Lesotho drama is stranger than fiction

Written by Iain Gibson, Associate Partner

Edited by Kevin Pringle, Partner


Good morning,

It really can happen sometimes. For anyone who has dismissed some of the more sensational plots of hit political dramas like Scandal and Madam Secretary as just too far-fetched, a category into which I sometimes fall, the African country of Lesotho has the perfect riposte. One of only three states on earth that is entirely landlocked by just one other country, in this case South Africa, Lesotho barely causes a ripple on the world stage. It is just over 11,500 square miles and has a population of little more than two million. Most of us pay little attention, even if we may look a bit more closely from now on. Yesterday, Lesotho’s police commissioner confirmed that the third wife of prime minister Thomas Thabane will today be charged with the murder of his previous wife. Maesaiah Thabane, who has been on the run for nearly four weeks, handed herself in at the border, following negotiations with authorities. It is the latest twist in a drama that has gripped Lesotho since 2017, when Lipolelo Thabane was shot dead outside her home in Maseru, the capital city, shortly before Thomas Thabane’s inauguration for a second term in office. At this time, the couple were involved in divorce proceedings following a thirty-year marriage, one that Lipolelo was refusing to end. Her death, originally blamed on unknown armed men, freed the prime minister to walk down the aisle again, which he and Maesaiah duly did, very quickly. The couple were never free from suspicion though and it appears that, with the help of Thomas Thabane’s daughter from his first marriage (keep up), a case was built against them, prompting Maesaiah Thabane’s original flight last month. It is reported that up to eight others will also be charged, although the prime minister, who has been questioned, may not be among them. We should be pleased that Lesotho seems to have enough of a functioning judiciary to rein in the powerful, even if in most other countries the prime minister would have surely already stepped down. At the heart of these events is a human tragedy. There is also a compelling and fascinating story, one which may twist and turn for a while yet. For those of us who have watched UK politics since 2016 and ever muttered “it surely cannot get any weirder”, spare a thought for the people of Lesotho.


News

Results are still trickling in from the fiasco of this year’s Democratic party Iowa caucuses, and Pete Buttigieg has a narrow lead with 71% of all precincts reporting. He is on 26.8%, with Bernie Sanders on 25.2% and Elizabeth Warren on 18.4%. Joe Biden looks set for a disappointing fourth-place finish, which will put added pressure on him to outperform in the upcoming New Hampshire, Tennessee, North Carolina and Nevada ballots.

The one clear beneficiary of the chaos in Iowa, Donald Trump, used his annual State of the Union address to remind America that he is about to be acquitted in his impeachment hearing and tout for his re-election in November. In a provocative – and unprecedented – move, he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he is suffering from cancer. House speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose proffered hand Trump ignored when he entered Congress, could be seen ripping up his speech as he finished. There are more confirmed cases of coronavirus, in locations ranging from Japan to Singapore. Japan confirmed that 10 people on a cruise ship tested positive for the disease, while Singapore reported six new cases, with four involving local person-to-person transmission. As of this morning there are 24,324 confirmed cases, with 3,219 of them classified as severe. There are reports that Boris Johnson offered one of his prime ministerial predecessors, David Cameron, the opportunity to be president of the COP 26 climate change conference, which takes place in Glasgow this November. Cameron turned down the role however, and Johnson is expected to announce a government minister for the position in the coming days.


Business and economy

BP’s Q4 and full year 2019 results were much better than expected. The company reported profits of $2.6 billion and $10 billion respectively, easily surpassing analyst estimates, although still down significantly on a year earlier. It also incurred a $1.9 billion after-tax impairment charge, mainly for the disposal of US gas assets. The Advertising Standards Authority has banned Ryanair from making claims that it is Europe’s “lowest emissions airline” and a “low C02 emissions airline”. The watchdog said these assertions, made on TV and radio adverts, could not be backed up. Ryanair responded by saying that consumers could halve their carbon footprint cut if they switched to it. SoftBank has announced that a managing partner of its $100 billion Vision Fund has left the company. The Financial Times initially reported that Michael Ronan was stepping away after expressing concerns about “issues” at SoftBank, a move that was subsequently formally confirmed. The fund has come under pressure following a problematic investment in WeWork.


Columns of note

In The Financial Times, Martin Wolf is critical of the UK’s demands for trade negotiations with the EU, noting that there is little chance of the two sides being “sovereign equals”, the EU agreeing to Canada-style agreement, or that a relationship governed by WTO rules is a reasonable alternative. (£) And in The Times, the director of the Social Market Foundation think tank, Scott Corfe, argues that the Tories should consider making overtures to trade unions, following their superb performance in traditional Labour-voting areas in England and Wales at last year’s UK general election. (£)


Source: The Guardian


Markets


What happened yesterday?

Concerns about the impact of coronavirus abated slightly, with US stocks rallying – the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite were up 1.5% and 1.6% respectively. Following its biggest sell-off in four years, the CSI 300 in China rose again, following a commitment from the People’s Bank to provide an extra $71 billion of banking liquidity through repurchase agreements. This positive sentiment was replicated in Hong Kong, with the Hang Seng closing 1.2% higher. Japan’s Topix ended the day 0.7% better off than it began. In Europe, the Stoxx 600 had its best day of the year, up 1.6% and the FTSE 100 increased by the same amount. Commodities-wise, brent crude remained flat at $54.47, following its recent decline on concerns that the coronavirus could hit global demand.


What's happening today?

Finals Smurfit Kappa

Interims Barratt Developments Frontier Dev

Q4 Results Glaxosmithkline

Trading announcements Vodafone

AGMs Artemis Vct Daily Mail Future JP Morgan Indian Premier Miton Ten Life

UK economic announcements (09:30) PMI Services

Intl. economic announcements (08:55) PMI Services (GER) (08:55) PMI Composite (GER) (09:00) PMI Services (EU) (09:00) PMI Composite (EU) (10:00) Retail Sales (EU) (12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US) (13:30) Balance of Trade (US) (14:45) PMI Composite (US) (14:45) PMI Services (US) (15:00) ISM Non-Manufacturing (US) (15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)


Source: Financial Times

Did you know?

The term for “crossword” in Kiswahili, a language spoken mainly by people in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, is “chemshebongo” – which, when translated, literally means “boil brains”.


Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons Opposition Day Debate Local Government finance Opposition Day Debate Transport Adjournment Nuclear energy policy and climate change - Virginia Crosbie Oral questions Northern Ireland (including Topical Questions) Prime Minister's Question Time House of Lords Oral questions Improving access to services for children and young people who have been traumatised by crime - Baroness Benjamin Oral questions Publication of government policies to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 - Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Legislation Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL] - Second reading - Lord Keen of Elie Debate Replacing the European Structural Funds currently administered by the Welsh Government. - Lord Wigley Oral questions Safeguarding animal welfare and environmental standards in negotiating trade deals - Lord Trees Scottish Parliament Parliamentary Bureau Motions Portfolio Questions Ministerial Statement The New Transport Strategy for Scotland – Protecting our Climate and Improving Lives Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Debate Finance Business Motions Parliamentary Bureau Motions Decision Time Members' Business S5M-19941 Gordon MacDonald: Cheyne Gang Singing Group