Lesotho's new PM sworn in after ex-leader accused of murder

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) –


Lesotho's former finance minister, Moeketsi Majoro, was sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday, a day after the resignation of Thomas Thabane, who quit after being accused of conspiring to murder of his wife.

The tiny southern African kingdom was plunged into crisis after the June 2017 killing, and pressure had built relentlessly for 80-year-old Thabane to step down.

On Tuesday, he confirmed his resignation, clearing the way for 58-year-old Majoro, a seasoned economist, to take the reins.

Thabane attended Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony at the royal palace of King Letsie III, handing Majoro a copy of the constitution to formally signal the transfer of power.

The men tapped elbows instead of shaking hands, and Majoro wore a face mask as a precaution against coronavirus.

"I will be a true and faithful prime minister, so help me God," said Majoro, who previously worked as a executive director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in one of its Africa offices.

Thabane stepped down following months of calls for his resignation over the murder of his estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane in 2017, just two days before he took office. He denies any involvement in her death.

The couple were in the midst of a bitter divorce when she was gunned down outside her home, sending shockwaves through the kingdom.

Two months later he married his now wife Maesaiah Thabane, 43, who is considered a co-conspirator ni the killing.

She has been charged with murder and is out on bail.

- 'I may have erred' -

Maesaiah was absent from Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony, where her husband apologised for his shortcomings during his nearly three years in office.

"In as much as I tried my level best to serve His Majesty and Basotho with dedication and loyalty... I may have inadvertently erred in several ways during my tenure as prime minister."

"Consequently I sincerely wish to ask you to forgive me for my mistakes," said Thabane.

His election in 2017 had brought hopes of stability to Lesotho, which has a long history of political turmoil.

Majoro, who was first appointed into cabinet by Thabane in 2013, vowed Wednesday to usher in "a new version" of leadership and "bring back their (people's) trust to the government".

He will serve out Thabane's remaining term before the next round of elections in 2022.

"We don't have much time on our side. We only have two years left before the elections yet there is a lot of work ahead of us.

"Fifty-four years after independence, the scourge of hunger and poverty is a serious issue in this country and we need to deal with this issue decisively," he said.

Majoro, who was aligned to Thabane in the divided ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, emerged a consensus candidate to take over from Thabane.

Political instability and coup attempts have meant that no premier has served out a full five-year term over the past decade in Lesotho, a country of 2.2 million people surrounded by South Africa.