Ramaphosa's Lesotho Accord

2014-10-02 19:21

On 2 October 2014, flanked by leaders of various political formations and Southern African Development Community (SADC) officials, the SADC facilitator of dialogue, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, announced a breakthrough. This was contained in the Maseru Facilitation Declaration that contained, among other things, a time table to elections early in 2015, the reopening of parliament in mid-October 2014 and warnings against securitization of politics or politicization of the security forces. Does this amount to anything worthy of celebration?

The crisis in Lesotho is deeper than its manifestation since June suggests. Then disagreements between the main parties in the coalition government led by the Prime Minister, Tom Thabane, and his deputy ran into tensions over the operations of the coalition government. While the message from smaller parties was that they felt that the Prime Minister and his party, All Basotho Convention, failed to consult over major decisions of government, it was in fact the clash of interests among the political elite and fears about the anti-corruption measures that sparked the troubles. Yet, the problems run deeper, relating to the fragility of the nation state designed by the British colonial empire as an afterthought with no basis for surviving on its own. It was inherited with deep weaknesses by independence parties that have been involved in squabbles about it every since the 1960s. In the process, running political tensions, military take-overs and fissure of political parties have been features of this.

SADC responded quickly to the latest troubles with the Namibians intervening politically on behalf of the SADC security organ, helping to quell the conflict, while spiritual groups internally also mediated talks among parties. The outcomes of these efforts were legitimized by SADC and its organ. But by its summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in August 2014, SADC had realized that the situation required more support from the region than it had done. Subsequently, the Prime Minister was forced to flee Maseru after the military forces surrounded police stations, disarming police officers, because, some say, the police support the Prime Minister while the military leadership backed his deputy. Everyone thought this was a near coup and this sparked fears in a region not very accustomed to coups. This led to a SADC intervention via a high-level dialogue involving the parties in Pretoria that opened the way for SADC to appoint Ramaphosa to facilitate a political settlement.

The recent agreement came after intense negotiations and consultations with various parties in Lesotho including civil society formations. It detailed th following: national general elections to be held before end of February 2015 on a date to be decided and announced by the King, Letsie II. Secondly, the king has agreed to re-convene parliament on 17 October to deal with only two matters: to approve the budget and to work on preparations for elections. Thirdly, parliament will be dissolved at the beginning of December 2014 to allow time for the electoral season in line with the kingdom's constitution. Then there is an appeal to parties to do all they can to ensure stability and constitutional normalcy and general society to support the stabilization process. The Independent Electoral Commission of Lesothi's responsibility to ensure credible, free and fair elections is also underlined.

Now, measured against its mandate - to help bring about constitutional normalcy and stability in Lesotho- the declaration is a breakthrough for the SADC Facilitation, but not the final answer to the questions facing Lesotho. It is a breakthrough because the parties agreed on how they will find normalcy through new elections that would refresh their political mandate. Of course, they may be making risky calculations about elections enabling them to acquire enough power to run the kingdom because may end up with another inconclusive vote forcing them to form a coalition government again. They have also agreed to approve the budget that will enable government to provide essential public services.

It is assuring that their dialogue can produce results, relatively small as they are. So it is a confidence booster and a source of hope for firm agreements and cooperation in future. Any amicable outcome is better than no outcome at all for it at least eases the tension among citizens not certain about the state of play in the kingdom.

The major elephant in the room and a real threat to SADC efforts is the attitude of the security forces in the scheme of things. It did come out during Ramaphosa's press briefing that the facilitation team has met the leaders of these forces, but no indication was given as to whether this included the renegade former head of armed forces, Lt General Tlai Kamoli.

Ramaphosa did indicate that the SADC Mission on the ground will keep dialogue with all parties including the military and police going. He also spoke publicly a message directed at both actors, urging them to desist from getting involved in politics because SADC was dead against such practice.

What comes out of the SADC investigation into the recent shooting near the house of a senior public servants a few days before the agreement will indicate if SADC has the basis to isolate rogue elements and thus help government take control of the security situation. How a government heading for elections will handle the warrant of arrest against the former head of the army is a tricky challenge for the fragile government.

So, what we have is a roadmap to a new electoral mandate and not a peace agreement. It opens the way for parties to work together on things they can work together on, principally the budget. But their issues go deeper. Ramaphosa has many more weeks and months of tough facilitation to do before we can be sure that the road to normalcy is far from clear.

Ramaphosa needs to succeed here as part of his induction to a potential presidency of the most powerful and influential actor on the Lesotho's future and in the region. His stature as a leader will be tested in this just like Zuma had his testing moment when Nelson Mandela mandated him to mediate in Burundi. There is a still a long way to go both towards Lesotho's stabilization and in the building of Ramaphosa's case for succession in South African leadership.

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