Lesotho’s diplomatic boob

Lesotho’s diplomatic boob

MASERU – A diplomatic storm has erupted after Lesotho abruptly broke ranks with SADC and the African Union (AU) by backing Morocco in its dispute with Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR/ Sahrawi ).
The AU supports Sahrawi’s struggle for independence from Morocco.
Also known as Western Sahara, Sahrawi has been occupied by Morocco since 1976 after it annexed the territory after Spain left in 1975.

Morocco has clung on to nearly three quarters of Sahrawi’s territory despite the United Nations insisting that the people of Sahrawi have a right to self-determination and independence.
SADC too has supported Sahrawi’s quest for independence.
Lesotho has toed this line since it recognised Sahrawi in 1985 and has consistently backed Sahrawi’s freedom.

But last week the government abruptly changed this position of more than three decades by seemingly taking sides with Morocco.
On October 4 Foreign Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi told Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita that Lesotho has decided to “suspend all statements and decisions related to the status of Western Sahara and SADR pending the outcome of the United Nations process”.
“This constructive neutrality will be observed from now on all sub-regional, regional and international meetings,” Makgothi said in the letter.

In diplomatic parlance this means Lesotho is withdrawing its support for Sahrawi’s independence and sovereignty.
The “constructive neutrality” that Makgothi mentions in the letter to Bourita amounts to abandoning Sahrawi.
It is a major victory for Morocco which has aggressively pushed to persuade countries to withdraw their support for Sahrawi and legitimise its occupation of the country.

The Moroccan media was this week gloating about Lesotho’s decision, describing it as a result of Morocco’s “proactive” and “constructive” diplomacy.
One newspaper said “Lesotho’s move comes amidst a perceived pro-Morocco momentum in the UN-led political process to broker lasting peace in Western Sahara”.

It said the decision was a result of recent conversations between Makgothi and Morocco’s Bourita.
But the broader implications of Lesotho’s decision are not lost on countries like South Africa, Algeria, Angola and Mozambique which are demanding an explanation from the coalition government.
The AU and SADC are said to be peeved that Lesotho made a decision that contradicts their position.

Professor Mafa Sejanamane, Lesotho’s Ambassador to the AU, is said to be under immense pressure from diplomats at the AU to explain the decision.
Sejanamane finds himself in a quagmire because it doesn’t seem that he was consulted or officially informed of the decision.
He is alleged to have told Makgothi, in a strong letter that he is in a difficult position because he doesn’t know what to tell other African countries about the decision.

Although thepost has not seen the letter sources say Sejanamane warned the minister about the potential diplomatic fallout.
Sources said he advised Makgothi that the decision should be reversed to reassure Sahrawi of Lesotho’s support.
A source said Sejanamane told the minister that the decision could send a wrong signal that Lesotho does not consider itself bound by the positions of the SADC and the AU.

Lesotho’s ambassadors this week told thepost that they are being inundated with calls from their counterparts who want them to explain Lesotho’s policy-change.
“It’s a complete mess. They want to know why Lesotho has changed its position and gone against the AU and SADC. This is unprecedented,” said one ambassador.
“I am getting call after call from development partners demanding answers but I cannot tell them anything because the government has not told us anything.”

What makes the decision surprising and curious is that it comes hard on the heels of SADC’s calls for Sahrawi’s independence.
In March, Lesotho was part of the SADC Solidarity Conference on Sahrawi held in South Africa.

A declaration from that conference reiterated SADC’s support for Sahrawi.
It said SADC pledged its “continued solidarity with the people of Western Sahara in their struggle for self-determination, and undertake to raise the question of Western Sahara at all multilateral fora as well bilateral engagements with international partners”.
In August SADC repeated the same sentiments at its Summit of Heads of States and Government in Tanzania.

A communiqué of that summit called on SADC countries to implement the resolutions of the solidarity conference.
Lesotho’s decision is a marked departure from what Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said about Sahrawi at the UN General Assembly last month.
In his speech Thabane said the UN had an obligation to assist Sahrawi, which remains the only colony in Africa.

“Our United Nations should be an organisation that protects the sovereignty of its member states and prevents interference in the affairs of other states,” Thabane said.
“It should be the United Nations that is not indifferent to the people of Western Sahara who have yearned for independence for scores of years but to no avail.”
He has said the same in all his four previous speeches at the General Assembly (see sidebar for Thabane’s statements at the General Assembly).
Minister Makgothi referred questions to Communications Minister Thesele ’Maseribane.

The decision however seems to have spooked some of the coalition partners, especially the Basotho National Party (BNP). It was the BNP government that recognised Sahrawi and set the foundation for Lesotho’s position on the issue.

This week Joang Molapo, the BNP’s deputy leader, took to Facebook to explain the party’s position on the issue.
While his post is not the party’s official response, it indicates that there is discord in the government over the issue.
Molapo, who is Minister of Tourism, said the BNP has “consistently supported” the principles of self-determination, anti-colonialism and democracy.

“These principles have informed our policies from 1959 when the party was formed until today. This party will never abandon the aspirations of the African people for liberation and self-determination,” Molapo said.
“It is what guided our understanding on the liberation struggles in Mozambique (Frelimo), Zimbabwe (ZANU), Namibia (SWAPO), South Africa (ANC) and many other countries across the world.”
“Our relationship with Western Sahara and the Polisario Front is based on this same understanding. As such the party cannot support any policy that moves Lesotho away from the current position of SADC or the African Union. These are positions which Lesotho was central to formulating.”

“BNP has seen many struggles for independence from one corner of Africa to the next. Even in 2019 we stand firm, we are not in the business of abandoning our friends or their struggles for independence,” Molapo said.
But BNP spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe was forthright.
The BNP’s position, Mofomobe said, is that Morocco should immediately end its occupation of Sahrawi.
He said the BNP will now try to cajole its leader, ’Maseribane, to ask the government to reconsider its position.

Mofomobe said the party remains guided by its founder and Lesotho’s first prime minister, Chief Leabua Jonathan, who was vehemently opposed to colonialism.
Mofomobe said Chief Leabua fought for liberation of South Africa during the apartheid era.
“It is for this reason that we had South African dead bodies in Lesotho,” he said.

He said their former leader worked collectively with other African leaders such as Namibia’s Samuel Nujoma, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to ensure that African countries remain on their soils.
Mofomobe said the BNP worked hard to push South Africa out of Namibia.
And he also helped counties like Zimbabwe that it regained her independence from the British rule.
“Chief Jonathan also fought hard that Ian Smith left Zimbabwe,” he said.

Staff Reporter









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