Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Attempted Coup in Lesotho Presents Regional Dilemma

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Attempted Coup in Lesotho Presents Regional Dilemma

Article excerpt

Two years ago, this tiny nation high in the mountains of southern Africa earned acclaim for passing the latest test of African democracy: It pulled off the region's first peaceful handover of power. Lesotho then went one step further, forming what some call the first and only coalition government in all of Africa.

This week, however, these claims to democratic fame have been put to the test. An attempted military coup early Saturday sent Prime Minister Thomas Thabane scampering into South Africa - and the entire police force into hiding. A power vacuum still persists after four days.

"It's a test of one of Africa's democratic 'success stories,'" says the United Nations' resident coordinator in Lesotho, Karla Hershey.

But the attempted coup goes beyond Lesotho, presenting a major challenge for the Southern African Development Community, the 15- member union committed to "peaceful settlement of disputes." SADC has been burned by Lesotho before, and has been hesitant to take decisive action after this weekend's attempted coup.

In 1998, post-election charges of fraud and violence spurred then- Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to invite SADC intervention. The mostly South African troops arrived in Lesotho, where violence and looting escalated. Much of the capital, Maseru, was razed, and 58 Basotho and 8 SADC troops were reported killed.

That trauma spawned an evolution of SADC's approach to conflict resolution, says Dimpho Motsamai, a Southern Africa analyst for the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesburg.

"Given the very bloody nature of what happened in 1998, it's had a very lasting effect on SADC's political psychology," Ms. Motsamai says. "Military intervention is the very, very, very last resort."

On Monday, when Prime Minister Thabane requested SADC peacekeepers - to protect his life and help restore order - the union declined. …

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