At the top of my mind as the summit approached was whether SADC would strengthen its hand to ensure that the two agreements reached among the parties are now implemented earnestly? Of course, I had noticed that the ministers of the double troika had become a bit more visible in their support to the Lesotho normalisation process. They were holding meetings with parties, assisting them to implement the parties’ Windhoek and Pretoria declarations adopted in the past month or so.
I expected that whatever the outcome of this support and the observations of the ministers and their senior officials would define what become the SADC position on the Lesotho crisis.
I was also aware as the summit became imminent that SADC has through its involvement in Lesotho in 1998, in Zimbabwe since the early 2000s, in Madagascar in 2011-2013 and its role in African Union peace efforts taken a firm position in favour of a negotiated settlement. So it was always gonna resist the temptation to explore a military intervention to deal with a real military threat to the kingdom coming from the renegade former commander of the armed forces who is said to be hiding somewhere with stolen arms and some soldiers. African solutions are in essence peaceful and diplomatic. This diplomacy is not the loud-hailer one though, but one that has been termed “quiet diplomacy”. Yet, I still wanted to understand what SADC would make of the inability of the parties to the Lesotho crisis to implement decisions taken already.
We know that Lesotho is fundamentally fragile because when it was created as a modern state, the British were creating ethnically distinct states to make easy its indirect rule colonial policy and did have a viable state in mind. It is weak also because after independence the Basotho political elite simply failed to strengthen the normative and material basis of the state. Instead, they focused their energies on competition for state power and to that end they have been wiling to render political parties nothing more than platforms for advancing narrow elite interests. The state is subject to the disruptive effect of this deepened political culture.
The Double Troika Summit recalled the outcomes of the Victoria Falls SADC Summit earlier, which urged the parties to implement agreements and to seek help when they cannot. They reiterated that summit’s call for political solutions in accordance with the constitution and domestic laws as well in respect to democratic principles. The key point here is SADC ensuring that there was national ownership of the process. Basotho must solve their problems themselves on the basis of their own laws with the support of SADC.
According to the Double Troika, the parties have agreed to bring forward the date of the elections so that they could be held sooner than 2017. The new dates to be discussed by parties and other stakeholders. This could mean that the parties are so unwilling to make the governing coalition work that they hang their hopes on the next elections producing outright winners. But it may also signal an intention to start a new collation government in the hope it will work. It is not clear why this is necessary given the fact that there has not been signs that people are unhappy with their decisions to vote for no outright winner.
SADC appointed Cyril Ramaphosa as its facilitator ahead of president Zuma perhaps because his hands were full.. But what this means in terms of Lesotho crisis and Ramaphosa’s involvement in regional diplomacy? He has wide-ranging experiences as a former trade unionist, key negotiator in SA’s transition to democracy and an accomplished business man.. His role in the negotiations process that enabled the SA’s transition to democracy is remarkable and has already been called upon for application in crises like Sri Lanka’s. His involvement in Lesotho also prepares us for the post-Zuma era. It suggests that Zuma trusts his deputy enough to expose him to regional politics of peace diplomacy. There is a defacfo succession taking place.
His role will benefit from the deployment of a SADC Organ’s “observation mission” for three months in order to brief the SADC summit later. This also includes technical expertise. If both the political and administrative levels of regional peace diplomacy work effecting my together, it will help SADC see quick improvement in its regional diplomacy.
It remains to be seen whether the addition of Ramaphosa will resolve just the Lesotho question or our own domestic issues also by demonstrating his readiness to take the mentle of leadership in an important regional power. He is likely to succeed in getting parties to take very concrete actions because he is an experienced negotiator, his country will support his effects systematically and will have a united SADC behind him. This will add to his growing stature as a possible future president of SA.
The Double Troika banks on the facilitator to pile further pressure on the parties to act speedily and the observation mission for a successful arrest of the crisis in Lesotho. Time will tell if this will succeed.
Siphamandla Zondi is the Director at Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.