In the recent past, the mention of Lesotho in international fora is about the political and security crisis. It is about lawlessness and the inability or refusal of the government to bring criminal suspects to the courts of law. The question however which tends to be missed by analysts is the source of the collapse of the rule of law. It is sometimes brushed aside by those who blame the Lesotho Constitution or those who attribute the chaos to the emergence of coalition politics in Lesotho. The two issues which have been referred to above however, have in reality nothing to do with the crisis. Indeed, Ramaphosa’s diagnosis of 2015 was that early elections would resolve the issue. They were held and produced an even bigger crisis. Similarly the constitutional review recommendations which SADC has put forth would improve the structures, but are unlikely to bring about a stable and accountable system of governance. The Lesotho Constitution may have weaknesses here and there, but those have no bearing on the crisis. Indeed the Lesotho Court of Appeal judgement on the case by the Attorney General versus the King, Prime Minister and others on whether the Prime Minister has power to recommend appointment of the President of the Court of Appeal to the King without consulting his coalition partners has put all those arguments to bed. Coalition government or not, the Prime Minister has power to take decisions.
The central issue about the Lesotho crisis is a security nightmare in general and a military crisis in particular. It is a crisis which revolves around the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). The dominant figure of Lt. General Kamoli in Lesotho politics cannot be exaggerated. It is a dominance which has reverberated in Lesotho and beyond. He has had a former Prime Minister run away from State House when the latter tried to fire him; has resisted to release soldiers to the police investigating murder; has ensured that those involved in the murder of his successor as Commander and the physical evidence are out of reach of the police investigators; and more importantly, Kamoli has defied court orders to release soldiers who have been detained and tortured by his men. Fearful of him and his potential retribution, the government has been pretending that no such transgressions have taken place.
In the face of the fear of Kamoli, the noose on the country has been tightening. The Report by the Phumaphi Commission to SADC and its endorsement, have set a chain of reaction around the world to ensure that accountability mechanisms are restored. The issue therefore is why in the face of potential adverse actions by the international community, the government has not acceded to the demands to implement the SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission. Secondly, it has to be analysed how the resistance is likely to affect the international status of the country.
Kamoli in the Lesotho Political Scene
Appointed as Commandeer of the LDF shortly before the 2012 elections which brought about a new government, Kamoli built his stature and control of both the military and indirect control of the civilian structures at the time when there was a relative political vacuum in Lesotho. The 2012 election results had brought about an inconclusive outcome, with no political party able to form the government on its own. The first coalition government came to being. This was the time when the political parties in government were still trying to find their way in government and also trying to understand coalition politics. It was a palpably weak government leading to a situation where the military could take advantage. Kamoli embraced that. Not only did he use the transitional period to strengthen his hold on the LDF, but as evidence during the hearings of the Phumaphi Commission showed, he also used the military guards for the former Prime Minister as spies of what the latter was doing and whom he has been seeing.
It is at this time that clear signs began to show that civilian control over the military was loosening. After a year or so, Kamoli had built his power in the Special Forces, which were commanded by Captain Hashatsi, a junior officer who as he indicated in his testimony to the Phumaphi Commission, reported to the Commander. An anomaly of sorts that such a junior officer reported to the Commander. But the thing which brought everything to the surface, was the persistent refusal of Kamoli to hand over several of his confidants to the police for cases of murder and other serious crimes. The communication between the police and the army on those issues were published in several newspapers but neither Kamoli nor the government responded. It was later revealed to the Phumaphi Commission that the matter was raised by the Commissioner of Police in a Cabinet Security Sub-Committee Chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister. It let to nothing, showing that Kamoli was already a dominant figure in the government.
By 2014 there was a clear army rebellion which showed its face, by the bombing of several residences in Maseru including the former Prime Minister’s companion and the Commissioner of Police. Investigations led directly to Kamoli’s confidants in the LDF. Even here Kamoli refused to co-operate with the police. To make matter’s worse, he ignored the directives of the then Prime Minister to stop the court martial process against Brigadier Mahao who was charged for reprimanding a junior officer who had publicly declared that he would not allow anybody to replace Kamoli as Commander of LDF. Kamoli took this issue further and made the then Prime Minister to withdraw the letter. The rebellion was then in full steam, and it was not surprising to find that later when Prime Minister Thabane dismissed him, Kamoli unleashed the army against him in an attempted coup. Prime Minister fled to South Africa where he only came back to the country under SADC security detail.
By going for the Prime Minister, even though the coup did not succeed, Kamoli had demonstrated the lengths he was prepared to go. He had earlier publicly announced that would not be removed from his Command. When the new coalition government took power after the 2015 elections, Kamoli was reinstated to his Command. The consequences were immediate. Several soldiers were detained and tortured while others fled the country. The former Commander of the army who had just been removed from his Command was ambushed and murdered, thus triggering the establishment of the Phumaphi Commission by SADC. Made up of a seven political parties, the new coalition government was much weaker than the 2012 coalition of three political parties. It was in no way in a position to challenge Kamoli.
When SADC agreed with the Phumaphi Commission recommendations to remove Kamoli from office, it was clear that the government would not know where to start. Though some in the government may be attached to Kamoli, there is an even greater number whose actions would be guided more by fear than by anything else. It is as a result of this that fear that the government has been ducking and diving when confronted by SADC’s decisions on Kamoli and his confidants who are facing several charges the police have listed and are shown in the Phumaphi Commission Report.
SADC’s demands to Lesotho Prime Minister are simple and straight forward. It demands that people who are suspected of committing crimes in the army be made to account for their actions in the courts of law. In democratic societies there would be no need to even have to make that demand. But in a case where the Commander of the army is also involved in those crimes and has previously demonstrated that he is above the law, an international commission had to be formed, and a regional body has had to make those demands. Arrests of those armed men ensconced in the barracks cannot be easily done until their protector has already been removed from his Command. The long and short of this is that the first step in implementing SADC decisions in Lesotho is to remove Kamoli from office.
Second tier of demands are about constitutional, public sector and security reforms. These also are dependent on the removal of Kamoli. No reforms can be successfully implemented if there is a Commander who has no respect for the law. The man who refused to leave office by force in spite of the issue of an authoritative government gazette. Even if reforms were made, what assurance would be there that he would accept the new constitutional order if he has refused to recognise the law as it is now?
However, there is now unpreceded pressure on Lesotho to implement the decisions of SADC. Three recent developments are important indicators of the amount of pressure the government faces. First is the financial pressure which the external partners have put. In recent times, the European Union has suspended budget support as a result of failure to follow financial accountability agreements. This may not be directly related to the SADC demands, but it is also about accountability. In a similar manner, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), has directly told the Lesotho government that implementation of SADC decisions is a prerequisite for qualifying for consideration of the second grant to the country. MCC made it clear that evidence must be shown that there is civilian control over the military. No such evidence, at the moment, can be shown that the government is in control of the army.
Second, is the letter from Mozambican President Nyusi, as Chairperson of the SADC Troika, to Prime Minister Mosisili which made it clear that implementation of the SADC decisions has to be done immediately but in any case no later than 31/03/2016 when a clear programme with timelines would be due to SADC. The dateline has passed but failure to implement, it was made clear, would trigger the summoning of the Double Troika. The visit of the Executive Secretary of SADC to Lesotho a few days ago has not changed SADC decisions. Indeed it is expected that in meetings with the government she spelled out the expectations of SADC. It must be understood that there are issues which the Executive Secretary could only speak about privately with the government and not in public.
Third level of pressure that is now being exerted is at the continental and global levels by both the African Union and the United Nations. The United Nations-African Union Joint Task Force on Peace and Security in its twelfth Consultative Meeting on the 22nd March 2016, in a Communique says:
The Joint Task Force deliberate on the on-going political crisis in Lesotho which has persisted since the 2015 elections. It recognized the timely efforts the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has made by intervening though mediation and a commission of inquiry with a view to resolving the crisis that could threaten stability in the region. While calling on all political stakeholders in Lesotho to give peace a chance, the AU and the UN will continue to support SADC in its peace efforts. The AU and UN call on all stakeholders to support the efforts of SADC and work together towards meeting the deadline of 31 March 2016 for the preparation of a roadmap to implement the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry. The AU and UN are convinced that the effective implementation of the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry presents a veritable opportunity for Lesotho both to resolve the current crisis and also avoid a possible relapse in future. The Joint Task Force called on SADC to urgently deploy its Oversight Committee in Lesotho to assist and monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.
What is clear in the above is that the Lesotho crisis has now become a world-wide challenge which all security and related structures are focused on dealing with. It is no longer just a SADC issue. The country is virtually under siege with all voices demanding accountability. It is now either the survival of the country or the removal of Kamoli from the Command of the LDF. It can’t be both