Pretoria – Troops and intelligence experts will be sent to Lesotho by neighbouring countries to help stabilise the troubled kingdom and to see that long-overdue reforms are implemented.
Leaders from six countries in the Southern African Development Community, together with newly-elected Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane, made this decision at an extra-ordinary Double Troika summit in Pretoria on Friday.
In the communique, the summit said it had approved “the deployment of a contingent force comprising military, security, intelligence and civilian experts to support the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho”. It directed the chiefs of defence and security “to assess the requirements, determine the appropriate size of the contingent force, and to prepare the modalities for the deployment”.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said leaders have directed the chiefs to “quickly come together and look at the modalities of implementing the decisions that were taken by the summit”. They will then come back and advise the leaders what strength of troops should be deployed, which areas they should be deployed in, and what form it should take.
Periodic cycles of instability
“We need to understand what the nature of the deployment is going to be. For now it’s going to be support,” she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula did not want to say what date the deployment was aimed for, but in a draft document discussed at the meeting, it was recommended that the deployment happens by November 1.
Thabane afterwards told journalists he would see to it that the reforms recommended by SADC were implemented. Lesotho was earlier criticised for not sticking to the deadline set by SADC following the 2015 elections.
The extraordinary summit was called after the assassination of army chief, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by two senior Lesotho Defence Force officers, who were shot dead by his bodyguards in retaliation.
The shooting threatened to plunge Lesotho into turmoil after the country was forced to have a snap election in June after the coalition government elected in the 2015 election came undone. The country has experienced periodic cycles of instability in the past few years.
Help and support from SADC
Angolan foreign minister Georges Rebelo Chikot said it was during the implementation of the reforms that Motšomotšo was assassinated.
“The government of Lesotho needs help and support from SADC, that’s why the government asked for help from SADC. I think there’s a commitment from the government of Lesotho to implement the decisions of SADC, and I think it’s important at this stage that SADC helps the government of Lesotho, and the decisions today go in that direction,” he said.
He said given the current circumstances “where you have the military assassinating themselves”, and when they might not be submitting themselves to the rule of law, that they might need help.
President Jacob Zuma, as current SADC chair, urged at the opening of the meeting that action be taken to stabilise the tiny country.
“As SADC, we cannot and shall not be in Lesotho forever. We desire to have Lesotho off the SADC agenda soonest,” he said.
The only heads of state at the meeting were Thabane, Zuma and King Mswati from Swaziland, while Namibia’s Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Angola’s minister Chikot, Zambian defence minister Davis Chama and Tanzania’s High Commissioner Sylvester Ambokile represented their countries.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been SADC’s facilitator for agreeing on the reform timetable in Lesotho, was also present at the meeting. He declined to comment.