1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Lesotho army chief Khoantle Motsomotso
The assassination of Motsomotso (above) was all the more striking given that his predecessor had been assassinated in 2015Image: Flickr/US Army Africa/Medical Readiness Excercise 14-1

South Africa drawn into Lesotho's power struggle

September 9, 2017

The Southern Africa’s regional body (SADC) is sending a rapid-response team to Lesotho. The team is to investigate the assassination of the country’s army commander.


The killing of Lesotho's army chief Khoantle Motsomotso dashed any hopes that the Southern African Development Community regional body (SADC) might have had about an end to the cycle of violence in the tiny mountain kingdom. Instead, the killing—which occurred at a military barracks in the capital, Maseru—has highlighted the bitter power struggle between the country's military and its politicians.

Read more: Lesotho's army chief killed in gunfight at barracks 

SADC has for years striven to strengthen democratic governance in Lesotho. But the gun battle, which also killed the two officers who allegedly shot the commander, has left the regional body frustrated over the continued political violence.

"We have a problem of long drawn-out politicization of the army," said Mafa Sejanamane, a political scientist at the National University of Lesotho.

Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane
Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has made enemies within the military due to his crusade for reformsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Lesotho's violent history

The Southern African nation of about two million people has witnessed several coups and occasional political violence since it gained independence from Britain in 1966.

Read more: Lesotho: Real freedom after 50 years of independence?

"Politicians plot, murder and steal public resources without fear of consequences as a result of their alliance with elements of the military," Sejaname said.

The two soldiers who died on Tuesday after allegedly shooting Motsomotso were also suspected of involvement in the assassination of a previous army chief, Maaparankoe Mahao, back in 2015.

SADC's call to have the two charged for the murder of Mahao was strongly opposed by the country's military elite and the former regime of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

Map of Lesotho ENG
Lesotho is a landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa

New PM's fight to reform military

Prosecution was almost certain when Thomas Thabane defeated Mosisili in the June election. Thabane was an ally of the assassinated army chief Mahao.

Prime Minister Thabane made enemies within the army after he vowed to go ahead with SADC's recommendations on military reforms and prosecuting any officer suspected of interfering in politics.

Then, Thabane's estranged wife, Lipolelo Alice Thabane, was shot dead in June just days before the 78-year-old leader was inaugurated.

Read more: Wife of new Lesotho PM Tom Thabane is shot dead

Lesotho's rival factions have deeply divided the country's military and the country's politics.

For political analyst Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane, only the rule of law and harnessing of regional support could resolve Lesotho's troubles.

cm/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP)

Water power in Lesotho


Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

A head shot of Dmitry Medvedev

Ukraine updates: Medvedev says Putin arrest would be 'war'

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage