GovernmentZA / Flickr Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane fought off a coup attempt to find himself running for office only six months later.

Lesotho's Day of Truth

Letter from Maseru

Earlier this month, embattled Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane addressed a raucous crowd of supporters in the rural district of Mokhotlong, a rugged farming region where elevations reach 11,000 feet. On the eastern edge of Lesotho—the mountainous nation of two million enclosed on all sides by South Africa—thousands of yellow-clad supporters danced and brandished the shining-sun logo of Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party. At the rally, Thabane pushed two main ideas: reducing extreme poverty—a message of particular interest to his rural base in Mokhotlong, where food shortages are common—and curtailing corruption in the upper levels of government. The trip was one of many in the final campaign push before the country’s upcoming special election, which was previously slated for 2017 and is now scheduled for February 28. The fast-tracked election intends to ease political unrest in Lesotho, following the attempted coup against Thabane in late 2014.

In August 2014, members of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF)—the country’s army and air force, with reputed loyalties to Thabane’s fierce political rival, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing—opened fire on pro-Thabane police officers, attacked police stations, and surrounded the prime minister’s residence. The gun battle in the capital city of Maseru left one police officer dead. Warned of a possible assassination attempt, Thabane fled to South Africa. Mediation efforts led by the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) eventually returned the prime minister to Lesotho in early September under the protection of South African police.

The current mood in Lesotho is one of uncertainty. On February 1, LDF soldiers opened fire on two of Thabane’s bodyguards outside the Royal Palace in Maseru, injuring the two men who had tipped off the prime minister ahead of the 2014 attempted coup. The attack also left one security guard dead in the crossfire. Yet despite current tensions in the country, the massive pro-Thabane rally in Mokhotlong appeared more carnival than political event. The lone road into town was at a standstill as pitso—the regional meeting grounds that held the rally—men and women danced, drank, and blew on vuvuzelas while riders processed through the celebration on horseback, standing balanced atop their saddles, then dismounting to perform equestrian wrangling tricks. Under a hot afternoon sun, one energetic supporter dressed in ABC yellow and wearing sheep horns glued to his plastic helmet swung his hips suggestively as he danced, ringing a large cowbell that hung from his belt.

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