July 10, 2007

Former Botswana President Masire negotiates peace in Lesotho

The mountain Kingdom of Lesotho has once again reached out to its neighbours to help end yet another ruinous political stalemate that has seen an attempt on the life of the leader of the opposition and a spate of politically motivated kidnappings. The conflict follows heavily disputed parliamentary polls earlier in 2007. Former Botswana President Ketumile Masire has been appointed the Southern African Development Community point man to lead a fire fighting mission in the politically restive kingdom. The former leader of one of the most stable countries in Africa has already played a significant role in attempts to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo but his latest mission promises to be equally testing.
The small country has a long history of conflicts, often engineered by what is considered to be a very ill disciplined national army. Masire was president when SADC acted swiftly to end chaos in the capital Maseru nine years ago after Lesotho soldiers abandoned their barracks and caused mayhem in the capital following a disputed election. Lesotho was saved from descending into intercine conflict by the intervention of armies from Botswana and South Africa to quell the mutiny. Nine years on, another conflict is brewing in the aftermath of a heavily disputed parliamentary election won by prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili's ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). The ruling party shrugged a spirited challenge from the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Tom Thabane, a politician who quit government to form the opposition party in 2006. Formed last October, the ABC captured 17 constituencies and Thabane said the election was free but not fair.
But what seems to have ignited the raging political storm is an alliance allegedly panelled by the LCD and another opposition party, the National Independent Party prior to the February election. The alliance - now a subject of a fierce court battle - gave the LCD control of 82 seats in the 120 member assembly after the election. The ABC boycotted the opening of the new parliament at the beginning of June and sparked a chain of events with a chilling resemblance of the 1998 crisis. Thabane survived an attempt on his life when bullets were pumped into his house and three ministers had their cars hijacked. Adding oil to the already raging fire, soldiers guarding several ministers' homes were mysteriously attacked while on duty by unknown gangs who made away with their firearms but left the soldiers unharmed. Mosisili's government reacted by imposing a dawn to dusk curfew but the opposition has led spirited criticism against the measures. Several retired army officers were detained and identified as leading suspects behind the mayhem.
Masire said he believed problems related to the proportional representation system brewed the raging conflict. According to him, the other problem was the interpretation of Proportional Representation (PR) system, which he suspected the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) did not understand well. This resulted in confusion in the allocation of seats for members of parliament of the various political parties. He said that experts have been called to clarify the system to the political parties. However, he sounded confident that the simmering problems will not escalate to the levels of 1998. "This time SADC acted swiftly to bring the Basotho together and I think our work is much easier now," he said. (The Nation, Nairobi / Mmegi/The Reporter, Gaborone)

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