The United States said on Saturday that it was “deeply concerned” about the killing of Lesotho’s former defence force commander Maaparankoe Mahao, an incident that many fear will spark instability in the country.
According to the Lesotho Defence Ministry, Mahao was shot dead on June 25 by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) during an operation to arrest suspected coup plotters.
Mahao was a bitter rival of current army chief Tlali Kamoli who was sacked by Thomas Thabane, Lesotho’s former leader, who had replaced Kamoli with Mahao in August 2014.
Thabane’s actions led to an attempted coup and forced him to flee Lesotho and seek refuge in South Africa.
In March 2015, when Thabane lost a tight election to current Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Kamoli was reinstated as leader of the armed forces.
Lesotho, a small African kingdom with a population of 2 million, declared its independence from Britain in 1966 and has gone through several coups since then.
Diplomats and security analysts say that Lesothan authorities have not been effective in curbing politically inspired violence.
Dimpho Motsamai, an analyst for the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies told Bloomberg that “The rule of law is crumbling in [Lesotho]. This is because political polarisation is deep, and so is the practice of political vengeance.”
US Department of State spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement that “This latest - and most tragic - example of abuses within the Lesotho Defence Force highlights the urgent need for security sector reform.”
Ts’eliso Ramochela, secretary-general of the Alliance of Progressive Trade Unions, said in June that Lesotho risks losing as many as 35,000 textile industry jobs if the United States cancels its preferential trade accord - the African Growth and Opportunity act - Bloomberg reported.
In addition to textile exports Lesotho relies on piping water to South Africa to keep its economy afloat.
According to state media reports, after South Africa President Jacob Zuma launched a fact-finding mission into Mahao’s death South African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula met with Lesotho government officials in Maseru over the weekend.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the killing of Mahao, urging the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho to “ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.”
The Secretary-General in a statement reiterated “the urgent need to move forward with institutional and security reforms” and said that the UN would “support the efforts of the Government and the people of Lesotho to consolidate peace in the Kingdom.”