The Lesotho security crisis as we have today has been here a long time. It began to rear its head as early as 2007 when for the first time, the ruling party, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), began to lose constituencies in the urban areas. While in the past, the LCD was assured of a clean sweep in constituency elections portion of the electoral system, with the other parties only sharing the proportional part of our Mixed Member Proportional model things began to change. In panic the military was increasingly from that time onwards, pushed into the mainstream of politics after there had been an effort to extract them from active politics after the 1998 SADC intervention. The 2007 post-election period is memorable for the turmoil it unleashed. It is from that time that the army was once again used to beat up civilians in Maseru and other places. It was the beginning of the period of impunity for those with guns.
As this reintroduction of military involvement in politics intensified, it became apparent that the government was preparing a role for one blue-eyed boy who was then too junior in rank but ambitious. The appointments of Commanders who were already too old to last, gave room for the meteoric rise of Tlali Kamoli who was absorbed into the army from the political activism of the Lesotho Youth Service (LYS) to be appointed Acting Commander and later confirmed as Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) shortly before the 2012 elections. Kamoli was thus appointed Commander when the political leaders in the ruling party were under threat by new political forces. At the same time, Kamoli himself was long in the service but at junior ranks and his promotion was more due to the mutual insecurity of him as a newly appointed Commander who was fast-tracked into senior ranks in a country undergoing transition from a one party dominant system into a competitive multi-party system. They needed each other. When the Democratic Congress, an offshoot the LCD lost elections in 2012, it had however cultivated links with its protégé, Kamoli to make it impossible for the new government to stabilize.
It took just two years for Kamoli to begin to build a parallel force which would be loyal and answerable to him only. In evidence before the Phumaphi Commission, two significant things emerged. First, was the evidence by one Hashatsi, who had just been promoted from Captain to Lieutenant Colonel, that he commanded the Special Forces and reported directly to the Commander. A relatively junior officer, answerable to the head of the army! Second, we also learned that new recruits into the army in 2013/14 were taken away for secret training and indoctrination in some mountain hideouts. This was the foundation of side-lining most of the senior officers who did not believe in the creation of the militia, and the emergence of the hardcore of those in the officer-corps who believed in Kamoli’s project and now with specially trained soldiers. The militia was thus a reality by the time the rebellion in the military came to the fore in early 2014. We now had a militia operating within the ranks of the LDF.
The departure of Kamoli in November 2016 from the LDF weakened the coordination and the resources to the militia but it remained intact. Two things have since happened with implications, for the survival of the militia as cohesive force within the LDF. The demise of two of its leading members, Sechele and Hashatsi who assassinated the newly appointed Commander. Motšomotšo showed that the militia was still around but desperate. Theirs was something akin to a suicide mission since they knew that Motšomotšo’s security detail was bound to respond to the murder of their boss. Second was the arrest and incarceration of Kamoli in the Correctional Service facility pending trial for murder and several other crimes. The question however is whether his arrest means that the capabilities of the militia have ceased or not? How large was this militia within the officer-corps?
Crimes by militia within LDF Command
The hold of the militia on LDF has been extensive. While some of its members played leading roles in high profile actions, there are others who were quieter and still others were akin to sleeper cells. But the hold in the past three years had extended beyond the military. Some of its members were in the police while others were also ensconced in the political class. The common denominator for all of them was involvement in murderous activities. There may be some who also doubled in other crimes, but the bond of all was how to obstruct the rule of law by murder or intimidation. Their activities were not lately confined to killing for political reasons. They killed and hid the bodies in dams and graves.
In an unprecedented report on the Lesotho security crisis, the Phumaphi Commission, which had been established by SADC amongst other things to investigate the circumstances leading to the killing of Lt. General Maaparankoe Mahao by the military the character of the LDF was laid bare. The report showed that criminality had become a central feature of the organization.
Evidence before the Commission is that the LDF became a law unto itself, this is corroborated by warrants of arrest issued on the 17th April 2014 for High Treason against Brig. Mokaloba, Major Lekhoa, Major Ntoi, Captain Hashatsi, 2nd Lieutenant Nyakane, 2nd Lieutenant Hlehlisi, Corporal Mokhesuoe, and Lance Corporal Mpolokeng Moleleki, and another warrant of arrest issued on the on the 29th September 2014 for Treason against Kamoli, Captain Hashatsi, Brigadier Mokaloba, Lt. Colonel Phaila, 2nd Lt. Nyakane, 2nd Lt. Hlehlisi, 2nd Lt. Moeletsi, Major Ntoi.
Annexure 9 of the Report detailed the type of cases, the suspects and the places of alleged commission of those crimes. Since the new government took over, some of these cases have been re-activated including those which allegedly have been committed by Kamoli who has so far being charged of fifteen crimes. Sources indicate that he is a suspect in over fifty crimes.
It was not only Kamoli who was involved in these unacceptable crimes, even though he was the leader of the militia. Silent though the present Acting Commander was during that period, there are times when he emerged to prove his credentials to the team. Three instances for which he has not even distanced himself are important to note.
a) During the attempted coup he has been shown to have been in the night meetings which were overseeing the operations which ultimately led to the attack on Police Stations and the State House. He cannot without explanation or a deal with the prosecutors avoid the charge of conspiracy to overthrow the government;
b) In September 2014 Major General Poopa with Ntoi of the High Treason and bombs fame who has now been promoted twice in fifteen months to the Brigadier level, was the main speaker in the show of the weapons which LDF captured from police stations on 30th August 2014. He showed off the weapons which they had seized since those he argued could have been misused by police when opposition political parties staged a rally against the government. Here Poopa showed his commitment to the cause of the militia which disarmed the police to suppress any possible resistance. It was not about suppressing a crime, but to facilitate a crime(s);
c) Again, it is Poopa who was giving instructions to Makoanyane Military Hospital shortly after Lt. General Mahao was killed. Could it not be him who was called by one of the perpetrators of that crime shortly after the murder that “…re mo fumane, re mo thuntse. Ke na le Sg. Makara”. (We have found him and shot him. I’m with Sg. Makara) as witnesses told the Phumaphi Commission? Major General Poopa has a lot of explaining to do to exonerate himself from suspicion that he was part of the plot to murder Mahao.
Another senior officer in the LDF whose name featured prominently in the case of High Treason and could have also been implicated in the conspiracy to murder Mahao is Brigadier Mokaloba who made hay out of the rebels within the army during the memorial service of Motšomotšo. It is the same Mokaloba who agitated against the lawful appointment of Mahao as Commander and supported Kamoli who refused to leave office. The issue is very simple, Mokaloba and those around him are part of the military rebellion which has brought Lesotho where it is. It is inconceivable that he has just been converted to the law-abiding soldier he pretends to be. Indeed, in evidence to the Phumphi Commission he was the stubborn rowdy one who wanted to show that he was with Kamoli and asserted that Mahao had never been a Commander. The last time I checked discipline was the core competence a soldier had to possess. Mokaloba who did not recognise a government gazette making changes to the military structure is the epitome of indiscipline.
It is also important to show how the militia disregarded the law under the leadership of the group which now controls the LDF. True at the helm was Kamoli, but he did not run the show alone. His supporters at the Command level share the blame. Since the new government took over the following cases have now gone to court.
a) Several policemen from the Leribe Police Station including the station Commander and head of the Criminal Investigation Division have been charged with the kidnapping and murder of another policeman Khetheng whose body was dumped away and then burrried as an unknown person. This is a curious case where Mokhosi, the former Minister of Defence and National Security is a co-accused with the policemen;
b) 3) Several soldiers have also been charged with attempted murder of several people including the former Commissioner of Police by detonating bombs in their houses;
c) Again, several soldiers have been charged of abducting and murdering three people who had been suspected of killing a soldier. They were cleared by the police. They were soon abducted and killed and their bodies dumped at Mohale Dam. The Lesotho and South African Police have been attempting to retrieve the bodies but without success now because of the depth of the dam and bad weather.
d) Several soldiers have been charged and remanded in custody for the murder of one young woman, Lisebo Tang and attempted murder of her male friend, Jane. Their only crime was that they were in a car close to the residence of Kamoli, then Commander of LDF. Their vehicle was sprayed with more than 120 bullets. But more important is that the LDF had the audacity to make the family of Ms Tang to sign an agreement not to reveal anything to anybody. The family was in return given R10,000 for funeral expenses and use of their skills to complete a two-roomed house which the family had started building. The arrogance of this agreement is unbelievable! Her life was not work anything! The following officers signed the agreement on behalf of the LDF:
1. LT. Col. Ramoqopo
2. Lt. Col. Phaila
3. Maj. Kebane
4. Capt. Makhoahle
5. 2nd Lt. Sello
There many more cases but these are an indicator that the militia had entrenched itself within the force. If as already pointed out, some of the suspects are in the Command, how can the police arrest them for the killings of Mahao and for High Treason?
Why the SADC force is necessary?
Kamoli is in custody and two of his key allies, Sechele and Hashatsi are dead but the bulk of the people who oversee the LDF now are tainted. Several senior officers who were not involved in the rebellion have just been released from Maximum Prison; others who were in exile have just arrived; and there are those other officers who had been tortured to implicate their colleagues who have now written to the Prime Minister indicating that their confessions were induced by violence. All the above categories are now on leave. The only group which is still in the barracks is those who were part of the militia and those who were intimidated to go along with the militia’s plans. It stands to reason that the rebellion has been pacified rather than suppressed. True in the face of the murder of Motšomotšo the militia’s belligerence has subsided.
The police so far have done a good job arresting some of the suspects in the crimes which have been committed. As of now, no suspects have been held about the murder of Lt. General Mahao; no suspects also have been arrested for the attempted coup of 30th August 2014. These are the test of the cooperation of the LDF with the police. The militia cannot arrest itself. The strategy so far has been to go around the main culprits rather than to confront those who run LDF.
The Contingent Force as we are aware has been tasked to work with rather than replace the LDF. It is a force which will act as a deterrent to the militia as security sector reforms are undertaken and as the SADC decisions are implemented. The reforms cannot be done with the gun held against the government head. That is a major reason for the deployment. It must be emphasised that the deployment is an anti-dote against rebellion.
The understanding which people like Cyril Ramaphosa has held that Lesotho problems are largely political is fundamentally flawed. Political problems exist in every country including South Africa. But the South African Defence Force has not rebelled against the government or got involved in political contestations. The lessons of 2015 where Lesotho went to hold elections before a rebellion was supressed has directly led to the current crisis which has seen lawlessness became the order of the day. It is important to fully understand that the major issue facing Lesotho is security. The differences amongst political actors can always be solved.
The Contingent Force is also according to SADC, is expected to mentor the Lesotho forces out of political activism into professionalism. It is sad therefore when people for either lack of understanding of the issues or opportunism begin to argue that there is no need for the Contingent Force. If Motšomotšo can be assassinated by his senior officers, what would stop the others to continue with the rebellion? Let me conclude by rejecting outright the view that Lesotho can solve its own problems and does not need a military intervention. It is a dangerous view like those which have ensured that from 2014 this country has been ungovernable. If the LDF cannot be reformed, it may need to be disbanded.
For Rt. Honourable Lt. General Kamoli, psc, MMG, MMD, MMMS, MSM, SADCM, JP I welcome you to the real world where people account for their crimes. I wish you a quick trial without the need to buy a freezer suit as you had advised Captain Seabata Chaka at the Maximum-Security Prison when he complained about the cold and ill health!