July 2017

Dismantling Mosisili’s militia: progress and challenges

The newly formed government of Lesotho as expected faces a phenomenal task to unscramble a deliberate plan by Mosisili to rule from the grave. As indicated, in an earlier article, central to the scheme was to ensure that the government would be bogged down for up to a year trying to understand what has been done and how to undo it. Though some thought that, Mosisili’s plan was just about his relatives and close allies, it was clear to me that those were transparent decoys. The real focus of the plan was to undermine the rule of law and to ensure that those who committed crimes would continue to control the levers of power and like in 2014 attempt to destabilise the government.

This gigantic plan to deceive everybody seems to have failed. The speed and focus with which the government has begun to dismantle the militia, must have taken the conspirators by surprise. The government seems to have decided to break the back of the snake before going to smash its head. The militia which had been formed had three main components. The police was its fulcrum as I will show below; the National Security Service was its eyes; and the army was the executioner. In a situation where the fulcrum and eyes have been chopped, there is little that the remaining part of the militia can do. This is more so when the militia is aware that it is now under observation internally by the other security services and externally by the neighbours. It is a situation where the militia can only resort to assassinations but cannot stage a coup.

In order to understand the enormity of the task at hand in dismantling this militia, it is important to outline what was the nature of their operation as individual units and also how the militia effectively had become a state within a state. The point to emphasise is that Mosisili was only a symbolic head of the militia. The effective head was Kamoli even after he had ostensibly left the LDF Command. Mosisili and his allies only provided the political cover particularly in the international community where he ultimately retreated to the worn out argument of sovereign right of states in their internal affairs. This is an argument which he suddenly ditched after losing elections, when started calling on SADC to institute a forensic audit of elections in a supposedly sovereign state!
Scope and modus operandi of the militia

As already indicated above, the militia operated as a unit even though specific tasks were largely handled in the different sections. The main operational areas seem to have been the police which had been dismantled as a police service. This is why the initial focus of the government seems to have been placed there. In the scale of things, police are the chief crime busters and if they become part of the criminal syndicate, it would be impossible to bring about accountability and the rule of law. Let us through three main examples show why the Lesotho Mounted Police was no longer fit for purpose. I exclude the rampant crimes of all nature which were not dealt with since the police had been turned into a militia serving interests of those who manipulated the service. The key issues which will show the crisis of policing in Lesotho since 2015 are as follows:
a) In 2014 we had cases of bombs lobbed into places where the present Prime Minister was expected to have been and also in the residence of the then Commissioner of Police. Nobody died, but those were clear cases including attempted murder which the police diligently followed and suspects were identified. Warrant of arrest were ultimately issued, but they were not effected. The investigations, as we came to know during the proceedings of the Phumaphi Commission did not continue after the 2015 elections.

In August 2014 an attempted coup was staged by LDF and in the process Sub-Inspector Ramahloko, a member of LMPS was brutally murdered at Police Headquarters. Those who staged the attempted coup and those who murdered Ramahloko are known. Investigations on all above were stopped after the 2015 elections. Making matters worse the nephew of Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was dismissed from the police for asking about the state of the investigations of the murder of his uncle.

In January 2015 bodyguards of the Prime Minister were ambushed and injured by members of the LDF close to the Royal Palace. A security guard, Qobete, in nearby premises was shot and killed. The soldiers who ambushed those guards are known but no investigations have been undertaken by the police since then.
In June 2015, the former Commander of the LDF, Lt. General Mahao, was waylaid and killed by publicly self-confessed members of the LDF. No investigations were undertaken by the police. In evidence before the Phumaphi Commission, the LMPS was characterised by evasiveness and utter stupidity as shown by one Mapola who then was promoted twice within fifteen months for attempting to deflect criticism of the police by arguing that there is evidence of civilians who cooperated with the so-called mutiny suspects.
b) In March 2016 the police arrested one Constable Khetheng at Sebothoane in Leribe and according to evidence in the habeas corpus case in the High Court; his arrest was not recorded in the occurrence book but he was handed over to one Inspector Mofolo (promoted two times since then) who took him to a place unknown. No investigations of his disappearance were undertaken.

c) Over and above the setting up of a joint army police unit which was known to have been the one unit which kidnapped and tortured people at the dead of night, the police also ran a “police uniforms for hire type of scheme” whereby army personnel were borrowed police uniforms in order to disguise their nefarious acts. To make matters worse, police spokesman, Molefe whose rank I no longer know since he has also been promoted several times since 2015, went on radio to declare that police who are not in uniform and without identification should be accepted as such. This was an attempt to spin the fact that some of those who were kidnapping political opponents refused to identify themselves. All criminals had to do was to declare that they were policemen!
The militia extended its control to the National Security Servoce (NSS) by seconding one Col. Lekhooa substantively with Military Intelligence, and more importantly one of the suspects in at least three of the crimes listed in the Phumaphi Commission Report, as Director-General. His control of the civilian intelligence agency ensured that the military was in complete control of the intelligence operations in Lesotho. It meant that there could not be any oversight over the military. It also meant that all the intelligence, past and present was now available for planning by those who ran the militia. It is now known that the most sensitive of the intelligence gathering systems were decoded and handed over to those whose mission was not security of the state, but spying on state institutions in order to commit crimes.

Finally we have to review the role of the militia in the army. The army had, like the police, been totally dismantled and served the interests of those who were focused on committing crimes. The whole Command has been largely responsible for transforming the army into a militia which has been involved in cases of High Treason, murder and torture. The most prominent members of this gang have been handsomely rewarded with promotions and some by foreign postings. Indeed those like Sechele who was arrogantly trying to intimidate the Phumaphi Commission has been one of those who have been promoted twice in fifteen months. He is now a Brigadier, whose only operation he has been in is one on the outskirts of Mokema in June 2015.
This was the unit which was the puppet master with the police and the NSS as useful idiots. But the militia’s head could not be effective without the use of those other institutions. Killing off the militia’s oxygen was thus probably the best strategy rather than going for the kill in what is going to be a complicated operation. The issue therefore is to assess the stage of the process of dismantling of the militia.
Cutting off the branches of the militia

Strategically it is clear that the new government was well briefed and took actions early enough against the militia which is still in shock and knowing that it cannot operate the way it used to in the past. First, the militia is for the first time headless at both the political level and within the military. With both the Mosisili/Metsing axis gone and also with Kamoli out of direct command the militia is stranded. Moreover, the firm direct and indirect communication by SADC to the new Commander of LDF, that there would be consequences if anybody tried to stage a coup sank. In the words of the South African foreign minister, “ …it’s not a threat, it’s just the way it is…” coups by the militia can’t be tolerated. How then has the government undertaken the task?

First, Prime Minister Thabane held face to face meetings with the Mots’omot’so, Commander of the LDF, before and after his inauguration. It is clear that the meetings were about making the Commander to know that the insubordination of the past could not be tolerated. Thabane seems to have tamed the beast, since then the LDF has now not openly challenged the government like it used to do. Two important developments have since taken place.

Lekhooa’s secondment to the NSS from LDF has been terminated. This was the first significant action which indicated that the new government is intent on initially clipping the wings of the militia before going for the jugular. Removing Lekhooa from NSS is probably the most important action which will ensure that the oversized military role in all aspects of Lesotho’s body politic is reduced. From a security management approach this is as the doctor prescribed. Intelligence is the foundation of governance. This is only the beginning.

Third, the government decisively stopped the Court Marshall against the so-called mutiny suspects who have since 2015 been tortured and incarcerated at the Maximum Security Prison. This was the centrepiece of bargaining by the old regime against its opponents. The plan was that, those detainees would be used to bargain the amnesty of the criminal suspects in all the cases referred to above. The release of the detainees would be contingent on the criminal suspects being provided indemnity. Like kidnappers, the demand was to compare perpetrators with victims. There could not be any equivalence. The next stage is to ponder whether the Court Marshal should be dissolved or not.

The fourth significant action in dismantling the militia has been to initially sent on leave Letsoepa, the Commissioner of Police, while investigations about his role in undermining his oath of office to maintain a professional police service were being undertaken. The appointment of an Acting Police Commissioner was an important first step. Letsoepa above all members of the militia, undermined police solidarity in protecting known killers of a fellow policeman; recruiting police on the basis of political leanings; promoting suspects in crimes like the disappearance of Constable Khetheng. But to make matters worse, Letsoepa, a day after elections and on a Sunday, promoted over twenty cronies into senior positions irregularly and without a budget.

In all my days as a political observer in Lesotho, I have not seen such a brazen attempt to undermine a police institution. I have also never seen government circulars issued a day after elections and on a Sunday. Only the militia could have thought of things like that. That he has now been written to by the Government Secretary to show cause why he should not be removed as Police Commissioner is not a surprise!

Challenges ahead
The attempts so far have been well-thought out and will be the basis for action in the next few weeks when additional measures will be taken to move from the branches to the stem. In his Speech from the Throne a week ago, King Letsie III indicated that SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission will be implemented in full and swiftly in order to bring about stability. This is where the key challenges lay. One of the key recommendations which the Commission made was that all those in the LDF suspected of committing crimes should be suspended while investigations are continued. In the meantime, almost all those who were listed in the Report have now been promoted twice with most skipping the ranks. Most of the suspects have moved from junior officers to being part of the Command. While it is possible to try to suspend them, it is not clear whether they will not attempt to resist. It is therefore prudent to move cautiously and solicit SADC support to implement this part of the recommendations.

Second, we have those detainees who are now in open arrest. Their Court Marshall case is still intact. Most of those have been severely tortured and may need medical and psychological counselling. It’s not enough to stop the Court Marshall case to go on. Indeed the best case scenario is to dissolve the Court Marshall. The Prime Minister has the power under the law to do so. But the question which has to be considered is their re-integration into the force where they were tortured by their juniors who now suddenly have become senior to some of them. How safe are they before the suspects are suspended? This has to be thought very carefully.

Thirdly, we still have to consider the exiled soldiers whose salaries and other benefits were stopped in 2015. Like their colleagues who were at Maximum Security, they have suffered a lot. They also cannot just walk in into the barracks after these developments. Their security must be paramount in any decision taken before the suspects are removed. What the government should be able to do is to ensure that their livelihoods are improved before they come home in safety. This is reportedly what the Minister of Communication; Joang Molapo is reported to have said to the local media. I totally agree with that approach. There is to need to ensure that they return in safety rather than to hand them over to the remnants of the militia who would be desperate by now and could harm them.

The militia is now being dismantled. We have however to be aware that in desperation it could hit anywhere like an unguided missile. There is no need for premature celebration. The road ahead is still tough but most of it should be over before the end of August 2017.


Reflections on the struggle against impunity: June 2017 elections and beyond

The recent defeat of the militia through an electoral process has been long and bitter. Now that the new government has assumed office, it is appropriate to reflect on how the changes came about. The changes, I argue, happened in spite of the key institutions of state and beyond which in other countries tend to play a critical role. Ours are moribund and not fit for purpose.
From the beginning of 2014, Lesotho was under a full-fledged army rebellion which initially was publicly spearheaded by one junior officer by the name of Hashatsi who dared the government to remove then Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). On the face of it, this was a rebellion led by Hashatsi, but in reality it was a rebellion by Lt. General Kamoli and most of his Command who were initially in the background. When carefully looking at the situation however, important signals came to the fore which indicated that Hashatsi was just the face of the rebellion. Military ethos would never have allowed a junior officer to be in rebellion without consequences. The rebellion was shown for what it was when the following signals came to the fore. The suspension of Brigadier Mahao, who had dared reprimand Hashatsi, for challenging the prerogative of the government of the day on matters of who is placed in Command.
Shortly after that, the rebellious troops attempted to assassinate both the Prime Minister and the Commissioner of Police by placing bombs in a place where they thought the former would be and at the residence of the Commissioner of Police. They both survived. A chain of events took place culminating in the attempted coup of August 2014. The rebellion was not quelled, instead a snap general election was held in February 2015 with the hope that it would provide the solution to the broader political and security challenge. That was delusional as events were to prove.
After the 2015 snap elections, the rebellious troops and their political allies were triumphant. The Democratic Congress (DC), led by Pakalitha Mosisili cobbled a seven party coalition to form a government. This government however, as developments were to show, was just a front for the military which ruled. It is the same rebellious troops which now called the shots. They managed to have a puppet regime which condoned all their crimes and also rewarded them handsomely with promotions and other goodies. Since this junta had no self control and the government was just a means of providing them with cover, it went berserk; killing, torturing and threatening both civilians and soldiers with impunity. International pressure and internal dynamics brought about the collapse of the regime, leading to yet another election in 2017, the third in five years.
The 2017 elections were clearly the most pivotal in modern Lesotho politics. It was a question of either the maintenance of the military backed regime or the election of a government which would be able to confront the rebellious troops which had now consolidated their control of all security structures. It was an election like no other. From the beginning there were fears of violence and rejection of the results by the losers. In the end, the losers were disarmed by international pressure from being spoilers, but the militia which had emerged, remains. This is where the challenges of the new government begin. How it handles that will determine how long it stays in office.

Post-2015 politics in Lesotho
The triumph of the military rebellion after the 2015 elections began to be felt almost immediately after the formation of the new government. The first step was to remove all the senior personnel who had been appointed by the outgoing government. This was more pronounced in the security sector where both the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and the Commissioner of Police were relieved of their Command. Simultaneously, a major crackdown was taking place in both the LDF and the police. Those in the army who were suspected of having been loyal to the old order were being haunted out. Within weeks after the elections, more than sixty soldiers were abducted by hooded men and taken to the torture chambers at Setibing Military base. The level of depravity of torturers was only to be revealed later in several cases of habeas corpus in the Lesotho High Court.
Reporting on its mission to Lesotho, the Southern African Litigation Centre graphically detailed the situation of the detained soldiers. Once abducted, the “soldiers were typically taken to Sedibeng, in an area that is particularly cold and where it often snows in the mountains”.
Here the detainees were forced to walk on ice, sprayed with cold water or thrown into a frozen and dirty stream. Wet and in the cold, they are then tied to a pole and hooded overnight whilst being insulted and asked for information. While tied, some detainees are beaten and gun shots are fired around them.
Two cases of severe torture were reported in Lesotho Times dated 18 June 2015, when two soldiers were brought to the High Court. Bleeding as he was sitting in the dock, Col. Posa Stemmere narrated his ordeal to the judge that he had been tortured by his captors since his arrest and was in pain.
I feel pain all over the body; from head to toe. My feet and hands are swollen, while my hands are also numb from the assault while in detention. Sometimes urine comes out of my body unexpectedly, and my feet are so weak I cannot stand for long.
Col. Stemmere then told the court that he has bruises all over the body from beatings by his captors, and now had “endless headaches” due to the torture.
He also told the judge that he had never seen a doctor since his arrest, and requested that he be allowed medical examination and treatment. A similar story was narrated by Corporal Motlatsi Letsilane , who also told the judge that he felt cold all over the body. “My feet are swollen and numb” said Corporal Letsilane, “I also have endless pain on the right side of my ribs and a running stomach”, he concluded.
The problem, he added, started after his arrest and detention by LDF members on 25 May 2015. “I am not well. My feet are swollen and numb. I also have endless pain on the right side of my ribs and a running stomach,” he said.
As part of the strategy to clampdown and eliminate all potential sources of resistance, the new military backed regime waylaid Lt. General Mahao who had just been stripped of his Command of the LDF in favour of Lt. General Kamoli, at Mokema. He was murdered and taken to Makoanyane Military Hospital where his body and clothes were washed, partly to hide evidence on details of his killing. Announcing Mahao’s death, Minister of Defence, T’seliso Mokhosi claimed that the former was killed while resisting arrest. This as was demonstrated by Major Mangena of the South African Police, in evidence to the Phumaphi Commission was most implausible.
It is under these circumstances that SADC dispatched a Fact-Finding Mission to Lesotho, headed by South Africa’s Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs. Mapisa-Nqakula decisively reported about the deteriorating security situation in Lesotho, contradicting the Lesotho government’s version that all is well in the country. Amongst the critical issues raised by the Ministerial Fact Finding Mission Report (SADC/DTS/3/2O15/3) were the following observations:
(i) the security situation in the country is tense as evidenced by the flight of the opposition leaders, the alleged ‘mutiny plot’ and subsequent investigations and the death of Brigadier Mahao;
(ii) concern about the impending court martial and its consequences on the political and security situation in the country;
(v) general concern about the role of the army;
(ix) the King’s serious concern on the deteriorating security situation in the country, especially the role of the army.
At the centre of Mapisa-Nqakula’s mission report were issues about the overall behaviour of the military and its reach into the political process. The army, as can be observed, was seen as the cancer in the body politic of Lesotho.
The setting up of the Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi from Botswana was a direct response to the Ministerial Fact-Finding Mission. It is the report of this Commission which has provided the basis for the resistance against the military backed regime in Lesotho. The central issues to understand about Lesotho politics after 2014 therefore have been laid bare. It is about the army rebellion which was not suppressed and ultimately took over the state with politicians providing political cover. The resistance to the junta; the fall of the military regime; and resultant election battle are part of a continuum of the struggle against authoritarian rule in Lesotho.
The resistance against militia
Lesotho’s peculiarities are many, but its most frustrating ones are the following:
a) Weakness of our judicial system. Lesotho’s constitution places the judiciary at the centre of our human rights protection. In addition, Lesotho is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against torture. Unlike in any other country with democratic constitutions, the Lesotho courts are docile. I dare say that they are either captured or unable/unwilling to stand for victims of human rights. The moment, a case against the militia or its associated institutions goes to court, you can always predict that the militia will win or just get a slap in the face. There are so many cases which were launched by individual soldiers who were detained at the maximum security prison for their freedom. In all those cases, the perpetrators were allowed to continue with their crimes. I am not only talking about issues of substantive law, but also those processes and the reputation of the courts. Three examples will be sufficient:
 In several habeas corpus applications the report of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre points out that soldiers indicated that many had been “snatched” or “kidnapped” by heavily-armed, masked men dressed in black “with no clear procedure of arrest, no arrest warrants, and no clarity of charges under which the arrests were effected. But more importantly, the Centre pointed out that “…. masked militia armed with AK47s were reported as having ‘forced themselves’ into the judge’s chambers to accompany the detainees and sustaining a heavy presence in court in a manner intended to intimidate the judiciary”
 As part of the habeas corpus applications, as already pointed out earlier, Colonel Stemmere, sitting in the dock bleeding and in severe pain, was handed over to his torturers with a lame order that he should not be tortured. But more importantly, in court, the only thing the court thought appropriate, was that he should be given some tissues to wipe off his blood. This is a case where we should just give up on the court system in Lesotho until it is reformed.
 Several cases of policemen who have been dismissed by the militia and court orders for their reinstatement have been ignored. Notable cases are those of policewoman Makotoko who was based in Leribe and testified that Policeman Khetheng who has disappeared was arrested by her and handed over to Inspector Mofolo. She went further to testify that she was instructed to lie in the Attorney–General’s offices. She refused and was later dismissed for some other matter. She has not been re-instated. Another policeman Motebang Ramahloko whom the court has ordered his re-instatement, has not. He was dismissed after inquiring about the case of his murdered uncle in the 2014 attempted coup. There is usually no point to try to take offenders for contempt cases. The courts in Lesotho tend to negotiate with those who violate their orders if they are powerful. They don’t enforce their orders.

b) Weakness of the law society. Another body which constitutionally has power to protect the law is the Law Society. Since the turmoil began, the Law Society has gone into hibernation. We saw murder being committed and the institutions which are supposed to protect the rule of law not enforcing the law; we saw soldiers being tortured and vivid images of them in court bleeding; we also saw hooded men with AK 47 rifles in court intimidating lawyers and families of the detained soldiers; we have also witnessed the blatant intimidation of lawyers representing the detainees, some of whom ended up in exile. The Law Society has been conspicuous by its absence in those issues about protection of human rights, its members and indeed the protection of the constitution as part of its mandate. It is clearly an organisation which has no value to the nation as a whole.

c) Inadequate advocacy institutions. Lesotho has not been blessed with credible media and advocacy institutions. When the crisis came to the fore in 2015 it was always difficult to get the news, analysis and advocacy. Perhaps the exception was the Civil Society institutions which began to champion the cases of the detainees and other people who were harassed by the militia. In essence institutionally, the battle against the militia was only consistently fought by the civil society organisations which assisted the spouses of the detainees.

What the above indicates is that the battle for freedom was largely an individual one rather than institutions. You had individual lawyers, family member and their associates and international organisations which played a critical role leading to the collapse of the Mosisili regime. Of particular importance, were the families of the detained, exiled soldiers; it was also the families of those in the army and police who had been murdered by the militia. The #BreaktheSilence campaign where the spouses, children and allies of those families rallied in Maseru to raise the spirits which were beginning to lag was particularly important in the resistance.

The 2017 elections and beyond
The passing of the vote of no confidence on Mosisili and the subsequent calling of the June 2017 elections signalled the beginning of the end of the militia which had terrorised Basotho over three and half years. Even before the elections were held, it was obvious that Mosisili would lose those elections since he had squandered the goodwill he had by aligning himself with the rogue elements in the LDF. A few months ago, in one issue of lesothoanalysis, I had predicted that Mosisili would lose those elections and would probably not even emerge with the figures allowing him to be the Leader of the Opposition. There I missed it by one seat. He got 30 seats which, were it not because of defections in his party, he would qualify to head the opposition. It’s good sometimes to be wrong so that your adversaries can have something to talk about.
If Mosisili thought he would win the 2017 elections, it would only be if he believed fairytales which some of his advisors told him. The lesson is that people who will not tell you the truth in order to enhance your ego, are not useful. If they can’t tell you what is wrong, they are of no use to you!
The issue however is that this elections which were like no other, were saved by international pressure. The Head of the SADC Observer Mission was very strong, warning that people who refuse to accept the outcome would not be tolerated. After all the Missions gave the elections an all clear, those who still harboured to reject the outcome of the elections knew that they had to walk a straight and narrow path. This is why the opposition to the new government was limited to pleading with SADC to institute a forensic audit of an election it had already declared credible.
The second key issue which has saved the country from any turmoil has been a robust statement from the South African Minister of Foreign and International Affairs, that the coup in Lesotho would not be allowed. This was the final nail on the coffin of coup makers. They could not sustain the coup.
Beyond elections, therefore, the key issues will be those of dismantling the militia and implementing the decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission. The robust role of the international community will also be important here in ensuring that the resistance of the militia is broken. I want to be able to see the militia in reformed courts answering for the crimes they committed over the years.


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