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

AFP

By Michael J. Jordan

Cyril Ramaphosa had reason to smile after brokering peace in Lesotho. But will the deal last? (Photo: mjj)

Cyril Ramaphosa had reason to smile after brokering peace deal in Lesotho. But will it last? (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Lesotho’s feuding political parties have agreed to hold elections in February — more than two years early — in a bid to exit a crisis that has seen a coup attempt and running battles between the security forces.

“National general elections will be held towards the end of February 2015,” said mediator and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The exact date for the polls, originally set for 2017, will be set by King Letsie III, he added.

Just two years ago, Lesotho was hailed as a beacon of democracy in southern Africa, carrying out a peaceful handover of power, then forming one of Africa’s rare coalition governments.

But that disintegrated amid constant bickering, corruption allegations, political violence and an August 30 attempted coup.

Thursday’s agreement will also see parliament reconvene on October 17 after being shuttered by Prime Minister Tom Thabane in June as he looked poised to lose a no-confidence vote.

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

AFP

In highly polarized Lesotho, dueling narratives of what happened. SA forces investigating, too. (Photo: mjj)

In highly polarized Lesotho, dueling narratives of what happened. SA forces investigating, too. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Two policemen in Lesotho were wounded Tuesday night during a shootout between the force and the military, police said, in the latest fall-out from an attempted coup a month ago.Lesotho Mounted Police Service spokesman Lebona Mohloboli confirmed to AFP that “two police officers (were) shot and injured.”

The gunfire exchange took place on the outskirts of Maseru and outside the neighbouring houses of a senior government official and a military officer who is reportedly wanted in connection with the attempted coup.

Details were still sketchy on Wednesday.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened,” Tumisang Mosotho, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Tom Thabane told AFP.

Lesotho, which is surrounded by South Africa, was rocked by an attempted coup on August 30 that has left relations between police and the armed forces on a knife-edge.

Morning after the shootout, two weapons lay beside a bullet-riddled car. (Photo: mjj)

Morning after the shootout, two weapons lay beside a bullet-riddled car. (Photo: mjj)

Government secretary Moahloli Mphaka, claiming he was the target of Tuesday’s attack, told South Africa’s state broadcaster that he fled his home when soldiers exchanged shots with the police officers guarding his house.

“I was able to escape and hide,” he told SABC.

His neighbour is a military guard officer for deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, whom police are probing for “high treason” over his alleged role in the botched August 30 putsch.

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(The following piece was published Sept. 28 in Lesotho’s Sunday Express. A shorter version was first published Sept. 25 by international news agency AFP.)

By Michael J. Jordan

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, in Maseru, Sept. 23. (Photo: mjj)

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, in Maseru, Sept. 23. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU – Four weeks on, the crisis deepens. Day by day.

Political deadlock. A shootout between Lesotho police and military. Two Lesotho Times journalists arrested for “provoking the peace.” Threats of angry protest in the streets. And the “renegade” military commander still refuses to surrender.

Enter, the outsiders.

In the wake of South African President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Lesotho on Sept. 9, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa this week finished his second stint in shuttle-mediation between Pretoria and Maseru. He’s expected back soon for his third.

More dramatically, this week also saw the arrival of Namibian, Zimbabwean and other police officers from across the Southern African Development Community – to serve as “observers,” for at least three months.

For Basotho, the blow to national pride compounds the anxiety of insecurity. And after watching his people struggle to solve their own problems, one member of the Basotho royal family is now offering a solution: empower the King.

Remove the constitutional “straightjacket” that binds King Letsie III, says his younger brother, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso.

“Where are we as a nation, that whenever we have a political fall-out, we always need foreign intervention,” Prince Seeiso said in an interview this week. “Let’s step back and ask: ‘Are there any internal mechanisms, or voices of reason, amongst us?’ Yes, there is someone among us who can step into that role to mediate: His Majesty.”

It’s a compelling notion in such a heavily politicized atmosphere. Factions all around seem to be hardening, not softening, their positions. Ordinary Basotho today are either impassioned party loyalists, or disappointed in all politicians.

So, to inject this idea of a more muscular constitutional Monarchy into this crisis – as opposed to the other kingdom in southern Africa, Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as Africa’s last absolute monarch – would surely stir debate.

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(The following piece appeared Sept. 25 on the international news agency, AFP. A much longer version was published Sept. 28 in Lesotho’s Sunday Express.)

AFP

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho during our interview. Sept. 23 in Maseru. (Photo: mjj)

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, in Maseru, Sept. 23. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Amid a political crisis that has engulfed the tiny kingdom of Lesotho following last month’s attempted coup, a member of the royalty is calling for a more muscular monarch.

It’s nearly four weeks since Lesotho was thrust into political turmoil.

In recent days there has been a shootout between police and military, two leading journalists were arrested for “provoking the peace” and a “renegade” military commander still refuses to surrender.

The regional South African Development Community (SADC) bloc is involved in shuttle-mediation and has started deploying police “observers” from the various member countries.

For Basotho, as the people of the country are called, the blow to national pride compounds the anxiety of insecurity.

Watching the politicians struggle to solve their own differences, one member of the Basotho royal family is now offering a solution: empower the king.

Remove the constitutional “straightjacket” that binds King Letsie III, says his younger brother, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso.

“Where are we as a nation, that whenever we have a political fall-out, we always need foreign intervention?” Prince Seeiso said in an interview with AFP in Maseru on Tuesday. “Let’s step back and ask: ‘Are there any internal mechanisms, or voices of reason, amongst us?’ Yes, there is someone among us who can step into that role to mediate, His Majesty.”

(more…)

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(The following piece was published Sept. 21 by AFP/Agence France-Presse.)

AFP

Edgar Ramahloko, right, shovels dirt onto the grave of his uncle, Mokheseng Ramahloko, the lone man killed Aug. 30. (Photo: mjj)

On Sept. 21, Edgar Ramahloko, right, shovels dirt onto the grave of his uncle, Mokheseng Ramahloko, the lone man killed Aug. 30. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – A police officer killed in Lesotho’s August 30 abortive coup was laid to rest Saturday.

The death of Lesotho police sub-inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko was the first and so far only fatality in the tiny African nation’s three-week crisis.

For the mountain kingdom, dealing with his killers has become a question of war and peace.

Working a night-shift, Ramahloko was guarding the force’s armoury when he heard soldiers burst in and bark their demands.

The 53-year-old immediately called the deputy police commissioner to warn him: the soldiers wanted access to the police commissioner, the armoury, and the files on the most sensitive of high profile anti-corruption investigations.

Within minutes, Ramahloko was shot dead. His violent end has taken on greater symbolism as Lesotho’s leaders search for ways to resolve the crisis peacefully.

“My uncle is gone and there’s no bringing him back,” said nephew Edgar Ramahloko, shortly after burying his relative Saturday afternoon. “They must arrest and punish whoever did this — and whoever commanded them to do this.”

But that is easier said than done in Lesotho.

Specifically, the question is what to do about the “renegade” defence force commander, Tlali Kamoli, who allegedly led the assault that killed Ramahloko and the bungled attempt to abduct Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane.

Pursuing justice may lead to bloodshed; amnesty may bring impunity.

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(The following piece was published Sept. 19 by AFP/Agence France-Presse.)

AFP

Lesotho Mounted Police Service Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana. His home compound was at the heart of today's shoot-out. (Photo: mjj)

Lesotho Mounted Police Service Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana. His home was at the heart of today’s shoot-out. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Police and the military exchanged gunfire in Lesotho’s capital Maseru in the early hours of Friday, as Africa’s tiny mountain kingdom continued to suffer the fall-out from last month’s coup attempt by a renegade army commander.

Police suspicions were raised early on Friday when a group of soldiers drove past the home of police commander Khothatso Tsooana, who has previously survived a grenade-attack on his home.

“If they were planning something, I’m not sure… Soldiers came close, and the police on guard followed them,” Maseru Police District Commissioner Mofokeng Kolo told AFP.

“I don’t know yet who fired first,” he said, adding that there were no injuries.

Lesotho, which is surrounded by South Africa, was rocked by an attempted coup on August 30 that has left relations between police and armed forces on a knife edge.

The attempted seizure of power was blamed on “renegade” Lesotho Defence Force commander Tlali Kamoli, who has refused to step down from the military and been blamed for a series of attacks on police and political rivals.

Prime Minister Tom Thabane shut down parliament and fled to South Africa following the violence. There were several attacks on police stations.

The police are seen as loyal to Thabane while the military are considered allied to his political opponents.

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(The following piece was published Sept. 16 by AFP, the French news agency.)

Lesotho may head to the polls soon in an attempt to restore political stability, as the country’s leadership crisis appears to be intensifying.

by Stephanie Findlay with Michael J. Jordan in Maseru

Hundreds cheer returning ‪Lesotho‬ PM Tom Thabane outside his official residence on Sept. 16. But what was there to cheer? Thabane looked glum. Didn't wave. (Photo: mjj)

Hundreds cheer returning ‪Lesotho‬ Prime Minister Tom Thabane outside his official residence on Sept. 16. But what was there to cheer? Thabane himself looked glum. No smile, no wave. (Photo: mjj)

PRETORIA, September 15, 2014 (AFP) – Lesotho’s leaders plan to head to the polls early to restore political order following stalled peace talks between deadlocked political parties.

As a result of the coalition government not being “fully functional”, Lesotho’s leaders are planning to “shorten the mandate of the coalition,”  said South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on Monday.

Lesotho is currently due to hold elections in 2017. The country should now focus on “free, fair and incident free democratic elections for a fresh mandate,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.

After weeks of failed talks, South Africa hosted an emergency meeting of regional leaders to negotiate a peace deal for Lesotho.

South African President Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, chairperson of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), sat down with Lesotho’s leaders to hash out a solution after rival party leaders failed to patch up their differences.

Along with the early election date – to be announced “as soon as possible,” according to Nkoana-Mashabane – SADC said it will send an observation mission, led by South Africa and including Zimbabwe, to Lesotho for three months to ensure peace and stability.

“Are we deploying soldiers to Lesotho or Kingdom of Lesotho as SADC? The answer is, ‘No’,” said Nkoana-Mashabane. “They need to go back to the electorate,” said the minister, “but they need to be assisted so that political challenges don’t get mixed up with the security challenges.”

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