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Don’t rock the boat



IN diplomacy, as in all interactions, it is not what you say but how you say it that is important.
We are perturbed by the tone of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s letter to King Mswati III in reaction to the decisions of the SADC extraordinary summit in March.

He says Lesotho view “with disdain” the regional bloc’s communiqué after the summit in Swaziland that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Oversight committee “would be charged with the responsibility to monitor the political and security situation” in Lesotho during the election.

He says this will allow “these two SADC structures to gradually gnaw into the very fabric of our sovereignty.”
He complains that SADC gave Ramaphosa and the Oversight Committee “yet another spurious responsibility to conduct a multi-stakeholder national dialogue” ahead of the election.

“With due respect, we find this most unrealistic and absurd. How and where on earth, would anyone have time for this multi-stakeholder dialogue during the campaign period for elections?”

Given the emotive nature of election periods it is tempting to offhandedly dismiss Mosisili’s protests to SADC as mere grandstanding.
Yet on substantial issues Mosisili makes some valid points. Indeed there is no time to organise the multi-stakeholder dialogue. He has the right to push back on decisions he feels undermine Lesotho’s sovereignty.

In fact, Mosisili is at liberty to speak his mind to fellow SADC leaders. That has been the tradition in SADC and it should not change. However, the problem with Prime Minister’s letter is not the issues he raises but how he puts them across.

There is a thin line between being candid and being haughty. One can be forceful without offending. You can be frank but courteous.
We are therefore not surprised that the reaction to his letter has been frosty. Because of Mosisili’s demeanour a gauntlet has been thrown.
Botswana President, Ian Khama, has been uncharacteristically forceful in his reaction to Mosisili. He says if Lesotho feels that SADC’s interventions are undermining its sovereignty then Botswana would withdraw its people serving on the Oversight Committee.
King Mswati, although diplomatic, was equally cold in his response.  He reminded Mosisili that the interventions were meant to help Lesotho in the spirit of brotherhood.

This government has walked this road before and the results have not been good for its reputation. We recall how the government fought tooth and nail to avoid receiving the Justice Mphapi Phumaphi Commission report.
SADC prevailed, leaving the Lesotho government embarrassed. As things stand Lesotho is in no position to be belligerent with the regional bloc.

Indeed, Mosisili should walk back some of the words he used in the letter.
The tenor of the letter has potential to create a diplomatic storm from which Lesotho might not be able to extricate itself.
If SADC has given Lesotho an impossible target then Mosisili must say so without rocking the boat.
SADC has, thus far, been Lesotho’s best friend. Its political support to Lesotho has been tremendous. It has stood with Lesotho in dark times.

Without SADC Lesotho could have been plunged into political and security chaos.
There is goodwill that Mosisili should not squander because we might need it soon.
In his letter the Prime Minister pleads for “restraint” and “decorum” in the regional bloc. Wise words indeed, but we hasten to say he should lead by example by being measured in his communication with SADC.

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