Political violence has flared ahead of May 26 Lesotho elections,
but Archbishop Desmond Tutu urges candidates to keep the peace and
respect election results.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the legendary anti-Apartheid activist
and Nobel laureate, is officially retired from public life.
But he made an exception Friday for the tiny mountain kingdom of
Political violence in the enclave encircled by South Africa has
flared up ahead of May 26 elections - an ominous sign in what one
analyst calls the latest "stress test" for democracy in sub-Saharan
Africa. Cracks have emerged here with high-profile assassinations,
rumors of a "hit squad," and clashes at campaign rallies.
So the United Nations invited Archbishop Tutu to bolster
democracy in the land, where, before launching his crusade against
Apartheid next door, he served his first bishopric from 1976-78. On
Friday, his "prayer meeting" extracted a pledge among political
rivals to keep the peace and respect election results.
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Citing the past political violence of South Africa, Tutu urged an
audience that included the prime minister of Lesotho, "Please,
please, please, please do not let the same happen to this stunningly
beautiful land. Nothing can be so precious that it can be bought
with innocent lives."
Lesotho's election is more than a contested vote in a remote
country rarely heard from. It comes on the heels of successful
elections across the continent: Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger,
Nigeria, and Zambia have recently all experienced peaceful
elections. There have been a few notable blemishes: a couple of
coups des etats in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, and a contested election
in Cote D'Ivoire in late 2010 that briefly turned into a civil war.
The "democracy dividend" of those peaceful elections, the
Brookings Institution recently observed, has seen triumphant African
states "rewarded by the international community and the private
sector through increased investments in durable infrastructure that
directly contribute to faster growth."
US Ambassador to Lesotho, Michele Thoren Bond, adds, "A hard-
fought, transparent, credible election here in Lesotho reinforces
the fact that this is becoming the norm, rather than the exception,
In the mono-ethnic, mono-lingual country of Lesotho - almost
entirely comprised of the Sesotho-speaking Basotho tribe - there's
less a focus on the carrot-and-stick diplomacy of outsiders than an
emphasis on nurturing home-grown mediation between the feuding
factions. It's led by a coalition of churches and cultivated by the
UN, which has invested heavily in technical assistance.
External interventions routinely foster resentment with locals
and prove unsustainable, said UN Resident Coordinator in Lesotho
"The Basotho are a very proud nation and believe in their ability
to solve their own problems," Eziakonwa-Onochie said after Tutu's
speech. "But if there was anyone from the outside who could come and
be acceptable to all parties, it was Bishop Tutu, who loves Lesotho
like a second home."
Nevertheless, many Basotho in the capital, Maseru, openly worry
that the political process is slowing unraveling and may descend
into the spasms of violence that have marked modern Lesotho. …