Famo crisis divides leaders


MASERU – The ongoing carnage around the country spawned by Famo wars, despite the recent government ban, has left political leaders divided over the efficacy of a state of emergency to check the deteriorating situation. The latest incident occurred last Sunday at a bar in Berea district, where three people died with eight others critically injured in a mass shooting attributed to a spillover of Famo conflicts.

Home Affairs minister Lebona Lephema last month issued a gazette pronouncing a ban on famo groups but only last week two people were fatally shot at the Maseru Border, in an incident traced right to the door-step of internecine Famo squabbles. Hardly a day passes without reports of some blatant killings linked to the gangs’ rivalries. It is on the back of these developments that this week leaders across the political divide have been debating the desirability of the government to declare a state of emergency to help law enforcement agencies deal with the escalating scourge.

The surge in famo-related murders has placed the government and the opposition at odds over solutions as some advocate for a state of emergency, while others prefer negotiations with gang leaders. Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, Member of Parliament and leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), believes a state of emergency would create more problems than solutions.

“Let us test out the ban first and assess its effectiveness; give it all the resources it needs; and ensure that operations within the ban are in alignment with the law,” he said. Rakuoane added that the ban has already led to instances where authorities act outside the law in the name of enforcement, so he fears a state of emergency could catalyse some extrajudicial excesses, creating fresh problems while trying to stop a problem.

Deputy leader of the opposition Democratic Congress (DC), Motlalentoa Letsosa, advocates for negotiations with famo leaders to resolve the escalating violence. He alluded to a similar approach in 2016 that he said significantly reduced the killings. Letsosa believes that respectful and calm negotiations are essential, as aggression only drives gang members to flee to South Africa after committing murders.

Nkaku Kabi, leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), supports targeting and arresting specific individuals involved in gang violence rather than declaring a state of emergency. “The police should have a list of specific people and target them and have them arrested instead of calling for a state of emergency,” Kabi said. Prime Minister Samuel Matekane referred to the gang leaders as terrorists while addressing Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) supporters in Matlakeng, Leribe.

Mokhothu Makhalanyane, an RFP legislator for Mokhethoaneng constituency, has called for authorities to declare a state of emergency to curb famo-related murders. “Without the declaration, I do not see us achieving anything. I am not happy with the way the government is addressing this issue, and I think it will take time for us to see any impact,” he said.

However, the RFP, through its Public Relations Officer, Mokhethi Shelile, opposes Makhalanyane’s stance. Shelile said: “The RFP is in full support of the government’s decision on the use of the operation (Declaration of Unlawful Organisations), not the call for a state of emergency.” Legal analyst Advocate Lintle Tuke, President of the Law Society of Lesotho, provided a perspective on declaring a state of emergency.

He highlighted the severe impact of famo gang violence on public safety and national security. According to Section 23 of the Constitution of Lesotho, the Prime Minister can declare a state of emergency with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament, advised by the Council of State, and published in the Gazette. Tuke said while a state of emergency could provide temporary relief from violence, it is unlikely to be a sustainable solution.

He emphasised the need for broader, long-term strategies, including socio-economic development, judicial reforms, community engagement, and targeted disarmament and rehabilitation programmes. Tuke also argued against banning the famo brand of Sesotho music, which is deeply embedded in the country’s cultural fabric.

“Banning the music not only undermines our cultural expression but also alienates a large section of the population that values their cultural traditions. This ban unfairly affects the majority of citizens who have no involvement in gang activities, leading to widespread resentment and unrest,” Tuke said. He said a multi-faceted approach combining immediate security measures with long-term socio-economic and legal reforms is essential for resolving famo gang wars and restoring lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.