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Bishop Tutu urges peace in upcoming Lesotho elections

Political violence has flared ahead of May 26 Lesotho elections, but Archbishop Desmond Tutu urges candidates to keep the peace and respect election results. 

By Michael J. JordanCorrespondent / April 30, 2012

Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses young people at the One Young World, World Summit at Old Billingsgate in London in this file photo.

Sang Tan/AP/File

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Maseru, Lesotho

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the legendary anti-Apartheid activist and Nobel laureate, is officially retired from public life.

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But he made an exception Friday for the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

Political violence in the enclave encircled by South Africa has flared up ahead of May 26 elections – an ominous sign in what one analyst calls the latest “stress test” for democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Cracks have emerged here with high-profile assassinations, rumors of a “hit squad,” and clashes at campaign rallies.

So the United Nations invited Archbishop Tutu to bolster democracy in the land, where, before launching his crusade against Apartheid next door, he served his first bishopric from 1976-78. On Friday, his “prayer meeting” extracted a pledge among political rivals to keep the peace and respect election results.

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Citing the past political violence of South Africa, Tutu urged an audience that included the prime minister of Lesotho, “Please, please, please, please do not let the same happen to this stunningly beautiful land. Nothing can be so precious that it can be bought with innocent lives.”

Lesotho’s election is more than a contested vote in a remote country rarely heard from. It comes on the heels of successful elections across the continent: Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, and Zambia have recently all experienced peaceful elections. There have been a few notable blemishes: a couple of coups des états in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, and a contested election in Cote D'Ivoire in late 2010 that briefly turned into a civil war.

The “democracy dividend” of those peaceful elections, the Brookings Institution recently observed, has seen triumphant African states “rewarded by the international community and the private sector through increased investments in durable infrastructure that directly contribute to faster growth.”

US Ambassador to Lesotho, Michele Thoren Bond, adds, “A hard-fought, transparent, credible election here in Lesotho reinforces the fact that this is becoming the norm, rather than the exception, in Africa.”

In the mono-ethnic, mono-lingual country of Lesotho – almost entirely comprised of the Sesotho-speaking Basotho tribe – there’s less a focus on the carrot-and-stick diplomacy of outsiders than an emphasis on nurturing home-grown mediation between the feuding factions. It’s led by a coalition of churches and cultivated by the UN, which has invested heavily in technical assistance.

External interventions routinely foster resentment with locals and prove unsustainable, said UN Resident Coordinator in Lesotho Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie.

“The Basotho are a very proud nation and believe in their ability to solve their own problems,” Eziakonwa-Onochie said after Tutu’s speech. “But if there was anyone from the outside who could come and be acceptable to all parties, it was Bishop Tutu, who loves Lesotho like a second home.”

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