Africa Watch

Lesotho – another litmus test for troubled SADC

General Mahao’s death triggered events
Maaparankoe Mahao,.jpg

The countries in Southern Africa are facing an array of pressing problems, many self-inflicted, as attested by the situation in Lesotho.

As turmoil and uncertainty escalate in South Africa, with the governing party under pressure on many fronts, South Africans could be excused for being out of touch with what is happening in the rest of southern Africa:   

In Angola President dos Santos laments that the economy of his country is in serious trouble. While ignoring the crippling effect of corruption and nepotism, he appoints his daughter, Isabel dos Santos, as head of the state-run oil company Sonangol. This company is responsible for up to half of Angola’s GDP and after the presidency, this is perhaps the most powerful position in Angola.

His son is already in charge of Angola’s USD 5 billion sovereign wealth fund and now the Dos Santos family is in almost complete control of the country’s purse strings – Angola, a de facto one-party state, has become an oligarchy.

Mozambique is not only teetering on the brink of civil war with a reported 107 Renamo attacks in the past nine months, but is also facing a collapsing economy.

Corruption, greed, dishonesty and economic mismanagement are also to blame, resulting in the International Monetary Fund and several other international donors and financial agencies having terminated disbursements.

Not only is the impact devastating on the people of the world’s fifth most underdeveloped nation, but also on the country’s fledgling gas extraction industry.

Zimbabwe’s position continues to deteriorate as the succession struggle in the ruling party escalates and opposition parties exploit it as President Mugabe’s power inevitably starts to erode.

What is left of the country’s economy is under severe strain with the state’s fiscal deficit currently standing at a whopping 37% and the government unable to service the US$16 billion national debt.

The Mugabe government last month was not only late in paying the armed forces and the civil service, but can also no more fund the health and education systems. Zimbabweans are the poorest people in Africa, a quarter of all children are orphans, child mortality is the highest in Africa and five million Zimbabweans need food aid, while president Mugabe keeps on globetrotting and using every opportunity to blame, especially the West, for Zimbabwe’s woes.

Zambia, a role model for democratic accountability in Africa, is in tatters, with political intolerance steeply on the rise and the ruling Patriotic Front accused of concocting a detailed secret plan, known as Operation 777, to rig the presidential election of 11 August 2016 in its favour.

Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations and ravaged by drought, had its president instruct millions of hungry citizens to eat grasshoppers and mice to cope with current food shortages. He told his starving countrymen to be “resourceful” in their search for food and money, even admonishing them to not “die from hunger when wild animals and insects were there for them to eat”.

The same man earlier promised that while Malawi’s food production would decrease by 50% this year, no-one in Malawi would die of hunger.

And, then Lesotho

Political instability and intrigue, coupled with improper military involvement and intervention in civilian matters, have left the mountain kingdom in disarray.

Not even military intervention by the South African Development Community (SADC) in 1998, which included some ignominy for the South African army contingent, could bring an end to Lesotho’s persistent discomfort.

Little more than a year ago, renewed political disturbances, which involved the military, climaxed with accusations of an attempted mutiny by a former commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao.  

After the dust had settled, Mahao was dead and troops loyal to him and opposition politicians had fled to South Africa.

The autopsy on Mahao revealed that he was shot eleven times in the head, chest and arm, including three shots fired at point-blank range with an AK-47, giving weight to allegations it was a contract murder.

Still languishing in prison are 23 soldiers allegedly loyal to Mahao. They are subjected to torture and deprivation, facing the death penalty for their alleged involvement in the mutiny supposedly directed against the current commander of the LDF, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli.

South African intentions

Last year, in an attempt to restore order and stability and place Lesotho on the road of recovery, the South African Government intervened as mediator under President Zuma. At the time he was the rotating chairman of the SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security and therefore best positioned to act.

An independent commission of inquiry and an oversight committee were established to act as an early warning mechanism in the event of signs of renewed instability in Lesotho and to intervene where necessary. These moves were questioned by most commentators and the conclusion was that it was unlikely to have the desired results – a conclusion that now seems correct.

Botswana intervenes

On 28 June this year the SADC’s Double Troika met in Gaborone on request of the current SADC chair, Botswana’s President Ian Khama.

The meeting, the second since January, when President Khama, saved Lesotho from suspension from the SADC when he brokered a compromise, convened to discuss the political and security conflict in Lesotho.

It was attended by the presidents of South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the prime minister of Tanzania.

President Khama will in August be replaced as SADC chairman by King Mswati III of Swaziland, who does not even allow political parties in his own country.

Not only were the people of Lesotho pinning their hope on President Khama to restore political stability in their troubled kingdom, but Khama himself has reason to want progress.

A retired Botswana judge was appointed to head the SADC’s Commission of Inquiry into the Lesotho crisis last year, but he was obstructed in his mandate by the LDF, presumably because the commission concluded that on the evidence available “the whole case of mutiny [was] highly suspect” and recommended an amnesty for all  those accused of mutiny.

The Lesotho government, under direction of Prime Minister Mosisili, ignored the commission’s recommendations, which include inter alia the removal and prosecution of Kamoli, a close ally of Mosisili.

The Lesotho government, has in fact, reaffirmed its commitment to retain Kamoli as military commander and resisted to act on the abuses against the accused soldiers.


It is, however, hard to see how the decisions now taken in Gaborone will bring any lasting improvement.

Explaining the agreement reached to bring peace and progress to Lesotho, the SADC Executive Secretary said the Gaborone summit has recommended that an oversight committee be appointed to facilitate the review of the Lesotho’s constitutional and security sectors, a progress report to be submitted at the next SADC Summit in August in Swaziland

On the self-imposed exile by opposition leaders it is recommended that they should be back in Lesotho by the end of August this year.

When asked how Lesotho could be coerced in accepting the latest recommendations the Botswana foreign minister said: “The SADC has limitations as to how a member state can be forced implement the recommendation as they are sovereign states.”

Here lies the problem. If Lesotho has to date refused to follow SADC recommendations, stricter conditions should be set. Alternatively, the same situation is most likely to exist in a year’s time.  

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