Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Foreign Military Intervention in Lesotho's Elections Dispute: Whose Project?

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Foreign Military Intervention in Lesotho's Elections Dispute: Whose Project?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

On Tuesday 22 September 1998, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) -- joined later by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) -- entered Lesotho, violently ending a six-week old sit-in protest by opposition members in front of the main gate of the Royal Palace and attacking the Lesotho Defence Force's (LDFs) two army headquarters in Maseru and its Lesotho Highlands Water Development Authority (LHWDA) Dam garrison at Ha Katse. The attack -- seen by the African National Congress-led government as "a means of protecting a democratic government" -- left 18 LDF members dead of whom 16 were guarding the LHWDA Dam, and Lesotho's three lowland towns (Maseru, Mafeteng and Mohale's Hoek) in ruins. Many Lesotho citizens were dazed and outraged by this unannounced external military intervention. This paper explores the background to this military intervention. It argues that while its success in suppressing the opposition's challenge to the Mosisili government is not in doubt, the intervention is an additional cause of instability for Lesotho, hence a threat to democracy. The article also asks whether this military intervention is a Southern African Development Community project or a South African enterprise.

1. INTRODUCTION

At about 05:00 on the morning of Tuesday 22 September 1998 the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), joined later on the same day by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), crossed into Lesotho and violently ended an anti-government sit-in protest staged since 4 August 1998 in front of the Royal Palace by the country's opposition political parties led by the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Marema-Tlou Freedom Party (MFP). The SANDF forcibly captured and occupied the Royal Palace, Ratjomose and Makoanyane LDF headquarters in Maseru and its Katse Dam garrison. It is alleged that 16 unsuspecting LDF members guarding the Lesotho Highlands Water Development Authority's (LHWDA) Katse Dam were killed. (1) This armed intervention -- styled by the African National Congress (ANG) regime a SADC initiative aimed at promoting democracy and stability in Lesotho -- bolstered Mosisili's beleaguered government, enabling it to regain control of the state. However, this is a Pyrrhic victo ry that can only be sustained through long, if not permanent presence in Lesotho by the SANDF. But this development would undoubtedly widen the chasm in the kingdom's polity. The victims of the intervention included Lesotho's commercial sector. Amid the ensuing chaos many commercial establishments in Maseru, Mafeteng and Mohale's Hoek were either looted or set ablaze. (21) It was alleged that "(i)n some places looting was actually started and encouraged by the foreign soldiers, for example, SANDF at OK and BDF at Metro Wholesale and at Lithabaneng Spar" (sic). (31) The commercial sector is both a critical tax base for Lesotho and an indispensable source of employment. The damage to the sector was estimated at M245.1 million. (4)

This paper explores the background to and assesses the consequences of the South African and Botswana military intervention in Lesotho. It argues that while it has suppressed the opposition's challenge to Prime Minister Mosisili's government, the intervention yields few, if any prospects for political stability and hence for democracy in Lesotho. It also questions South Africa's claim that the intervention is a Southern African Development Community (SADC) project. However, the paper attempts neither to present a new perspective nor to evaluate any of the existing perspectives on what many analysts term Lesotho's recurrent or persistent political crisis. A compendium of familiar perspectives on the kingdom's political crisis is, however, provided below, both to shed light on their essence and to highlight their theoretical weaknesses.

2. PERSPECTIVES ON LESOTHO'S POLITICAL CRISIS: A SUMMARY

Many analysts see political crises in Lesotho as a consequence of the country's chronic poverty, dependency, low level of economic development, destabilisation, and structural and/or institutional factors. …

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