Some of the major characteristics of emerging or dying dictatorships are the instilling of fear amongst the populace. This fear can come overtly or covertly, but the consequences are the same. Often the combination of the two is more common. For fear to be effective it tends to be preceded by either a demonstration effect or by deployment of both heavily armed police and military personnel amongst the people. While the former is more dramatic in that people can be beaten up or killed for showing dissent, the latter is creeping and is accompanied by public statements by the organs of the state, that those who refuse to submit to the emerging order will be crushed. In all above cases, the intention is to bring about submission to the dictatorship. Often the wishes of the dictatorship prevail until people can no longer bear the oppression.
The reasons for trying to silence the populace are many, but the key one tends to be the slide in popularity of either the new regime or the old one. The problem however is that crackdown results in fear and not love and support. This is always the achilles heel of all fragile regimes. They fail to distinguish fear for support. As it totters to collapse, the Mosisili regime has from the beginning utilised all the above. For some time, people were fearful and only appealing for international intervention, but of late, resistance has been the order of the day. Indeed you hear less and less reliance on the SADC action, though the decision of SADC based on the Phumaphi Commission has provided the rallying point.
Waiting for International Community
After the narrow victory in the 2015 elections which allowed Mosisili to cobble together a coalition government of seven political parties, the crackdown began almost immediately. The coldblooded murder of Lt. Gen. Mahao; the detention and torture of over sixty soldiers; the exile of other soldiers; and the exile of all leaders of opposition political parties represented in parliament provided the demonstration effect to quieten the populace. This was followed by strident statements at governmental level and some of the political parties allied to the government to the effect that the killers and torturers would not be made accountable since they were involved in an approved operation. Threatening statements from the regime were a common feature. These combined with the regime’s demonstrated effect that killing and torturing are not excluded from the actions it can take, for some time brought about fear to some in the public. It was not unusual in the early days of the Mosisili regime to hear people saying they are opposed to the regime but are afraid. “re ea it’sabela” in Sesotho.
These however did not quieten the people since SADC had established a Commission of inquiry headed by Justice Phumaphi from Botswana investigating the circumstances leading to the murder of Lt. Gen. Mahao, former Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force. Evidence heard by the Commission exposed the grand plan to impose a civilian led military regime in Lesotho. It was shown how the Military Command actively perpetrated and protected crimes committed by the army including attempting to assassinate the then Prime Minister by exploding bombs where they thought he was; attempting to take over the government; and murdering several civilians throughout the country. But more importantly, the inquiry heard how the Commander placed the Prime Minister’s military guards as spies who would inform him about the movements of the Prime Minister and whom he has and plan to meet. They were thus not body guards but spies who would be useful during the intended takeover of the government.
The Commission identified the people in the military who committed all those crimes and have to be subjected to court processes. On completion of its work the Commission’s report became the rallying point for all the opposition political parties and civil society organisations. In particular the decision that Lt. Gen. Kamoli who had been reinstated as Commander of the army when the new government came to office in 2015, be removed as Commander, and that the soldiers suspected to have committed serious crimes should be suspended pending investigations of their alleged transgressions.
The major drawback of the opposition parties and civil society organisations over the period was to place their hope on SADC’s decisiveness to have its decisions implemented. In that, they were disappointed. The cries of wives of the detained soldiers and those in exile did not move SADC to be as decisive as its decisions seemed to indicate. It is probably only with European Union and United States pressure that Kamoli’s commission as Commander was finally terminated in December 2016. A combination of public demonstrations by many sections of the people and foreign pressure ensured that, as Kamoli conceded in his last date as Commander, ensured that Kamoli was removed from the command. However the pressure has not been enough to ensure that the suspects in all the crimes specified in the Phumaphi Report are suspended. On the contrary they have been promoted to higher ranks and some of them skipping ranks contrary to the promotions policy. Some of them have actually been promoted twice since 2015. The intention is very transparent. This was meant to ensure a firm grip at all levels of the officer corps by tainted personnel who would ensure that any future government which wants to institute reforms and accountability would find it difficult to do so. Moreover, the government has tabled an atrocious bill in parliament termed the Amnesty Bill. This Bill was meant to exonerate all the crimes committed by military, police, correctional services and civilians who committed those in their official capacity or on their own frolic from 2007 till 2015. It is the most undignified law that any government could think of. It is however unlikely to muster the necessary votes in parliament.
The unexpected revelations during the sittings of the Phumaphi Commission and the rallying cry to implement the decisions of SADC resultant thereof probably forced Mosisili to intensify the clampdown which unfortunately brought into the surface the resultant resistance which had been building up over the past eighteen months. The crackdown has been multifaceted but for purposes of this paper only the most significant will be dealt with.
Mosisili’s crackdown and resistance
The clampdown began with an intensified intimidation of the media. The regime spent a lot of time on government controlled media including television, commonly known now as “TV Monga eona” in Sesotho. This essentially means that it does not serve the public but its owner. It a propaganda tool which most people now ignore. The message was largely to berate the private media and the opposition. Indeed the former Minister of Communication, Letsatsi, went so far as to write to some of the radio stations giving them warning that they would be closed if they continued to air things which he was against. But more bizarrely Letsatsi announced that government was preparing to close down social media which, unlike the newspapers and radio stations had become the major source of news and exposure of the goings on in the government.
Particular focus of the government and its supporters at times was an attempt to intimidate Lesotho Times, a weekly Lesotho newspaper. Both the editor of the newspaper and the reporter were arrested and threatened by a joint police and army team for having written a story about negotiations between the government and the then Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force to award him M40 million as a separation payout. They demanded that those journalists should reveal their sources. They refused and consequently the reporter skipped the country having heard that a worse fate awaited her. Over and above the threats by the government, some of the loose tongue members of one of the parties in the seven party coalition headed by Mosisili went on radio to threaten to have both the U.S. Ambassador and the editor of Lesotho Times killed. True to his word a few days later, the editor was ambushed and shot as he entered his residence after work mid 2016 and is still recovering from his injuries. In a normal country threats like those would have lead to a criminal charge. Ramat’sella is still roaming around and making more threats to whomever he thinks does not support the regime.
This did not diminish the resistance against the policies of the regime. One of the first signs of resistance was a demonstration organised by the wives and children of the detained and exiled soldiers under the banner of”Breaking the Silence”. It was a rally which attracted large crowds revealing that people have overcome fear. At the end they narrated their suffering and determination to speak at every possible forum about their husbands/fathers in detention and exile. The size of the gathering must have shocked the regime because from that time onwards it became more difficult to get permission from the police to organise any march.
Three important marches took place almost all of them after court orders had been granted by different groups protesting against corruption and also lack of implementation of the SADC decisions after the Phumaphi Commission. The civil society organisations were all concerned about the lack of action since it would endanger Lesotho’s eligibility under AGOA. The last of those marches attracted even more public participation despite the intimidation which included over flight of army helicopters over the marchers. Almost all opposition political parties supported the marches. The public has now discarded the fear of the regime which could have been expected after its display of brute force to impose its will on the people.
With limited success to discourage people to go for demonstrations, and with the courts increasingly ruling in favour of the organisers, the latest tactic by the regime is to track the process of providing permits for demonstrations and also to harass and intimidate the organisers of such marches.
In the context of diminishing number of supporters of the regime in and out parliament as a result of Moleleki’s feud with Mosisili, (former Deputy Leader of the DC lead by Mosisili) leading to an ultimate split of the party with each controlling about 50% of Members of Parliament, crackdown intensified. In an unprecedented move police stopped Moleleki’s supporters from going to the airport to welcome him from an overseas trip. They deployed riot squad in all routes leading to the airport. The police put up roadblocks, deployed all types of riot gear in all directions to the airport. However Moleleki’s supporters together with others from the opposition bared the obstacles. While most did not reach the airport, some did. They thus created a convoy to Moleleki’s house where he addressed them and the media. His message was that he wants to distance himself from the divisive Mosisili stance that those Basotho who follow the congress tradition and beliefs are like oil and water to those who stand for the nationalist course. The crowds in Moleleki’s courtyard belonged to all political streaks in Lesotho. The crowds also included plainclothes members of Military Intelligence (M.I.) who were taking pictures of those in the compound. Machesetsa Mofomobe, Spokesperson of the Basotho National Party (BNP), who was also in that crowd, took pictures of the M.I. people who were in the crowd.
It is this incident which sparked the resistance against the establishment. A few days after that incident, Mofomobe was arrested in the evening. While his lawyers went to court for him to be released, Maseru witnessed massive spontaneous reaction by people who wanted him to be released. Throughout that evening until he was released at midnight, roads leading to the Police Headquarters were barricaded by angry opposition supporters who burned tyres until the early hours of Saturday demanding Mr Mofomobe’s release. Skirmishes with police were everywhere in the city centre. This was only the beginning of the protests. When Mofomobe went to court on Monday following, he was accompanied by hundreds of supporters who were incensed that he had been arrested over the weekend. Their chants were very clear. The suspected that he would disappear in the hands of the police who have increasingly become political pawns in the on-going struggle for power in Lesotho.
Machesetsa was then charged under the Lesotho Defence Act. He was charged with inciting public violence for allegedly taking Military Intelligence (MI) pictures at the Moleleki’s residence in Qoatsaneng, Maseru on 28 October 2016. It is alleged that he promised to post the said photographs on Facebook wall owned by a mystical person by the name of Makhaola Qalo who publishes secret government documents. Alternatively he was charged with obstructing army officers from performing their jobs. The case was adjourned for further investigations.
Two things are pertinent here. First, Mofomobe is not a soldier. Charging him under a military law is curious to say the least. Second, it is clear that people who fought for his release did not flinch when confronted by armed police. Fear no longer predominates their thinking. Mofomobe himself has not retreated in his opposition to the Mosisili regime which no longer has the necessary numbers in parliament after losing about 50% of his party’s members of parliament to Moleleki led Alliance of Democrats (AD). He was arrested again but released without a charge this time for defaming high ranking police officers and inciting violence. The fact that he was not charged in indicative. It was only to distract him and other organizers of another protest march which ultimately did not take place.
In a similar manner Thuso Litjobo, leader of the youth movement of the newly formed political party led by Moleleki was arrested and driven far away in a rural police station. The reason for moving him away from Maseru was ostensibly to ensure that protesters do not accompany him to the police station as they have been doing whenever Machesetsa is arrested or detained. This did not succeed because crowds got to that police station to ensure that, as they said, that he does not disappear. Following a habeas corpus application by his family, Litjobo was presented to the High Court and released since there was no reason as the judge ruled to have arrested him. When he was finally charged with criminal defamation of a senior police officer whom he had accused of dabbling in politics, the case was dismissed. The central issue here was that the police were merely trying to arrest Litjobo, Machesetsa and others as a way of disorganizing people who were organizing a march to demand that parliament should be re-opened after it was closed sine die without Members of Parliament voting on it in terms of known procedure.
In order to illustrate the depth of the attempt to intimidate the people through use of police the incident which took place in the offices of the Lesotho Times a few days ago is indicative. Machesetsa Mofomofe and other organizers of the march demanding the reopening of parliament were stopped by people describing themselves as police in vehicles with no blade numbers and not in police uniform. They claimed they were looking for him. He responded that he was there for an interview and can only attend to them after such interview. In any case Machesetsa went on to ask for their identification and they refused to produce such identification. With the crowds increasing Machesetsa left them there to continue his interview with the newspaper staff. He told them that without identification he was not sure whether they wanted to kidnap him or not. A police spokesman, Molefe, later argued on radio that police without identification must still be obeyed. Molefe seems to have lost some of his training even though he is one of those who are repeatedly been promoted of late.
Increasingly people seem to have overcome fear. They crowd police who are trying to detain and arrest people just to divert attention from the bigger issues of rule of law and governance. Crowding the police in whatever place they try to take their victims seems to have been the preferred mode of operation of the populace. Resistance is now intensified. People no longer just hide or run away from agents of the state. They resist them.
From September/October 2016 we have pronounced the imminent fall of Lesotho Prime Minister Mosisili’s government. That has not happened for one reason or another. After more than fifteen years as Prime Minister, Mosisili has learned how to avoid traps. Cunning as he may be. he now knows that even the most politically astute politician can postpone but not avoid his Waterloo moment. By the judgment of the Lesotho High Court, Mosisili won control of the Democratic Congress (DC) against the executive committee of his party which had sought to oust him. He however realised that his victory was not worth anything since his nemesis in the party; Monyane Moleleki walked out and formed a new party supported by no less than 50% of Members of Parliament. That left him leading a minority coalition government. It must be remembered that Mosisili’s coalition was made up of seven coalition partners most of whom had only one seat each in parliament. When twenty three members joined Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD), Mosisili remained with at most 42 coalition members of parliament in a 120 seat body.
Moleleki had earlier on formalised his agreement with All Basotho Convention (ABC, with the support of the two other exiled political leaders of the Basotho National Party (BNP), and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), to form a new coalition government. The numbers of that prospective coalition are over seventy. To make matters worse for Mosisili, his Deputy Prime Minister’s party Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), which was the second biggest in terms of numbers in the coalition government, has also dramatically split. The Secretary General of the Party, Selibe Mochoboroane has now formed his party called Movement for Economic Change (MEC). That makes Mosisili’s prospects for survival even bleaker. He probably only has members of parliament who are equal or less than his 37 member cabinet. This is why he has failed to replace all those cabinet members who resigned with Moleleki.
How then has Mosisili survived with these numbers in a parliamentary democracy? It was largely due to the connivance of the ruling coalition and the Speaker. From 11/10/2016 when parliament was re-opened after the winter break, until two and half weeks later when it went for another recess indefinitely without a vote by Members of Parliament, the agenda was only prayer. No debates were allowed to take place for that period. Even the “points of Order” interruptions common in parliaments were ignored by the Speaker. The key issue was how to prolong the government in office while making all the efforts to prevent an effective successor government. In the meantime, Mosisili was frantically working on a programme of self-perpetuation even when the inevitable happened. He was under no illusion that his days were numbered but he wanted to prolong his influence beyond his days in office by frantically appointing his protégés and promoting others to strategic positions. These included attempts to dilute SADC decisions on Constitutional, administrative and security reforms; it also included hoodwinking other people about the government’s true intentions on the Amnesty Bill.
Investing in his future
In 2012 when Mosisili handed power to his successor, he had been Prime Minister continuously from 1998. He had thus built a solid base in both the public service and the security services. Nevertheless he felt the need to appoint both the Government Secretary, who heads the public service, and the Commander of the LDF a few weeks before the elections. Kamoli later came to serve him well in destabilising the new coalition government until it collapsed. After two and half years away from power, Mosisili seems to have been clear that there was a need to rebuild his power base. He got rid of all Principal Secretaries but two and Ambassadors but two. He also swept clean the echelons of the police to be replaced by his handpicked ones. His final sweep also went to remove Professor Mosito, an eminent jurist as President of the Court of Appeal, on tramped up charges of delayed submission of income tax returns, where the tax authority was not even a complainant.
Mosisili’s reach in twilight days has been very extensive. It was and has a focus on his future rather than the national interest. Perhaps what gave him nightmares was the ever increasing pressure from the European Union and the United States on implementation of decisions emanating from the Phumaphi Report. Key to him was the insistence that he should remove Kamoli, his key ally, from the command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). Having conceded that he had no alternative but to do so, he dilly dallied for more than six months. His argument was always that negotiations are on-going. The dateline for AGOA annual assessment for eligibility was getting closer. The U. S. did not only sent an Assistant Secretary of State to Maseru, but also wrote an uncompromising letter to Mosisili that Lesotho faces exclusion from AGOA if there is no progress in implementing the SADC decisions on good governance and rule of law.
It is at this stage that Mosisili began to process the exit of Lt. General Kamoli as Commander of the LDF. This was done through an obscure clause in the Legal Notice ostensibly to appoint Major General Mot’somot’so as Commander. The clause removing Kamoli reads as follows:
- The Lesotho Defence Force (Appointment of Commander) Notice 2015 is repealed.
While Section 1 promotes and confers the Command to Mot’somot’so, Section 2 repeals the instruments which appointed Kamoli. This is inelegant but effectively removes Kamoli as Commander since he was only appointed in 2015 by Mosisili after he had been dismissed by the previous government. But what is clear is that Kamoli left on his own terms. These are the indicators.
First is the appointment of Mot’somot’so who was due for retirement. He has always demonstrated extreme loyalty to Kamoli. His stance was made clear in 2014 when he was appointed to Act as Commander while Kamoli was onstensibly on sabbatical. He refused to accept even a letter of appointment. Rumour has it that he did not even use the Commander’s office during that period.
Second, Kamoli continues to be heavily guarded by members of the LDF several weeks after he has been removed from his Command. More importantly, a week ago, when his sister was being buried, the whole funeral activities were handled by the LDF. Army helicopters and trucks were all over in Bobete, where he comes from. Perhaps a secret agreement exist somewhere which will explain how Kamoli left LDF and remained in charge.
The second layer of Mosisili’s strategy to perpetuate himself beyond his term of office is related to the amazingly rapid career progression of officers in the army and the police. Details are only emerging about police promotions and they include the rapid rise of one Mapoola who is now Assistant Commissioner of Police. This is the second promotion he has had after Mosisili got back in office after the 2015 elections. His amazing story was told by him to the Phumaphi Commission, where he was dismissed rather amusingly by the Commission when he related a civilian version of the army mutiny but refused or did not know anything that would be of assistance to the Commission. The military progression like the meteoric rise of Mapoola is more interesting as part of the bigger picture of Mosisili’s survival strategy. In a tabular form hereunder I show cases similar to those but also will indicate why this is important later.
|Rank 2015||Rank 2016||Rank 2017|
What is significant about these movements is that more than 90% of the upward movements here is made up of people who have been specifically pinpointed in both the Phumaphi report and also the judgement of the Court of Appeal in which Hashatsi challenged the legality of the Phumaphi Commission. Needless to say that he lost that case. Most of these people are expected to be suspended while police investigations continue about a myriad of cases from High Treason, Murder, and Bombings etc. Instead of suspension they have been promoted some against the Promotions Policy which guides these cases.
From a public policy perspective, there are also a lot of issues with these promotions. They largely did not exist in the establishment and have been done in the middle of the financial year. What it means is that posts were created for the above and the next government will be settled with unmanageable personnel costs. But even more important is the fact that the promotions have created a monster whereby there are too many brigadiers, too many colonels. It’s a case of “too many chiefs”.
For Mosisili at least two objectives have been achieved by the promotions. First, if international pressure increases and he releases the detained soldiers and those in exile return, he will have miraculously ensured that seniors are now juniors of his handpicked soldiers. It will now be easy to remove those he did not approve of through normal military procedures. Thus throughout the ranks he will have his ears and eyes to ensure that he and Kamoli continue to be in charge of the LDF.
Secondly, like in the first change of government in 2012 where Mosisili placed Kamoli to ensure that the government was unstable, he has now devised a grander scheme. No government that he does not like will be able to run the country. He will thus be remotely in charge and with no responsibility for what happens.
As if these moves are not enough, Mosisili has intensified his stranglehold on power beyond his days in office by seconding recently promoted Colonel Lekhooa to head the National Security Service (NSS), a civilian intelligence agency, from LDF. We now have a serving military officer heading NSS. How can a military man, already implicated in the crimes listed in Hashatsi’s case in the Lesotho Court of Appeal, head and provide independent intelligence advice to the government? Mosisili and Kamoli now have a stranglehold on the government for the foreseeable future. Lekhooa has only been placed at NSS only to gather intelligence to frustrate justice. He will only be there as part of the exit strategy for both Kamoli and Mosisili. He will not serve the government of the day but will play the role of a private intelligence for those who placed him there. Let us be aware of the strategies of self-perpetuation!
The seriousness of these actions far outweighs his eminent fall. He will control all the levers of power while others attempt to run an ungovernable state. Are the leaders of the forthcoming coalition aware and ready to respond to these machinations? For the sake of this country I hope they are.
Happy New Year! We parted in October 2016 due to a nasty car accident.