September 2017

The murder of Lt. General Motšomotšo: did the militia overreach itself?


Over the years in Lesotho, we have witnessed ordinary citizens and soldiers murdered with impunity by those who had the power of guns. The situation took a turn for the worst from 2014 when an army rebellion against the civilian government by the Command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) which soon transformed the army and other security units into a militia serving the interests of its leader rather than those of the nation. The level of the killings went a notch higher when the militia murdered the Commander of the LDF Lt. General Maaparankoe Mahao in 2015. The militia expected that his murder would go unpunished since the government was virtually in its pocket. That did not happen since SADC and other institutions insisted on accountability thus forcing the head of that militia, Lt. General Kamoli to be ultimately forced out of the army.

The new Commander Lt. General Motšomotšo pledged allegiance to the new government, but as fate had it, the central plank of the newly elected government was the implementation of SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission Report. Motšomotšo had apparently told all Officers and the rest of the soldiers that government policy would be abided with and those who have cases to answer will have to do so. This was why he had to be eliminated. But his elimination could only be done as either an attempt to overthrow both the Command of the army and the government or such elimination would be achieved through what is akin to a suicide mission. The consequences of such elimination have proved, as events have shown, a tipping point for the dismantling of the militia.

When Hashatsi, Ramoepana and Sechele went to the Commander’s office to kill him on Tuesday 05/09/2017 they unleashed a process of dismantling of their killing machine, which they could not have anticipated. They killed the Commander, but not the Command; they did not overthrow the government; and more importantly they released an unstoppable anger in the country and beyond on their perennial murder spree without accountability. Hashatsi and Sechele died in their act of rebellion while Ramoepana and other conspirators will go on to tell the story when their trial begins. At the same time, SADC has now finally agreed to send a Contingent Force to ensure that this time the situation is brought under control.

Internal discord and fall-out after the murder

The murder of Motšomotšo as expected brought about an outcry even from unexpected sources within the military establishment. During his memorial service, figure after figure even those who were known to have participated in earlier crimes by the militia condemned the killing in no uncertain terms. Two outspoken ones in particular need to be mentioned because of the far-reaching implications for the survival of the militia as a unit operating within the force. First was Brigadier Mokaloba who said it was a shocking embarrassment that officers within the army committed such a heinous act .He wondered what the overall plan of those plotters who murdered the Commander was. What would have satisfied them?” he wondered. But more revealing was his next statement, which applied equally to those in the military and those of their supporters outside the establishment.

Mine is just to appeal to the people behind these heinous acts. These people met with others in the night and they were also together in the morning. On the day of the incident they met in the morning and dispersed and others when the incident came, they came late to the scene. Others are now disguising as though they are not part of this incident, but what’s important is for them to surrender….

The unmistakable thing is that Mokaloba seemed determined to portray himself and the rest of the Command as ready to dismantle the rogue elements which were ensconced in the army. But he also seemed to finger those outside the military who had been part of the plot to assassinate Motšomotšo. This was major turnaround by Mokaloba. He was one of those soldiers in 2014 who were implicated in the attempt to overthrow the government. Indeed in his evidence before the Phumaphi Commission, Mokaloba was a cantankerous witness who claimed unfailing loyalty to Kamoli, dismissing Mahao as having never been a Commander of LDF. Now that he has changed tack there is hope that the militia has begun to self-destruct.

Major-General Lineo Poopa, Acting Army Commander also came out clearly in the memorial service to apologise for having failed to protect the Commander. “We are ashamed that we failed to protect our commander and we failed the nation, we failed the whole continent and we are sorry,” said Poopa. He talked about what his murdered predecessor had committed himself to and promised to continue where he had stopped.
He clearly explained what the SADC decisions are and also gave them reasons why these SADC decisions must be implemented. And he said they shall happen in a manner in which they will not harm anyone, saying only rule of law shall prevail. And I’ve also reiterated his words last week Friday, and I so repeat that Lesotho’s soldiers shall not be in harm’s way, but rule of law shall be enforced…
…Those soldiers who have been listening to people from outside the army command have been derailed and dabbling in politics….

Both Poopa and Mokaloba had been deep in the Kamoli corner for sometime but they seem determined to prove that they can wriggle out of their transgressions of old. Indeed, several soldiers who were involved in the murder of Motšomotšo have since been arrested and some charged with murder. Even others, who were also involved in some other murder cases, have been arrested. Five including a Brigadier and a Captain were charged yesterday (25/09/2017). In essence, the militia by murdering Motšomotšo may have worked against its interests.

The apparent turnabout of some in the military to show remorse genuine or otherwise in order to placate the public and in order to save their jobs was not reflected in the opposition. While they could not ignore the killing of Motšomotšo there was an embarrassing ambivalence. They regretted the killings of three senior officers and called for a Commission of Inquiry. In their statement read by Prime Minister Mosisili, there seemed to be no sign of outrage at this only regret and a need for an inquiry. For Mosisili and his allies who were at the press conference, Motšomotšo’s murder was just a footnote on the unfortunate deaths. He thus seems to have invoked a moral equivalence to the cold blooded murder of Motšomotšo by the two senior officers and their killing by the former’s bodyguards. Indeed the death of Motšomotšo was tucked towards the end of their statement rather than as a standalone or at the beginning of such a statement.It is extremely disappointing!

SADC’S response to the murder

SADC’s response to the developments in Lesotho was to the dispatch of the Ministerial Fact Finding Mission. The Mission was led by the Angolan Minister of External Affairs Georges Pinto Chikoti supported by other Troika Ministers and Ambassadors. It is their report which was tabled to the meeting of the Double Troika Summit in Pretoria on the 15th September 2017. The Fact Finding Mission observed and noted that there is a need to ensure that long-term solutions to the Lesotho crisis are found by supporting the government to undertake on an urgent basis the security sector reforms. It is clear from this report that recognition is now firm in SADC circles that Security Sector Reform must precede the broader reform process. This is what had been missing in all earlier Facilitation exercises, which saw politics as opposed to security as the source of Lesotho’s unstable environment. Thus in 2015, SADC prescribed elections as a solution rather than to suppress the army rebellion. Following the murder of Motšomotšo SADC has now been disabused of the tinkering around with the security vacuum in Lesotho but wants it solved.

Amongst the observations of the Fact Finding Mission were the following:
a) The need for an urgent deployment of a military and security technical fact finding team from the Double Troika to assess the security environment and requirements to ensure that peace and security is brought back to Lesotho. The Terms of Reference of the team should include an assessment of the previous interventions of SADC in Lesotho from 1998;
b) The need for re-training and mentoring of the LDF and also the need to weed out politicisation within the LDF. The need to ensure that the law prohibits politicians from interfering in the work of the LDF;
c) The need to review the role to be played by the King on the overall control of the army.
The above amongst others, indicates that there is now a deeper level of commitment to go to the bottom of the security challenges in Lesotho. The fact that the assessment of the successes and failures of the previous interventions was recommended is a big improvement already. Almost thirty years after the intervention and reforms, Lesotho is still where it was those years.

The Double Troika ultimately approved the deployment of a Contingent Force the size of which will be determined by the SADC Military Chiefs who have already met in Luanda in Angola. The directive was : the Chiefs of Defence and Security to assess the requirements, determine the appropriate size of the Contingent Force, and to prepare modalities for the deployment by 22nd September 2017, based on which, the secretariat should facilitate an urgent deployment by 1st November 2017…

The only outstanding issues will be finalised by the Status of Forces Agreement which could be signed in the coming weeks. This will determine the specific role that the SADC force will play in the coming months but in line with the decisions of the Double Troika. The implications of the above decisions for the militia are huge. For the first time the militia would not have the last word on its future. By killing Motšomotšo, the militia may have signed its death warrant.

Conclusion. Case for SADC military deployment in Lesotho
It is worth reiterating that Lesotho has been under the spell of the army rebellion from 2014 and since then successive regimes have either have had to endure that or embrace the rebellion. The military held sway on all the decisions and operations of the government. The intermittent and ineffective SADC interventions from 2015 onwards only kicked the can down the road rather than help to suppress the rebellion. More importantly, is that a large number of senior officers who did not willingly join the rebellion were either held in jail or forced into exile, while the rebellious junior officers were rapidly promoted two times in less than fifteen months. Some of those jumped ranks and are now part of the Command. The two who assassinated their Commander, were some of the prominent beneficiaries of the accelerated promotions process. Incidentally, they were also involved in the 2015 murder of Lt. General Mahao. The question therefore is how the rebellious troops can purge themselves.
It is delusional to expect that those in the Command, including the Acting Commander, who were united in trying to stage a coup in August 2015 and in overseeing the suppression of other soldiers since 2014 can suddenly reform themselves. First, they are unlikely to receive the trust of their colleagues who have borne the brunt of the crackdown since 2015. Second, they have to deal with other soldiers who have committed crimes, but are not in position to acknowledge the skeletons in their cupboards. The evidence given by several soldiers and the former Commissioner of Police during the Phumaphi Commission should have removed any doubt in most peoples’ minds that the LDF as presently constituted has embraced crime as its standard rather than the law.

As already pointed out, several soldiers have now been arrested for crimes including the murder of Lt. General Motšomotšo but nobody has yet been arrested for the bombings, High Treason, and the murder of both Sub-Inspector Ramahloko and Lt. General Mahao. It is those crimes which, unless a bargain is entered into, which will affect most of the members of the present Command of the LDF. This is why you need a Contingent Force to cleanse the organisation. Those in the Command who will remain need retraining and long-term observation. What we don’t need is the game which has been played by the current foreign mission at LDF which has been ensconced there but the military ethos has deteriorated while they are supposed to be training them to be professional.
Those later day converts to the view that we don’t need SADC troops in Lesotho are at best naive and at best opportunistic. No militia can dismantle itself. It has to be dismantled by someone with superior force or one perceived to have overwhelming force. SADC has committed itself to have its decisions implemented within the law. That’s what the Contingent Force will be expected to oversee.

We in lesothoanalysis wholeheartedly welcome our neighbours who have coming to put out the fire set on by the militia so that peace and stability returns to Lesotho.


Murder, politicians and rebellious soldiers

Murder as a political instrument in the 1990s
As I travel around the world and in social media, the constant question I tend to get is why do things like the killing of the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) last week happen? People have often also asked why when murder is such a horrendous crime, there is a pattern of protecting the culprits in Lesotho? Say what you want, this has become a routinised practice in Lesotho where senior military, senior police and politicians, some in uniform, have killed and attempted to hide their tracks. But murder has also tended to be followed by quite a lot of turmoil and subsequent changes at the top. It happened twice during the turbulent years of our never to be forgotten Military Council in the early 1990s; it happened in 2014 as part of attempted coup; it happened again in 2015 with the murder of Lt. General Maaparankoe Mahao; it happened again in March 2016 with the murder of Khetheng; and yet again it happened a week ago with the murder of Lt. General Mots’omot’so by some of his underlings.

Briefly murder and attempts to hide its commission has been a characteristic way in which those in office have tended to consolidate their rule. It has however been part of their undoing. During the early 1990s it emerged that the then Chairman of the Military Council, Major General Lekhanya, at the dead of night shot and killed a 21 year old student at the Lesotho Agricultural College by the name of Ramone. The initial strategy was to attempt to order a bodyguard who was with Lekhanya to make a false statement to the police claiming responsibility. This was however blown away by then Attorney General Maope who advised against that. Maope in a secret letter argued that, Mojakhomo, the bodyguard could not have shot the student because it was Mojakhomo who stayed with Ramone’s female companion and drove her to the police station. “I do not think Sgt. Mojakhomo is telling the truth,” the attorney general said in his memorandum, warning that the bodyguard is likely to break down under cross-examination at a public inquiry and reveal the truth about the shooting.

I am informing you of this matter so that you may persuade Sgt. Mojakhomo to be honest and reveal the identity of his companion that night. It might be better if the truth was told now to avoid any possible embarrassment to the government.

That strategy was abandoned but the inquest was fixed so that Lekhanya was absolved. This was however not before his opponents in the Military Council had attempted to use that to force him out of office. They failed because at least one of them had his own skeletons which Lekhanya was aware of. Colonel Sekhobe Letsie’s involvement in the kidnapping and brutal murder of two former Ministers, Makhele and Sixishe together with their wives two years earlier. This gruesome murder had been hidden until the raptures within the Military Council were broad to the surface by the murder of Ramone by Lekhanya. Having been cleared in a fixed inquest, Lekhanya moved swiftly to arrest Letsie and dismiss three other of his allies in the Military Council. Letsie went on to be convicted of murder and served several years in prison. This was result of murder. Both competitors, had callously murdered people at different times, but when one tried to use the murder of a student by the other, an even more gruesome murder was used to vanquish the opponent.

In both these cases above murder by key personnel precipitated the changes at state level. But more importantly, in both cases, gigantic attempts to hide and protect the murderers took place. Significantly, the two figures that murdered and doubled in politics, left a culture of impunity and can rightly are labelled as having laid the foundations of the present politicised army and its murderous track record. Not only did both of those emerge from the police into the army, but they left in both institutions, a legacy of unaccountability.

Politicians and the rebellion
Over and above the politicians in uniform as the two examples above have illustrated, and those I will deal with below, we have had a clearly visible and declared rebellion in the army since 2014. This rebellion was fuelled by some politicians, and later adopted by the government after the 2015 elections. Let us recall that early in 2014 three related incidents took place which formally brought to the broader public that there was a full scale military rebellion whereby the civilian government had lost control over the military.

 One Captain Hashatsi of the Special Forces, who as we learned later, answered directly to the Commander of the LDF pronounced that the then Commander of the LDF could not be removed from office by the government as long as he was alive. Rather than to discipline him a senior officer, Brigadier Mahao was court-marshalled for reprimanding Hashatsi. Hashatsi was to reiterate his stance publicly while giving evidence before the Phumaphi Commission which had been established by SADC following the murder of Lt. General Mahao;

 In January 2014 bombs by some of the rebellious soldiers were exploded in both the residences of the Prime Minister’s partner and that of the Commissioner of Police. This was probably an assassination attempt but it was an ominous sign that the rebellion had taken a new turn;

 In March 2014 in a Press Conference, Kamoli made it clear that he could not be removed by anybody. He went further to indicate that the attempt by Prime Minister Thabane to cancel the court-martial of Mahao would not stand and Prime Minister had been ill-advised. This was unprecedented and indicated that the rebellion was now in full force.

The developments leading to the attempted coup of 30th August 2014 were part of the rebellion. It is during that episode that Sub Inspector Ramahloko of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) was brutally murdered by the rebellious soldiers. We all know that those who killed him were shielded from the courts by the de facto LDF Commander who had refused to leave office when he was dismissed. It is the same attitude to earlier ones, where murder has been a political instrument. Just like the murder of Makhele, Sixishe and their wives, Ramahloko’s murder took time to be accounted for, but it is one of the issues which have begun to bring about tumult within the LDF and cold blooded murder of its latest Commander.

Throughout this period, one sees a consistent hand which aligned with the rebellion. In the past, we could only deduce who the owners of these hands which were stirring up things in the LDF were, but from September 2014 to the present, those who were in the background, came to the fore. Shortly after the attempted coup, the then Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing began to project himself as an alternative Prime Minister. Thus after the announcement that Kamoli had been dismissed as Commander of the LDF, Metsing went on television to declare that Kamoli remains as the Commander of the force. Indeed, from then onwards no other person other than him and those in alliance with him were allowed on national television. But more significantly both Metsing’s party, Lesotho Congress for Democracy, LCD, and Pakalitha Mosisili’s Democratic Congress, which had been in power till the 2012 elections, publicly supported Kamoli’s defiance to leave office.

Tlohang Sekhamane who later became Lesotho Foreign Minister and later Finance Minister, went so far as to say that any attempt to remove Kamoli from office would lead to a bloodbath in Lesotho. Thus the invisible hand had now come to the open. As all those things were happening, the opposition parties allied to the rebellion and the LCD which was in government and opposing government, said absolutely nothing about the murder of Ramahloko. Murder had become routinised. It was no longer something that people worried about.

Post-2015 elections and adoption of the rebellion
The post-2015 elections led to the formation of a seven party coalition government led by Pakalitha Mosisili. One of the first things which the new government did was to remove the Commander of the LDF and re-appoint Kamoli as Commander retrospectively to 30/08/2014 the day he was removed from office. A witch-hunt against soldiers who were perceived to have accepted the new Commander in 2014 was begun. More than sixty soldiers were kidnapped, taken to the Setibing army camp and severely tortured. Some of those were later released while twenty three were ultimately charged in a court martial for mutiny. The kangaroo court they were being subjected to where the complainants, were now either prosecutors or part of the panel to judge them was vigorously opposed by lawyers to no avail. The court martial however never took place and is on the verge of being dissolved.

This witch-hunt culminated in the murder of the former Commander who had just been removed from office by some of those self-declared supporters of Kamoli. Mahao, was waylaid just outside Mokema, where he comes from and killed. Murder had once again surfaced and the government of the day attempted to hide behind the distinction between individual responsibility and also the responsibility of the state. Sechele, who before the High Court and also before the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry declared himself as the Operation Commander, argued that soldiers should not be individually held responsible since they were undertaking an authorised operation. .

The national and international outcry following the murder of Mahao was matched by the silence of the government on bringing the murderers to account. The government’s hand was however finally moved to accept the setting up of an international commission of inquiry. That however did not mean that the government had finally accepted that the rebellion had gone out of hand. On the contrary evidence by the Prime Minister, his deputy and the Minister of Defence and National Security gave a picture of a government which was trying all it could to protect the murderous. Typical of answerers of government to the Phumaphi Commission were the following:

 Prime Minister Mosisili reluctantly accepted that Lt. General Mahao was legally appointed but argued that Kamoli had been removed unfairly. He expressed his full confidence in Kamoli but claimed he did not know circumstances of the operation to arrest or kill Mahao;

 Deputy Prime Minister Metsing stuck to his guns, that Kamoli was never legally removed from office. On the operation to arrest or kill Mahao, he accepted the version that Mahao was involved in a mutiny and died resisting arrest;

 Minister of Defence and National Security, Mokhosi, got a verbal report about the existence of a mutiny and gave authorisation to investigate. He claimed to know nothing about the investigations and the detention of soldiers since those are soldiers “things”. In essence according to Mokhosi, he needed not to know anything since the soldiers know best what to do. The rebellion had not only succeeded but seems to had taken over the government.

While the above are indicative, the most significant development took place when the Phumaphi Commission was about to complete its work. It is at this time that government withdrew its cooperation to the Commission. This was probably when it became clear that the Commission would not whitewash the matter under investigation. The evidence which took place in South Africa from exiles was boycotted by government lawyers. Hashatsi, who had been recalled as a witness, launched an urgent application in the High Court to stop the Commission from continuing with its work. Interestingly the respondents were the Prime Minister and Attorney General who had been linked with Hashatsi. Even the lawyers of the government and in the Commission and those who launched the case were the same. The conspiracy was clearly that Mosisili should not respond to the application so that Hashatsi would get a favourable judgement. This was however frustrated by Mrs Mahao who applied to be part of that suit.

The government then began to argue that the Phumaphi Commission report should not be released until the courts had completed Hashatsi’s case. This was unacceptable to SADC. But these actions indicate clearly that the government was not in charge. It had surrendered to the rebellion hence whatever Kamoli or Hashatsi said had to stay the way they wanted it to be. Murder had not only been legitimised, but attempts like providing an amnesty to all those in the army and the police and also civilians who thought they were acting to protect the state became necessary.
Dissolving the militia
After three and half years where the rebellion held sway, a new government took over in June 2017. The government from the beginning made it clear that the old order was going to disappear. Prime Minister Thabane during his inauguration spelled out that the civilian control over the army was not negotiable. He further announced that he was going to implement the decisions of SADC emanating from the Phumaphi Commission. These two announcements indicated that the rebellion was going to be ended. But the difficulty was that from 2015 most of the leaders of that rebellion had been rewarded with promotions leading them to be part of the Command. Some of those skipped ranks, and were promoted twice in fifteen months. Implementing those decisions which required suspension and investigation of their crimes was necessarily going to be difficult unless there was an external support.

At the same time, a newly appointed Commander of LDF from the beginning seemed determined to bring the army under the control of the government. His murder was directly related to his acceptance of the principle of civilian control over the army. Mot’somot’so had apparently told the army that all those who have cases to answer for their crimes will have to as part of the implementation of SADC decisions. The day he was murdered was preceded by the decision to sent three Commandos who were implicated in the murder of Lisebo Tang near the residence of the former Commander of the LDF Lt. General Kamoli. After she was killed her family was intimidated from talking to anybody about the murder by Kamoli’s guards and were given M10.000 funeral expenses. This was how the army behaved. They murder and know that they are immune from the law.

Government sources indicate that a day before Mot’somot’so was murdered, he had released several officers who had gone beyond retirement age. Some of the names in that list are known to have been very active members of the militia who face criminal prosecution. Terminating their contracts, sent a clear message that Mot’somot’so wanted to follow a different route from that of his predecessor. Thus on Tuesday 05/09/2017 when the Commandos were sent to the police, the tension was already high. Reports indicate that three officers went to Commander’s office and accused him of selling them out to both the police and the government. Calmly Mot’somot’sio is reported to have told them that they should wait outside until he had finished talking to a guest in the office and he would explain to them why it had to be so. One of those pulled a gun and shot him dead. It is when they went out of that office that the guards shot both Hashatsi and Sechele. The third officer whose identity I don’t know escaped but has since been arrested. As a result of the seniority of those soldiers who went on to kill the Commander, the guards were obviously constrained from stopping them to go to the Commander’s office even if they were armed.

This is characteristic of the way they had behaved over the years. They answered to no one but Kamoli who shared their view of the world. With Kamoli out of LDF, there was bound to be trouble for anyone trying to dismantle his militia. Mot’somot’so died trying to do what any Commander should do. It could have been anyone. The task of dismantling a militia is not an easy one. A few months ago, I warned that the militia no longer has the capacity to overthrow the government. It however retains the power to assassinate and cause disruption. This is what the two rebels did in desperation because they knew that their days of freedom to kill were numbered. They killed the second Commander of the army within two years. Any delay to dismantle the militia will certainly lead to more deaths. I was however encouraged by the statements by the current leadership of LDF in Mot’somot’so’s memorial service yesterday that they will hunt and bring to justice all those who were involved in the murder of Mot’somot’so.
May he rest in peace!




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