surreal scene on Oct. 23, of alleged co-conspirators and their targets. From left: Maseribane, Metsing, Thabane, Ramaphosa, Kamoli, Tsooana, Mahao. Maseribane accuses Metsing and Kamoli of trying to abduct and kill him and Thabane. Tsooana’s home was reportedly attacked by grenade; Mahao’s by gunfire – killing his dog. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - South Africa’s deputy president brokered a deal to end a destabilising post-coup standoff in Lesotho Thursday, with the head of the police and rival military commanders agreeing to step down.

Southern African mediators led by Cyril Ramaphosa said they had convinced renegade Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who is accused of being behind an August 30 attempted coup, to take a leave of absence, along with two other top security officials.

Kamoli, rival military commander Maaparankoe Mahao and Lesotho police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana will hand over authority to their deputy commanders for an unspecified time.

Kamoli is suspected of leading the early morning raid on Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s residence and the national police headquarters, which killed one police officer and injured nine. He has since refused an order to relinquish command and has armed a small group of loyal fighters, prompting questions about stability in the small landlocked nation.

With Ramaphosa looking on, Kamoli signs his pledge to keep the peace - and head into de facto exile? (Photo: mjj)

With Ramaphosa as witness, Kamoli signs his vow to keep the peace – and head into de facto exile? (Photo: mjj)

“What’s important here is that they have agreed to do all of this, to set aside their own personal interests,” said Ramaphosa, in announcing the agreement. “What has surged forward are the interests of the nation. They’ve been promised nothing but a wonderful leave of absence and wonderful work-visits.”

Ramaphosa had earlier held secret talks with the group, despite Kamoli being investigated by Lesotho police for two crimes linked to the August 30 assault: high treason and murder.

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(The following article was published Oct. 17 by international news agency AFP.)

AFP

Opposition MPs sing inside the Lesotho Parliament, after it re-opened Friday. (Photo: mjj)

Opposition MPs sing inside the Lesotho Parliament, after it re-opened Oct. 17. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - Lesotho’s King Letsie III re-opened parliament Friday amid tight security, the first step in a peace deal aimed at ending a crisis sparked by an attempted military coup.

Opposition parliamentarians celebrated with song and dance on the floor of the legislature, as the chamber sat for the first time in four months.

Prime Minister Tom Thabane had suspended the body in June fearing a vote of no-confidence that could have booted him from power.

The re-opening of parliament is a key first step in a peace deal following an August 30 coup attempt and will lead to early elections in February 2015.

The king, who is constitutionally restricted to a ceremonial role, thanked the international community –- and particularly the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) — for helping to defuse the crisis.

“On behalf of the Basotho nation, I would like to express… our deep-rooted gratitude for expeditiously coming to our assistance at this critical moment in our political journey,” King Letsie told the 120-member chamber, as the SADC mediator, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, looked on.

As the king filed out, followed by Thabane, his feisty opponents, led by former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili, then filled the floor, singing and swaying.

“Democracy begins again,” said one MP, Kotiti Diholo of the Democratic Congress. “There was no longer democracy in this country, but now we can get back to representing our people.”

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