Lesotho just had a lazy weekend jol thatâ€™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 weâ€™ll need to rewind to 2012.
*twinkly going-back-in-time movie music*
So, itâ€™s 2012. Lesotho has just had its general elections. Things were a little different this time around. The countryâ€™s Prime Minister,Â Dr Pakalitha Mosisili, had broken away from his ruling party â€“ theÂ Lesotho Congress for DemocracyÂ â€“ just a few months earlier. They said he was clinging to power, which is kind of fair given heâ€™d been Prime Minister since 1998. So he unclung in a big way and formed his own party, theÂ Democratic CongressÂ (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 â€“ the elections. And the DC, despite being a brand new party, totally ownsÂ it, winning 48 out of a possible 120 seats, more than any other party.
Not so fast.
The losing parties? Well, they donâ€™t take losing too well. Instead, Mosisiliâ€™s old flame theÂ LCDÂ forms a coalitionÂ with two other parties, theÂ All Basotho CongressÂ (also a breakaway party from the LCD. I know) and theÂ Basotho National Party. With their seats added up, they knock Mosisili and his DCÂ 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?Â Now we fast-forward back to 2014.
Itâ€™s two years into the coalition government and the LCD ainâ€™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, theyÂ do a complete about-face.
YES. That is a picture from Lesotho’s Sunday Express of LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing and Mosisili sitting next to each otherÂ like they never had an extremely public breakup just the other day.
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.Â (An earlier version of this article had Thabane suspending Parliament because of the Motsisili-Metsing announcement â€” 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 andÂ issues a statement, which includes this line: â€œThe South African Government has further notedÂ with grave concernÂ the unusual movements of the Lesotho Defence Force Units in the capital, Maseru. The South African Government wishes to reaffirm and reiterate the African Unionâ€™s position on the unconstitutional change of governments on the continent and in this regard the South African Government and SADCÂ will not tolerateÂ any unconstitutional change of government in the region and Continent.â€
Letâ€™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 (thatâ€™s a whip sound, by the way) weâ€™ve put out in a while.
Why? Well, thereâ€™s this little thing that South Africaâ€™s invested, like, billions in:Â 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 andÂ stay in the ruling coalition with PM Thabane. He, in exchange, will reconvene Parliament. RESULT!
Errrâ€¦ 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 â€“ called the Under the Tree Army â€“ were planning on violently disrupting the march.
And that brings us to this morning.
Now thereâ€™s other stuff in there, too, more detail and more nuance about army loyalties to Mosisili and police loyalties to Thabane, that army folksÂ have been fired and hired and that, as ever, things are a lot more complicated than any one blog post can explain. But hereâ€™s what we know so far: that the army surrounded the police headquarters and shots were fired. That ThabaneÂ fled the country. That heâ€™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.
Feels like a regular old Saturday morning
â€” Marjmakh (@marjmakh) August 30, 2014
Life is normal pic.twitter.com/fZWjt7ZVyt
â€” TsokoloMakeka (@TsokoloMakeka) August 30, 2014
In town and I see no sign of soldiers or anything of some sort
â€” ï£«August 30th_Virgoï£« (@Maestrodigit) August 30, 2014
Listen to a podcastÂ with Kristen van Schie on the Lesotho coup issue on African Defence Review here.
KristenÂ vanÂ SchieÂ 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 Africaâ€™s premier newspaper awards. She blogs about news from the region atÂ The SADC Wrap.