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Posted on Friday, 27 November 2015 11:00

Lesotho Country Profile 2015: Crunch time for coalition politics

By The Africa Report

Flag LesothoFresh elections planned for February 2015 are intended to resolve the political crisis that overtook Lesotho in late 2014, when Tom Thabane, the prime minister, briefly fled the country amidst talk of coup plotting.

But in view of the likelihood that the outcome will be another ill-matched coalition, the prospects of longer-term political reform are not encouraging – unless one of the main contenders for power can emerge with a convincing mandate and a willingness to tackle deep-seated corruption. Cracks in the political system have threatened Lesotho's stability for years.

The country's most recent elections in June 2012 saw Thabane take over as prime minister from Pakalitha Mosisili – leader of the current main opposition Democratic Congress (DC). Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC) headed an unhappy coalition of five parties that included the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), led by deputy prime minister Mothejoa Metsing, and the Basotho National Party.

Military plans coup

The strains in this alliance showed up in June 2014, when Thabane suspended parliament against the wishes of other coalition members, especially Metsing. It soon became clear that Metsing had wanted to leave the coalition to form an alliance between his LCD and the DC, and that Thabane wanted to avoid a vote of no confidence.

On 31 August, soldiers of the Lesotho Defence Force, led by army chief Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, were planning a coup in response to Thabane's attempt to dismiss Kamoli. The move reflected the state of high tension between Thabane, who was backed by the police, and Metsing, supported by Kamoli. Thabane's suppoorters maintained that the instability had been instigated by a group around Metsing who hoped to secure immunity from prosecution for corruption.

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After a flurry of visits by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa – with the latter also representing the Southern African Development Community – negotiations got underway in September between King Letsie III, political leaders and senior police and army officers. These led to a minimal agreement that parliament would reopen in October for the limited purpose of passing the budget and preparing for new elections.

They also agreed that South Africa and other countries would send observers – with the backing of troops and police – to help bring the unpredictable security situation under control. For his part, Thabane said that he would run for office again and that he hoped that amendments to the constitution could resolve any future stalemate. Amid signs that Mosisili and Metsing would also run, the stance of the army remained potentially problematic, with Kamoli reluctant to step aside.

Widespread poverty

Lesotho's economy has so far weathered the political turmoil, although the need for job creation has become critical. The International Monetary Fund noted that unemployment is high and poverty wide-spread, while government revenue remains overly dependent on the Southern African Customs Union.

The textile sector, a large contributor to the economy, is back on the rise after a sluggish two years for exports. However, the potential non-renewal of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act at the end of 2015 could pose a problem to the sector as the agreement underpins the flow of Lesotho's textiles to the US.

Operations in the mining industry have continued. Gem Diamonds, the owners of the Letseng mine, said its work continued normally, and Paragon Diamonds expects its new Lemphane diamond mine will make $9m annually when it starts production in 2015.

Consultations for a mining and minerals policy have been completed with a view to the government getting more revenue from the sector. Plans have been proposed for a $718,000 diamond centre for the sale, cutting and polishing of stones.

The second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was launched in March 2014, to boost dam capacity from 10bn to 15bn cubic metres by 2023. That includes the construction of the Kobong pumped storage hydroelectric scheme to generate 1,200MW, to be online by 2018. Water and power sold to South Africa are important sources of export revenue.

 



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