Since independence in Africa as a whole, two competing governance systems have predominated. First has been the democratic type which unfortunately has not had deep roots. Another type has been the military form in its many varieties. The dominant one has been one where the military has directly run the government itself. Another version has been an indirect form where the military has its surrogates in government. These have been either the military men changing uniforms for suits or where the civilian authorities are complicit or fearful of the men in uniform.
Lesotho has had all the above forms and this is essentially the reason why we still have to deal with the crisis. It is about a refusal by the military that they cannot be a state within a state in a democracy. Deep-rooted as this culture is within the LDF, it has been used by some politicians to get into power or cement their stay. That is the foundation of the current instability in Lesotho. The military and its civilian backers are desperate to keep the status quo.
Behind the Instability
Reflecting on the current Lesotho crisis, it is clear that three periods of a move towards intensified instability are identifiable. 2014 ushers in a period when the LDF Command openly staged a rebellion which progressed to an attempted coup in August 2014. Though the coup failed, the Command had achieved its main objective of easing out an elected government from power. The refusal of the Commander of LDF to hand over soldiers who had bombed two residences in Moshoeshoe II; the announcement by Lt. General Kamoli, Commander of LDF in a press conference that he cannot be removed from office, together with the utterances to the same effect by one junior officer, Captain Hashatsi who vowed that Kamoli cannot be removed from office as long as he was alive began the current phase of the Lesotho crisis. The attempted coup was the culmination of the rebellion. Its prize was ultimately the demise of the government headed by Prime Minister Thabane.
Second period begins shortly after the 2015 elections when the Command’s allies managed to coble a coalition government of seven (7) political parties with Prime Minister Mosisili at the helm. This would have been a crowning momentt, had the government and the army Command not acted recklessly by intimidating political opponents; arresting and murdering the former Commander of the LDF thus leaving no room but intervention by SADC. What would have been the crowning moment for the new government turned into a nightmare. It brought to the attention of the whole world that the government was either in collusion with the criminal network within the LDF, or it was plainly incompetent. The nightmare was actually magnified by the inexplicable testimony of Mokhosi, the Minister of Defense and National Security, to the Phumaphi Commission. He testified that he was informally advised of the existence of a mutiny and informally authorised investigations but knew nothing about the progress. He often referred to the activities of the army during those investigations as “their thing- Army Command”. He showed that he was sleeping in the office!
The third period begins with the Extraordinary SADC Double Troika Summit in Pretoria in July 2015 which established the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Phumaphi. The submission and endorsement of that Report by SADC in January 2016 and the attempts to frustrate the implementation of those decisions of SADC on that brings us to the stage of an intense tussle, between the Lesotho Government and SADC. What is the tussle about?
The Phumaphi Report’s Challenge
Unlike all earlier attempts by SADC to resolve the instability crisis in Lesotho, the Phumaphi Commission focused on both the immediate issues at hand and the long-term ones. But even more important, it did not focus narrowly on the gunmen who murdered Mahao in June 2015. The Commission went to the core of the problem. The LDF was identified as the centre of the crisis. It was identified as an unprofessional, politicised force and which was not accountable to anybody. The Commission, for example cites an elaborate scheme to hide evidence of the murder of Mahao, which included the washing of the deceased body and his clothes before he was handed over to the police.
On a broader level, the Commission indicates that investigators were denied all physical evidence and points out that the LDF refused to provide the names of the people who were involved in the operation that led to the death of Mahao. It points out that evidence exists that the LDF is not accountable for its actions.
- Evidence was led to the Commission that a section within LDF is law unto itself having been involved in several criminal atrocities in the Kingdom of Lesotho and that several attempts by the LMPS to have access to the suspects were denied. When confronted with these allegations, the legal advisor of the LDF Colonel Sechele indicated that the LDF had since adopted a position that it would not release its officers to the Police. Evidence was placed before the Commission and supported by documentary evidence that several attempts were made by LMPS to have the suspects released for investigation but failed.
In short, this means that all the crimes allegedly committed by the LDF can only be investigated if and when the army Command pleases. But such discretion clearly cannot be positive if members of the army Command themselves are involved in criminal activities. Thus cases which affect those in power go on pending. The Report goes further to list the cases which have been blocked by the LDF. They include the following. Morija Police Station CIR 673/01/12 attempted murder, Mafeteng Police Station CIR 30/04/12 murder, Mohale Police Station CIR 03/04/12 attempted murder, Mokhotlong Police Station CIR 274/06/13 attempted murder, Leribe Police Station CIR 12/04/13, Thamae Police Station CIR 146/05/14 murder, Police Headquarters CIR 778/09/14 murder of a police officer, Maseru Police Station CIR 2535/02/15 murder of a security guard and attempted murder of an LDF member.
Paragraph 138 of the Phumaphi Report goes further to show that virtually the whole Command of the LDF is facing criminal charges. Specifically, it identifies Kamoli himself as implicated in the case of High Treason. “… the LDF became a law unto itself, this is corroborated by warrants of arrest issued on the 17th April 2014 for High Treason against Brig. Mokaloba, Major Lekhoa, Major Ntoi, Captain Hashatsi, 2nd Lieutenant Nyakane, 2nd Lieutenant Hlehlisi, Corporal Mokhesuoe, and Lance Corporal Mpolokeng Moleleki, and another warrant of arrest issued on the on the 29th September 2014 for Treason against Kamoli, Captain Hashatsi, Brigadier Mokaloba, Lt. Colonel Phaila, 2nd Lt. Nyakane, 2nd Lt. Hlehlisi, 2nd Lt. Moeletsi, Major Ntoi.” Not surprising is the fact that most of those who are alleged to have committed crimes have now been promoted, and with others skipping ranks. An unusual act in itself.
The issue therefore is that the suspects in crimes like the above, are the ones which the Phumaphi Commission deals with in its Report. “In the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation, it is strongly recommended that Lieutenant General Kamoli be relieved of his duties as Commander LDF, and all LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason be suspended while investigations in their cases proceed in line with international best practice. “ The challenge however has been that fear of Kamoli is so widespread that those of his allies who have to relieve him of his Command know the potential retribution. They have consequently been employing delaying tactics while they ponder their next move. Those are however doomed to fail since a clear timeframe for implementation of the decisions of SADC has been provided to the government.
What is clear is that SADC wants accountability. In an accountable system of government, when a citizen is murdered, the police take charge and ensure that suspects are brought to the courts. There is no need in such systems to form a commission of inquiry. You may have an inquest. But because of fear and complicity, when the LDF ambushed and murdered one of its own, SADC had to form a commission of inquiry. The government knows that its future is dependent on implementation of the SADC decisions, but it is also horrified by both fear and the recognition that some of its leading members are likely to join their allies in the treason case when it starts. It is thus understandable why they have been stalling the process.
Can Kamoli be Saved?
The truth is that Lesotho a military backed government in Lesotho is ill equipped to remove Kamoli in office. A glance at the names of all those who are facing arrest and trial, indicates that the bulk of the top echelons of the LDF are bound to be swept away thus providing the basis for security reform. No reforms can take place as long as people want to save their skins. As a result of the fear of Kamoli it is clear that the government faces a big dilemma. It is a dilemma based on potential physical retribution. It is also a dilemma based on political self-preservation. For the government, the question is how it can save Kamoli rather than how he has to be relieved of his Command.
SADC decisions are not difficult to implement. What is difficult for the government is the recognition that Kamoli is their guarantor for staying in power. In a recent radio commentary, by one Arthur Majara who is a ardent supporter of the government, he said as much. For others it is also about how they can avoid answering for their crimes, particularly those about high treason and the murder of Mahao. The crux of the matter is that the starting point of the implementation of decisions is the removal of Kamoli. After that all other issues can be easily handled.
Since the implementation of the decisions of SADC is inevitable, two strategies seem to be in place. Delaying the process has been the most prominent of the strategies. Second is the feverish attempt to negotiate, at international level to provide immunity to the killers of Mahao and also those who were alleged to have been involved in cases of high treason. That has already failed. At another level, indications are that the government wants to put Kamoli’s future in the agenda for negotiations with the opposition political parties. That however is unlikely to succeed, since there would be insufficient incentives for the opposition to save Kamoli. In fact, the question of ensuring that accountability for crimes committed and also for demonstrable evidence that there is civilian control over the military has gone beyond local negotiations between government and opposition. It has become an international concern. Thus the international community is now part of the stakeholders who would frown at the idea of leaving murders loose.
Kamoli’s fate has been sealed the moment SADC formed a Commission of Inquiry. All what remains is to ensure that minimum collateral damage is caused when he is removed by either the Lesotho government or the regional body itself.
Professor Mafa M. Sejanamane