Preventing armed conflict in Lesotho


The Southern African Development Committee Preventive Mission in Lesotho helped to maintain stability during a period of severe political crisis in Lesotho, preventing an armed conflict from erupting in 2017.

Lesotho, a small kingdom surrounded by South Africa, has had a troubled relationship with democracy since constitutional rule was re-established in 1993 after a period of military rule. A contested election in 1998 led to mass protests and a Southern African Development Committee (SADC) intervention, with further instability being averted with the introduction of some electoral reforms. However, politics in the 2000s continued to be marked by weak governing coalitions, contested elections, and attempted coups d’état by the armed forces.1 In 2014, an attempted coup forced much of the government (including the prime minister) to flee to South Africa, where they requested international assistance to help restore order.2 In the ensuing negotiations hosted by the Government of South Africa, new elections were scheduled for 2015, however these failed to produce a stable governing coalition and the chaos continued. A few months later, a former military chief was assassinated, sparking a SADC investigation. In their findings, the SADC officials recommended a host of political, constitutional, and security reforms which, they hoped, would bring some stability to Lesotho.3 The proposals were, however, largely ignored by the Government of Lesotho and the country remained on the verge of collapse.

In September 2017, the SADC met to discuss the possibility of deploying an intervention force to prevent the collapse of law and order in Lesotho. After agreeing that such a move was necessary (and making use of the previous request for aid by the Government of Lesotho), the 269 personnel of the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) moved into Lesotho on 2 December 2017. They were tasked with creating a secure, stable, and peaceful environment, restoring the rule of law, and helping to implement certain Security Sector Reform programmes.4 Almost immediately, the situation in Lesotho calmed and SAPMIL was able to focus on facilitating dialogue and leading confidence building patrols with the fractured Basotho security services. Just two months into their deployment, an African Union (AU) delegation assessed SAPMIL, recommending AU member states provide financial and logistical support to the mission.5 Having helped to prevent the political deadlock from escalating into armed conflict, SAPMIL was withdrawn in November 2018.

1 Roger Southall. “Why Lesotho’s in such a mess and what can be done about it.” The Conversation. (2017) Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)

2 Christopher Williams. “South Africa’s efforts to stabilise Lesotho have failed. Less intervention may be more effective.” The Conversation. (2020) Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)

3 Peter Fabricius. “Is SADC at last flexing its muscles in Lesotho?” ISS Today. (2017) Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)

4 SADC. “SADC officially launches the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho on December 2, 2017.” News. (2017) Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)

5 SADC. “AU conducts an Assessment on the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL).” News. (2018) Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)

Start Year


End Year




UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Risk of a horizontal (non-state) intrastate conflict, Risk of a vertical (state-based) intrastate conflict

Type of Initiative

Peacekeeping mission

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The African Union and the Southern African Development Community




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