(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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(The following article was published Dec. 5 by international news agency AFP. For more about the SADC plan for “lasting peace” in Lesotho, please click here.)


King Letsie III, flanked by Queen 'Masenate, with Ramaphosa and Thabane behind then, at the Oct. 17 re-opening of Parliament. (Photo: mjj)

King Letsie III, who dissolved Parliament on Friday, here at its landmark re-opening on Oct. 17, flanked by Queen ‘Masenate, with Ramaphosa and Thabane behind them. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) — Lesotho’s King Letsie III dissolved parliament on Friday ahead of a February election designed to restore peace to the kingdom after an attempted coup.

The dissolution is part of a peace deal reached by a regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

“This shows that we are complying with the SADC roadmap to bring peace and security back to Lesotho,” Thabo Thakalekoala, spokesman for Prime Minister Tom Thabane, told AFP.

The tiny kingdom which is surrounded by South Africa, last held elections in 2012, which resulted in a shaky coalition government.

Matters came to a head with the August 30 putsch, when soldiers raided the official residence of Prime Minister Tom Thabane, causing him to flee into nearby South Africa. The attempted coup exposed friction between the Lesotho military and the police, pushing the country to the brink of a full-blown conflict.

Early last month, South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa helped broker a political agreement that re-opened parliament for the first time since June and pushed forward national elections by more than two years.

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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.)


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.)


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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