Political leadership — a cause of instability?

Political leadership — a cause of instability?

Continued from last week

Military Rule, 1986-1993

As LLA began operations against the government of Chief Jonathan, in the late 1970s, the government transformed the PMU from being a unit within the police to the Lesotho Paramilitary Force (LPF) in 1980. In 1982, the LPF changed from a paramilitary force to a standing army, known as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

The name changed again in 1986, when it became the Royal Lesotho Defence Force (RLDF). In 1993, RLDF became the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). In an environment where the army was then in charge, the army, according to Pule (2002:179) had “ . . . been intimately related to BNP rule for a long time.”

The political instability which had characterised the BNP unconstitutional authoritarian rule of sixteen years was to continue for the seven years. This instability was caused by the unequal Military-Monarchy power-sharing arrangement, the corruption that the military was involved in as well as the adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme.

On 20th January, 1986, the LPF staged a successful coup against the BNP regime and replaced it with a Military regime. The Military regime immediately passed two critical pieces of legislation which would constitute the major sources of its own and the country’s political instability.
Lesotho (No. 2) Order of 1986 vested executive and legislative powers in the King, and provided for the establishment of a Military Council of six members of the military appointed by the King on the advice of the Chairman of the Military Council.

This Order also provided for the establishment of a Council of Ministers chaired by the Chairman of the Military Council and whose members would be appointed by the King on the advice of the Military Council. The Council of Ministers would, according to the Order “assist the King in the general administration of Lesotho.”

The Order further provided for the dissolution of parliament and government. Order No. 4, also known as the Suspension of Political Activities Order, suspended all party political activities “until such time as the goal of national reconciliation shall have been achieved.”
Following the passing of these Orders, a period of Military-Monarch power-sharing began. This power-sharing arrangement was in place for two years when it began to show some cracks. The cracks were caused by operationalising Order No.2 which revealed that, in fact, the power sharing between the monarchy and the military was unequal and the senior partner was the military.

That is why, when the King asked the Chairman of the Military Council to resign following his fatal shooting of a young male student at the Lesotho Agricultural College on the night of 23 December, 1988, the Chairman of the Military Council refused.
A year later, the Chairman of the Military Council would, citing pressure from ‘Captains in the RLDF’ unilaterally terminate the services of three members of the Military Council and one member of the Council of Ministers. “All four . . . were known allies of the King,” and the King’s attempts to reverse the decision of the Chairman of the Military Council came to nought (Matlosa and Pule, 2003: 47).

These two events became sources of anger on the part of the King not only because his attempts at resistance were ignored by the Chairman of the Military Council but also his powerlessness vis-à-vis the military was exposed for all to see.
Political instability ensued as a showdown between the King and the Chairman of the Military Council followed when the former was stripped of the executive and legislative powers and a large number of Ministers associated with him had their services terminated by the Military Council through Order No.2 of 1990. In March, 1990, King, Moshoeshoe II was exiled to London and in November, 1990, dethroned by the military. That marked an end to a period of soured relations between the two sides and a beginning of a period of an extended political instability that would follow the BCP-led government.

Various reasons have been advanced to explain why this power sharing could not last. Machobane (2001: 80-81) observes that although “the legal instrument that launched the military government projected the King’s authority and supremacy in the new dispensation . . . his power was [however] more de jure than de facto.” Sub-section 2 of Lesotho Order No.2, 1986, made it clear that, in the exercise of his functions under the Order, or any other law, the King would act “in accordance with the advice of the Military Council.”

For Ajulu (1995: 15), “ . . . the BNP faction that joined Lekhanya in toppling Jonathan was unlikely to provide political stability…” because it lacked legitimacy. In order to address this, it was keen to include the monarchy despite “protests from [its] masters in Pretoria.” Pule is more to the point when he, rightly, observes that “ . . . the regime laboured under contradictory agendas of its leaders”, especially on Lesotho’s foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa and corruption. The situation was unsustainable.

For Southall (1995:23), it was “ …the military regime’s sheer ineptitude, its humiliating dependence upon South Africa, its internal tensions, its corruption, its repressive tendencies and not least, its mismanagement of national finances,” that led to the collapse of the Military-Monarchy power-sharing regime.

There was also the issue of the military regime’s involvement in corruption. The weekly newspaper, The Mirror, carried sensational stories of corruption in which, it alleged, leading members of the military were involved. These stories did not sit well with the King who suggested to the Chairman of the Military Council that they should be investigated and anti-corruption measures be put in place. This suggestion was ignored by the military.

Machobane (2001:130) corroborates that corruption in the military government was more pronounced (than all previous regimes) . . . especially, during the last three or four years of its life. An extremely angry example was the Hong Kong sale of Lesotho International passports which involved not only the Lesotho Hong Kong Honorary Consul but “a chain of highly placed officials in the civil service, members of the Council of Ministers and the Military Council.”

The Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate this matter found out that these passports were sold to Chinese peasants for a fee of USD 3,300 per family, and USD 2,800 per individual. An estimated M8 million was collected but not a cent was paid to the Lesotho government. No one was, however, prosecuted for this embarrassment and humiliation of the country.

Finally, the Military Council signed and implemented a Structural Adjustment Programme with the International Monetary Fund which began in1988. Implementation of the Programme greatly reduced the annual budget deficits which were beginning to affect spending as well as worry the donors, but created remuneration grievances within the ranks of soldiers, police, civil servants and teachers that helped to topple Lekhanya and cause havoc to the BCP government that assumed power after the 1993 general elections.

Fragile Democracy, 1993-2002

The 1993 general elections, the second since independence, ushered restoration of democracy after twenty three years of authoritarian civil and military rule. The elections were contested by twelve political parties and were won by the BCP, which won all the 65 constituencies.
Instead of bringing political stability, given its strong mandate, the new BCP-led government experienced regular events of political instability, some inherited but many self-made.

These episodes included: activities of the highly politicised public sector including the army and the police; determination on the part of King Letsie III to have his father, King Moshoeshoe II, reinstated to his throne, factionalism within the BCP which led a split in 1997, and the 1998 crisis and the military intervention by SADC.

The first event was the demand, by the LDF members, of a 100 percent pay rise following an armed confrontation between two factions which lasted for fifteen days. Matlosa and Pule (2002: 52) observe that “the faction fighting was also about disagreement within the armed forces as to whether to accept or undermine the authority of the BCP.”

The BCP government, which was barely eight months in office, sought external help from the Commonwealth and SADC to deal with the issue of the army. The main recommendation was that “there is a need for full restructuring and retraining of the LDF with a view to making it a single, united and, above all, disciplined force”. (Quoted in Matlosa and Pule, 2002: 52).

Ten months into its term of office, in April 1994, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Selometsi Baholo, was assassinated by members of LDF. On the same day, four cabinet ministers were briefly abducted and released by members of the LDF.
In the light of these unsettling events, the BCP government awarded the LDF a pay rise of 66 percent and improved allowances. In May, the Lesotho Mounted Police (LMP) went on a strike for three weeks demanding a pay increase of 60 percent and, in the process, abducted the acting Minister of Finance.

The government once again caved in and awarded them a pay rise of 42 percent and improved allowances (Makoa, 1997).
Of all the challenges that it faced, the most serious concerned the reinstatement of King Moshoeshoe II who had been dethroned by the military and replaced by his son, King Letsie III, in 1990.

This challenge was one of those that the BCP government had inherited from military rule; however, the BCP government referred to the problem as the former military regime’s problem, and not theirs, and sought to side-line it.
In the event, the matter of reinstatement of Moshoeshoe II threw the palace to the corner of the BNP opposition which had problems accepting BCP’s margin of victory in 1993 elections, and was seeking to unseat the BCP forcibly, if necessary.

The other challenge was that the government routinely operated without briefing the palace, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. To add salt to the wound, when pressure for reinstatement of Moshoeshoe II mounted and forced the government to act, the government’s reaction was insensitive, and consisted of appointing known opponents of Moshoeshoe II, including individuals known for their republican sympathies and anti-monarchical views, to a Commission to investigate the reasons for his dethronement.

One of Commission’s terms of reference was that, it should investigate how King Moshoeshoe II had related to post-independence governments since 1966. In reaction, on the morning of 17 August, 1994, Letsie III staged a coup d’etat, and announced dissolution of the government, the day after receiving a petition from the opposition to that effect.

SADC intervened leading to reinstatement both of the BCP government, on the one hand, and King Moshoeshoe II, on the other. Importantly, this marked the beginning of SADC’s attempts to establish and maintain political stability in Lesotho.
Another source of instability was the long history of politicisation of both the army and the public service by the BNP which led to tense relations

between the BCP government, on the one hand, and the public service and the army, on the other. On the one hand, BCP government suspected manycivil servants and army personnel—whom BCP leaders called Manasi—of conducting themselves, in their performance of official duties, in ways intended to sabotage government to the benefit of the BNP. On the other hand, many in the public service and the army personnel suspected the BCP government of wanting to fire them and replace them with BCP supporters.

It was also during the period 1993-2002 that politicisation of state institutions, that had started in the 1970s and consolidated in the 1980s, took a turn for the worse, as specific pieces of legislation concerning the political control of the defence and security sectors were passed. These were the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Act, 1996 and the Police Service Act, 1998.

These laws provide for Prime Minister’s appointment and removal from office, the appointment of Commander of the army, in section 12 of the LDF Act, 1996, and the Prime Minister’s appointment and removal from office, the appointment of the Commissioner of Police, in section 5 of the Police Act, 1998.

There was also instability caused by the power struggles within the ruling party, the BCP during 1996, leading to the formation of LCD, in 1997. On the 9th June 1997, the majority of members of parliament left the ruling BCP and joined the newly formed Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) led by Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle.
The minority remained with the BCP. This split was, according to Matlosa and Pule (2002:58), “ . . . of a power struggle that had raged since the party’s return from exile in 1988.” The issues in contention were “ . . . succession of the ailing party leader, the conduct of armed struggle—especially historical alliances with apartheid South Africa and the use or misuse of party monies during the exile years, access to government positions and influencing public policy” (Matlosa and Pule, 2002: 58).

This period ends with another, perhaps the most significant, event of political instability following the second post-1993 general elections of 1998 which were overwhelmingly won by the newly formed LCD. These results were rejected by parties that had lost, namely, the BCP, BNP and MFP.
Not only did they reject the elections but they also decided to petition King Letsie III to declare the elections null and void, dissolve government and parliament and form a government of national unity.

For two months, they stayed at the Royal Palace gates and closed government offices, disarmed the police, and shut down government and business operations; they intimidated the workers and business owners through forced stay-aways, and they impounded and commandeered government vehicles.

There were also sporadic clashes with the police who wanted to bring law and order. While this happened, there was a mutiny in the army, where those who supported the opposition arrested the army’s leadership, some of whom escaped arrest and fled into exile in South Africa. Maseru came to a standstill, as the government was paralysed and was about to collapse. The situation was saved by SADC’s intervention.
Following the failed local efforts at resolving this explosive situation, coupled with external diplomatic efforts by the South African Deputy President, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) under the auspices of SADC, entered Lesotho in September 1998 “ . . . to restore law and order, to rescue the legitimate government of Lesotho and to discipline mutineers in the Lesotho Defence Force” (Matlosa and Pule, 2002: 60).

In the fighting that followed, approximately 40 LDF soldiers died resisting SANDF troops who attacked Katse Dam and Makoanyane barracks.
Focussed on this resistance, SANDF failed to prevent fleeing demonstrators and soldiers from looting and putting parts of Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohales’ Hoek, and Roma to the torch.

The country would take years to politically and economically, recover from this man-made calamity.

One-party Dominant System, 2002-2012

Attempts to deal with a part of the causes of political instability—First Past The Post (FPTP) (the electoral model that the country had adopted since independence) and its perceived ‘tendency’ to ‘exclude’ from parliament parties with a sizeable following and a culture of disputing and contesting election results— all led to the establishment of the Interim Political Authority (IPA) in 1998 to create a more appropriate electoral system. The IPA came with proposals for a new electoral model, namely, the Mixed Member Proportional which is a mixture of FRTP and Propositional Representation (PR), with a view for parliament to be inclusive.

This is the context against which the 2002 general elections were held, the outcome of which was a landslide victory for the LCD winning 79 out of 80 constituencies, the exact number it had won in the 1998 elections, which, had resulted in chaos and political instability in the country. The difference was that at this time the size of the parliament was 120—constituted by 80 FPTP members and 40 PR members.
The enlargement of parliament was done, in large part, to appease political elites with a hope that political stability would be established. The cost of an enlarged parliament to the fiscus was huge but the question was whether the price of peace was not better than that of war. However, as we all know, despite the huge costs Basotho paid and are paying for political stability, Lesotho political elites’ greed and struggles for power continue to exacerbate political instability.

In many ways, the 2002 elections provided an opportunity for Lesotho to establish a stable democracy and to erase, from its history, the instability that had dogged the country since independence. The general acceptance of the new electoral model as inclusive and representative of all shades of political opinion was hailed as its main achievements. Prime Minister Mosisili would describe it as “molleloa” meaning ‘the best (ever)’ in one of his political rallies. The elections’ outcomes of 2012 and 2015 would show the fallacy of this description, as will be seen below.

Scholars of elections, such as Makoa,(2012: 4), however, observe that “ the advent of the MMP system may have just heralded a shift in focus or opened a new side of political conflict in Lesotho rather than being a cure for it.” Six years later, and following the 2007 general elections disputes, political instability ensued as losing parties wrangled over the allocation of propositional representation parliamentary seats because the new model was abused by the political elites. LCD went into an alliance with the National Independence Party (NIP) and won the poll. The newly formed All Basotho Convention (ABC), which went into an alliance with Lesotho Workers Party, challenged the election outcome. As a result strikes, stay-aways and protests followed as the opposition sought to overturn seat allocation.

Violence ensued as supporters of government and opposition supporters clashed. Elements of the army were also reported to be involved in this violence on the side of the government. SADC, in the person of former Botswana President Quett Masire, visited the country to mediate disputes on allocation of parliamentary seats. His mission failed and he withdrew.

In the midst of this impasse, political instability manifested itself, as Prime Minister Mosisili survived an apparent assassination attempt when the State House was attacked by mercenaries in the dead of the night in 2009. The same mercenaries had, on the same night, attacked the Makoanyane barracks and seized army vehicles. Three mercenaries were killed in the exchange of fire with the police on the outskirts of Maseru the following morning while seven were charged in connection with the attack on Mosisili and found guilty and jailed.

As these events were happening, the ever-present power struggles within the congress ‘movement’, characterised by internal wrangles within the LCD as two factions, Lija-mollo and Litima-mollo, supporting the Leader of the party, Mosisili and the Secretary-General, Metsing respectively, fought pitched battles to capture the party. When the leader and his supporters realised that they would not win, they split from the LCD and formed the Democratic Congress (DC) which hived away a large number of members of parliament to form a minority government. Political stability was a casualty.

It was also during this period that the LCD government, in order to buy support from parliamentarians, not only increased their remuneration but also introduced a lot of obscene perks. These included the interest-free loan of M500 000.00 from commercial banks, guaranteed by the government. There was also the purchase of government vehicles by the ministers and Principal Secretaries, at the nominal price of M4 000 for Mercedes Benz sedans, and M2 500 for luxury Toyota sedans after three years of use (Lesotho Government Gazette Extraordinary, 19th June, 2006).

These ‘perks’ were justified by saying that increasing parliamentarians’ remuneration was in order to attract persons of high calibre to national politics. In fact, the opposite has happened. Instead of attracting persons of integrity, national politics has attracted a majority of persons willing to play sycophant to the few who exercise real power. Further, the perks have attracted, to Lesotho politics, individuals—‘political leaders’ and their supporters—of greedier dispositions who are driven more by motives of self-enrichment than public service.

During the life of the LCD government, instances of public funds being laundered through tenders for both party and personal gain were investigated by the Lesotho National Assembly Public Accounts Committee. The results of that investigation are a matter of public record. The report shows that nepotism, kickbacks, opaque and irregular procurements, and conflict of interest were used by the political elite to fund themselves and their parties in complicity with several dirty corporations.

It was during this period, 2007-2012, that a conducive environment emerged in which the investigative institutions such as auditors, police, anti-corruption agencies acquiesced to this skulduggery. In such an environment, many public servants felt free to also indulge in this gluttony, masquerading as independent suppliers and overcharging government for goods and services illegally supplied. For example, the Prime Minister’s office reportedly bought a consignment of cans of fruit juice for each of which the government was charged M100, instead of the normal retail price of less than M10.

Unstable Coalition Governments, 2012-2016

The first coalition government was formed after the 2012 general elections which produced a ‘hung parliament’, where no single party had a majority to constitute government. Coalition partners ABC, LCD and BNP had 30, 26 and 5 seats respectively, forming a simple majority of 61 seats out the 120 seats that constitute the Lesotho National Assembly.

The four years of Coalition governments which followed the ten year one-party dominant government was a welcome change to most Basotho. It was hoped that the political elite had, at last, come to their senses and were then committed to an inclusive nation-building process and economic development. Alas, that was not to be, as political instability became more pronounced than ever before in the political history of the country because political elites vied for power at the expense of the people and embarked on bitter and mostly bloody struggles to get on top.

Examples of these self-serving struggles from the first Coalition (2012-2015) were the prorogation of parliament in June, 2014, the attempted coup of August, 2014, by the Commander of LDF, Tlali Kamoli, following the decision by prime minister to fire him and replace him with Brigadier Mahao, the LDF night attacks of the 30 August, 2016, on Police headquarters where Sergeant Ramahloko was brutally killed, attacks on Mabote police station, on the home of new Commander of LDF, Lieutenant- General Mahao, and on the State House. The latter resulted in the Prime Minister Thabane and the Minister of Sports, Chief ’Maseribane, fleeing to South Africa.

The first coalition government effectively collapsed in June 2014 when the LCD signed a new alliance with the DC, which had won 48 seats in the 2012 elections. Before the 2012 elections, the LCD had ruled out the possibility of a coalition with the DC in the event of a failure to secure the requisite parliamentary majority.

The ABC-led coalition was a marriage of convenience which was driven by an “anti-Mosisili sentiment.” Both the ABC and LCD were hostile to working with the DC or expanding the coalition to anyone else. This arrangement was inherently unstable because the coalition faced challenges of governing with a one seat majority; it was difficult to pass legislation requiring two thirds majority and factional politics subsequently characterised the coalition driven by their historically antagonistic relationship. More importantly, this “coalition became personality-driven with a standoff between Thabane and Metsing over the division of spoils” (Motsamai, 2015:7).

The second Coalition government of 2015-2017 was equally unstable because of its exclusion of the ABC which had won 46 seats. Within three months of a new coalition government being formed, Thabiso Tšosane, a prominent businessman, and a member of former Prime Minister Thabane’s party, was killed by unknown people in May 2015. This event was followed by the execution of Lieutenant-General Mahao, former LDF Commander, by the elements of the LDF, in June. Fearing for their lives, three opposition leaders, Thabane, ’Maseribane and Rantšo fled to South Africa, while a number of LDF members were rounded up, arrested and brutally tortured for alleged mutiny. Other LDF members fled into South Africa.

These are signs of political instability since 2012. SADC has been occupied with efforts to manage and resolve the perpetual conflict in Lesotho. In fact, Lesotho has been a prominent conflict agenda item at SADC Summits and Extraordinary Summits to-date. Following the murder of Mahao, SADC, (at the invitation of the Coalition government), established a Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Phumaphi from Botswana. It sat for three months in Lesotho and South Africa and presented its findings. During its investigations and after presenting its report, the coalition government threw all manner of obstacles either under its own hand or using agents, particularly the army, to frustrate and tarnish the image of the Commission. To-date, only one of the Commission’s recommendations, namely, the release of Lt. General Tlali Kamoli from the Command of the LDF, has been implemented.

Makoa’s (2012:2) observation on the first Coalition that the key motivation behind its formation was the quest for office and state power applies to the second Coalition, perhaps to a very large extent. For example, while in the first Coalition the combined number of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers increased from 23 to 30, in the current Coalition the number has increased to 38. The payoffs and the spoils, or benefits, of cabinet positions have been captured by Mboweni (2014:2) when he observed that:

In this country [Lesotho], which is poor and with a small economy, control of the government is key to the most primitive forms of wealth accumulation. Access to a ministry means the ability to loot the state’s resources in order to enrich oneself. It is as crude as all that. Once someone becomes a minister, their social status changes, their control over tenders and other state resources is enhanced, and “a looter continua!” So the very thought of losing state power drives even the best men and women to go absolutely berserk. That is the fundamental basis upon which we should understand the continuing instability in Lesotho.


Based on the events of the last five decades, it can, arguably, be said that Lesotho is confronted with a significant leadership challenge which has been at the centre of the country’s political instability. That leadership challenge needs to be urgently addressed and elevated as a priority issue of concern to all Basotho—ordinary citizens, political parties, civil society groups—regional and continental bodies, as well as development partners.

Collective action is required to stop and reverse the trend of poor leadership and generate a new crop of leaders. Currently, all those at the helm of the Lesotho state seem oblivious to the fact that “leadership is a privilege and an opportunity to serve others… [rather than] an instrument to assert their dominion and oppression of others” (Murithi, 2007:9). Lesotho needs leaders who demonstrate ability to manage state affairs conscientiously and efficaciously, a consistent commitment to advancing the conditions of their compatriots, selfless devotion to the principles of democratic governance and an attitude of service.

Granted, that Lesotho’s problems cannot be reduced to poor national political leadership alone. However, men and women who have ruled Lesotho since independence have been so obsessed with self-advancement and have been so lacking in the sense of national duty that they have had neither the will nor the talent to face squarely this nation’s other problems. Current national political leadership prefers the status quo and have been completely blinded by self-interest and by the benefits that accrue to them from the status quo.

T. H. Mothibe

Previous Malentsunyane braai festival organisers nailed it
Next Reforms must be inclusive

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/thepostc/public_html/wp-content/themes/trendyblog-theme/includes/single/post-tags-categories.php on line 7

About author

You might also like


Winnie: The mother who chose to defend her children

What is and what was, what could be and what will be, where we were, are, and will be, when it will happen and how it will occur, these are


Why was Thato Sibolla not protected?

THERE are several events that happened this week that shocked my whole system. We have people who campaigned for justice for the late Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao and pushed the


Lesotho: Beyond colonial legacy and apartheid

The viability of states constructed on the basis of territorial units established by colonial rule must now be scrutinised. Southern Africans need to look ahead and recommend steps in preparation