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.
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.