In Africa’s year of elections, with democracy in retreat in many parts of the continent, Lesotho is a pygmy beside giants like Nigeria and other larger nations facing votes. But many observers are watching the small mountain nation as it heads to the polls Saturday, one of just a handful of African countries that in the past has seen a peaceful democratic handover of power from one party to another. Lesotho’s democratic credentials are in question after an attempted coup in August forced Prime Minister Tom Thabane to flee the country. Saturday’s balloting is supposed to resolve the crisis, if friction between political opponents and rival branches of the security forces doesn’t derail the process. Among the other countries facing elections this year are Sudan, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Mali, Burkino Faso, Burundi, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Guinea, Central African Republic, Togo and Mauritius.
In the first few months after Lesotho’s crisis in August, much of the blame was pinned on the aggression of the country’s military commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. But now, just days before the kingdom’s February 28 election aimed at resolving the impasse, there are indications that Prime Minister Tom Thabane may have an entire rogue military on his hands. The August 30 coup attempt saw Lesotho Defence Force soldiers chase Thabane from his official residence across the South African border. Simultaneously, troops attacked three police stations, killing one officer and injuring nine others. For South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the lead mediator in the crisis for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a crowning achievement came in November when he exiled Kamoli from Lesotho.
Lesotho’s opposition parties say they have formed a coalition government after Sunday’s inconclusive election. The leader of the All Basotho Convention, Tom Thabane told the BBC that he had reached an agreement with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and two smaller parties. “We are going to have a vast majority in parliament,” Mr Thabane said. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili failed to win an absolute majority in the weekend parliamentary election.
Lesotho – the tiny mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa, with the best (ok, only) skiing in Africa, and one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates – is getting recognition for something else: carrying out a peaceful election with a likely transfer of power. After elections held this week, a majority of Basotho voters turned against the 14-year rule of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, expressing frustration with empty promises. With no party enjoying a convincing majority, five opposition parties this week cobbled together Lesotho’s first-ever coalition government and claim at least 61 seats of the 120-member parliament – with an ex-foreign minister, Tom Thabane, tabbed as the new premier. With its straightforward process and absence of violence thus far, Lesotho gives a lesson in democracy that many other African countries — such as Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, and even nearby Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and South Africa could learn to emulate, political observers say.