SADC Wrap Special Edition: WTF is happening in #Lesotho?!

Lesotho just had a lazy weekend jol that’s looking kind of like it could be a coup. I know. What the shit, right? And on a Saturday morning, too.

But what the hell happened, and why?

Well, to understand the story of today we’ll need to rewind to 2012.

*twinkly going-back-in-time movie music*

KvS lesothoSo, it’s 2012. Lesotho has just had its general elections. Things were a little different this time around. The country’s Prime Minister, Dr Pakalitha Mosisili, had broken away from his ruling party – the Lesotho Congress for Democracy – just a few months earlier. They said he was clinging to power, which is kind of fair given he’d been Prime Minister since 1998. So he unclung in a big way and formed his own party, the Democratic Congress (which is totally different to his original party, the Congress for Democracy. Politicians are real original with names.)

Okay, so we have the LCD on one side and the DC on the other.

Then – the elections. And the DC, despite being a brand new party, totally owns it, winning 48 out of a possible 120 seats, more than any other party.

Not so fast.

The losing parties? Well, they don’t take losing too well. Instead, Mosisili’s old flame the  LCD forms a coalition with two other parties, the All Basotho Congress (also a breakaway party from the LCD. I know) and the Basotho National Party. With their seats added up, they knock Mosisili and his DC right out of pole position. And so a new man comes into power:Thomas Thabane, head of the All Basotho Congress.

Alright, you still with me? Now we fast-forward back to 2014.

It’s two years into the coalition government and the LCD ain’t happy. Sure, it had problems with Mosisili. But working with Thabane is proving less than ideal.

They argue. They fight. And then in June, they do a complete about-face.

Lesotho alliance [Sunday Express]

YES. That is a picture from Lesotho’s Sunday Express of LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing and Mosisili sitting next to each other like they never had an extremely public breakup just the other day.

They announce a new coalition, one that will make Mosisili prime minister (again) and make Metsing his deputy. Thabane’s coalition collapses.

To be fair, Thabane had gone off to King Letsie III to get permission to suspend Parliament the day before to circumvent a vote of no confidence some of his MPs wanted to pass. (An earlier version of this article had Thabane suspending Parliament because of the Motsisili-Metsing announcement — it was actually the day before. Sorry about that.)

One of the problems with suspending your Parliament, though, is that people kind of tend to notice that thing. Big people. Like, the country that basically swallows your state and supplies all your electricity.

With all the in-fighting in Lesotho, Big Brother South Africa gets involved and issues a statement, which includes this line: “The South African Government has further noted with grave concern the unusual movements of the Lesotho Defence Force Units in the capital, Maseru. The South African Government wishes to reaffirm and reiterate the African Union’s position on the unconstitutional change of governments on the continent and in this regard the South African Government and SADC will not tolerate any unconstitutional change of government in the region and Continent.”

Let’s put this in context. South Africa is next door to Zimbabwe. South Africa is next door to Swaziland. Both countries have been accused of serious human rights violations over the years. But that little statement up there is one of the strongest WHOOPAS (that’s a whip sound, by the way) we’ve put out in a while.

Why? Well, there’s this little thing that South Africa’s invested, like, billions in: the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Basically, we build lots of dams that provide jobs and roads and infrastructure and hydroelectricity to Lesotho, and in exchange we get ALL THE WATER. Gauteng, specifically. The economic engine of SA kind of depends on things being rosy in Lesotho.

Our president, Jacob Zuma, makes a couple visits. The Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba makes a couple of visits. They hold Talks. And two weeks ago, they convince the fickle LCD to leave Mosisili and stay in the ruling coalition with PM Thabane. He, in exchange, will reconvene Parliament. RESULT!

Errr… or not. You see, two weeks later, and Parliament is still suspended.

The LCD wanted to hold a march on September 1 in protest, but permission was denied. Allegations were flung back and forwards. Thabane said he had information that the march would turn violent. The LCD denied it and said THEY had information that this youth group loyal to Thabane – called the Under the Tree Army – were planning on violently disrupting the march.

And that brings us to this morning.

Now there’s other stuff in there, too, more detail and more nuance about army loyalties to Mosisili and police loyalties to Thabane, that army folks have been fired and hired and that, as ever, things are a lot more complicated than any one blog post can explain. But here’s what we know so far: that the army surrounded the police headquarters and shots were fired. That Thabane fled the country. That he’s calling it mutiny or a coup. That the military are not (they say they were just disarming the cops who were going to give weapons to that Tree youth group). That South Africa is MAD.

And that life goes on in Lesotho.

Listen to a podcast with Kristen van Schie on the Lesotho coup issue on African Defence Review here.

Kristen van SchieKristen van Schie is a South African journalist working at the Weekend Argus in Cape Town. Raised in Namibia, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, she has reported from the Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Namibia, Vietnam, Antarctica, and a ship in the Indian Ocean. She is a three-time winner at the Sikuvile Journalism Awards, South Africa’s premier newspaper awards. She blogs about news from the region at The SADC Wrap.