Strange 'coup' in Lesotho: Prime minister flees, deputy takes over, army denies seizing power

Police was loyal to the prime minister, and the military to his deputy. Seems the police and PM have lost this round.

AS COUPS come and go in Africa, the latest in the tiny southern Africa nation of Lesotho belong firmly among the the strangest and most confusing.

On Saturday Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled the country for South Africa, after accusing the army of staging a coup.

It all started early Saturday when the Lesotho military seized control of police headquarters kingdom in the early hours of Saturday, in what officials described as a “coup attempt”.

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 that 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.

Hours later, Thabane himself said 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.

Unusually, the army denied trying to force him out of power, saying it had moved against police officers suspected of planning to arm a political faction in the small southern African kingdom. And by the end of Saturday, the military had shown no signs of naming one of its own to take charge, or a civilian replacement to Thabane.

Today (Sunday) it seemed that Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing had taken charge of the government. However on Saturday, Sports minister and BNP Maseribane, had implied that the military was likely to harm Thabane, Metsing, and himself.

Turns out that Metsing has, instead, profited from Thabane’s flight – for now at least. Reuters quoted Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Selibe Mochoboroane  saying, “Constitutionally, in the absence of the prime minister, the deputy prime minister takes the reins.

“For now there hasn’t been any arrangement, but it goes without saying the deputy prime minister will still oversee other issues that need to be taken care of until the prime minister returns.”

Relations have troubled between Thabane’s BNP and Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) group, which formed a coalition with another party after elections in 2012.

Thabane dissolved parliament in June to avoid a no-confidence vote against him amid feuding among the ruling parties.

Metsing later said he would to form a new coalition that would oust Thabane.

Reuters quoted diplomats in Maseru saying the army was largely seen as loyal to the deputy prime minister, while the police force largely supported the prime minister. Again, a very unusual situation on the continent.

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.

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