The killing of Lesotho’s former defense force commander, Maarparankoe Mahao, and a series of arrests of soldiers have sparked concern that political instability is worsening in the southern African mountain kingdom.
Mahao was shot dead June 25 by members of the Lesotho Defence Force during an operation to arrest suspected coup plotters, according to the defense ministry. A military court document dated June 8 listed the names of 45 soldiers detained on suspicion of planning a mutiny. The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about Mahao’s killing.
Analysts say the authorities have failed to end politically inspired violence that labor union leaders have warned may threaten Lesotho’s preferential trading status with the U.S. and cost thousands of jobs in the textile industry.
“The rule of law is crumbling in the country,” Dimpho Motsamai, an analyst for the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies said by phone on Friday. “This is because political polarization is deep, and so is the practice of political vengeance.”
Lesotho has been in turmoil since then Prime Minister Tom Thabane dismissed Tlali Kamoli as army commander, for alleged coup plotting, and replaced him with Mahao in August. After Feb. 28 elections produced no clear winner, a coalition government led by the Democratic Congress named Pakalitha Mosisili as premier, and Kamoli was reinstated.
Opposition lawmakers boycotted parliamentary sessions on Monday and members of the nation’s law society stayed away from the courts to protest the deteriorating security situation.
“How can we work under the situation where our members are being threatened with death by the military?” Law Society of Lesotho President Shale Shale said by phone from the capital, Maseru.
Opposition parties are demanding that Mosisili resign, the All Basotho Convention, the Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress for Lesotho said in a statement.
A former British protectorate that won its independence in 1966, Lesotho has suffered military coups in the past. South Africa’s apartheid government backed an army takeover in 1986, before a counter coup in 1991 allowed for elections to take place two years later.
Lesotho may lose as many as 35,000 jobs in the textile industry if the U.S. drops the nation from its preferential trade accord, known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, because of worsening political tension in the country, Ts’eliso Ramochela, secretary-general of the Alliance of Progressive Trade Unions, said this month.
“This latest -- and most tragic -- example of abuses within the Lesotho Defence Force highlights the urgent need for security-sector reform, a goal identified as a top priority by the government of Lesotho in its coalition agreement,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a June 27 statement.