JUST when it seemed Africa’s image could take all the beating it could in a week, matters only got worse: Lesotho’s military seized control of police headquarters kingdom in the early hours of (today) Saturday, in what officials described as a “coup attempt”.
Hours later, Prime Minister Tom Thabane confirmed that the military had seized power in a coup in the tiny kingdom and that he had fled to neighbouring South Africa in fear of his life.
“I have been removed from control not by the people but by the armed forces, and that is illegal,” Thabane told the BBC. “I came into South Africa this morning and I will return as soon as my life is not in danger,” he said.
The coup started when the armed forces, the special forces of Lesotho, took the headquarters of the police.
Sports minister and leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP) Thesele Maseribane said, “The [military] commander said he was looking for me, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister to take us to the king. In our country, that means a coup.”
But at that point Maseribane insisted Prime Minister Thabane’s government was still in control of the landlocked nation, which is located within eastern South Africa, and said the premier was “fine” without offering details of his whereabouts.
Gunfire in Maseru
An AFP photographer reported shots ringing out in the early morning hours, and said a reinforced military contingent was guarding the prime minister’s official residence and that soldiers were patrolling the streets of the capital Maseru.
Prime Minister Thabane had headed a unity government since elections in May 2012, but he suspended the country’s parliament in June, amid feuding in the coalition government.
Since independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho has undergone several military coups.
Military coups have fallen out of fashion on the continent, particularly in Southern and East Africa.
While Mali, Guinea, and Mauritania in West Africa, Central African Republic (CAR), and Egypt have all had coups in recent years, they are rarer than they used to be.
However, excluding the island states, mainland southern Africa in particular seemed to have become coup-immune, the last such attempt being in 1998 in Lesotho.
The “coup” could not have come at a worse time. The shine that Africa—once stereotyped as a continent of famine, war, corruption, disease and coups—had got in the last 20 years is being slowly scrubbed off by the ravages of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa that has conjured apocalyptic images, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that the virus could easily kill up to 20,000 people before it is contained. It also projected that that could take up to six months, longer than initially thought.
Ebola spread piles on bad news
The alarm bells rung even louder on Friday, when it was reported that Ebola had spread to a fifth country, Senegal, in the region.
The case marked the first time a new country has been hit by the outbreak since July and, and matters weren’t helped by the fact that it came a day after the World WHO warned that the number of infections was increasing rapidly. Since the outbreak last December, over 1,500 people have been killed by the disease, most of them in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Five have died in Nigeria.
Besides the bleak Ebola outlooks and now coup, the fighting in Libya and the grim march of the Boko Haram terrorists in northern Nigeria continued unabated.
After weeks of fighting, the Libyan jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia jihadist took control of the country’s international airport in Tripoli.
The fighting by the myriad of factions continued into the week, with no end in sight.
With the final outcome of the attempted “coup” in Lesotho now resulting in the ouster of a civilian government, the second on the continent this year after Egypt, it is likely to have far-reaching consequences in shaping conversations about whether Africa is really making progress.
Lesotho is no stranger to political crisis.
In 1986, South Africa’s apartheid government instigated a coup to prevent the country being used as a base by the African National Congress and other activists.
In 1998, following election riots, South Africa and Botswana embarked on an ill-fated invasion that reduced the capital to rubble.
In recent decades there have been a series of attempted political assassinations.
But the last elections in 2012 passed off relatively peacefully, with three major parties forging a coalition.
However coalition partners accused Thabane of operating without consulting other partners, and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), the main opposition party in the unity government, made moves to oust him and form a new administration.
“Since the previous elections, the coalition struggles to work and the premier was criticised for his authoritarianism,” a European diplomatic source who works in Lesotho told AFP.