The apparent stance taken by the government and military not to cooperate with the SADC Commission of Inquiry currently underway in Maseru could hamper the investigation, analysts have said.
According to the analysts, the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and government are determined to keep the Commission in the dark by not providing it with critical information, which they say could backfire.
The Commission, chaired by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, was established to investigate the assassination of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao by his colleagues on 25 June this year. Government has said Brigadier Mahao was resisting arrest for suspected mutiny when he was gunned down outside his Mokema farm. The family disputes this claim.
However, during the cross-examination of Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Mothetjoa Metsing and LDF’s Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi last week, Justice Phumaphi accused the government and military of withholding critical information by pleading ignorance “saying you don’t know”.
During Mr Metsing’s grilling, Justice Phumaphi told the DPM he expected better from someone of his authority.
“Let me tell you: I’m worried and a bit disappointed that captains of this government plead ignorance to a lot of things that I’d expect a normal government to know. In fact, when Brigadier Mahao was killed, a concerned government minister in your position would have been interested to know what exactly happened,” Justice Phumaphi said.
“Pleading ignorance is like saying ‘I’ve no idea, ask the police, ask the army’. My expectation is that you would know. Someone in your position, all the ministers are below you. You are number two to the prime minister (PM). You and the PM should know. Reports are made to you.”
Later during Lt-Col Hashatsi’s questioning, Justice Phumaphi further expressed his frustration, telling him how Brigadier Mahao died should not be shrouded in secrecy.
“Operational secrecy should not apply where a man died at the hands of the military. We need to establish facts for the military to be held accountable,” Justice Phumaphi said.
According to Dr Motlamelle Kapa of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), if witnesses who are also government authorities “plead ignorance”, then “this definitely hampers the Commission from making notable progress”.
“If witnesses, particularly the authorities, plead ignorance, that hampers the efforts of the Commission to establish facts for which they came here solely for,” Dr Kapa says.
“If, as government, you undertook to cooperate with the Commission and then change your mind during the course of the inquiry, you are not providing it with the information it needs. This then means you’re undermining the very same Commission.”
Dr Kapa adds if government persists with the negative stance it has adopted, then the result could be disastrous.
“They will be defying the sole purpose and logic for which the Commission was established—to investigate Mahao’s death and surrounding circumstance. Government should do all it can to cooperate,” he further noted.
Dr Kapa further suggested because Lesotho is run by a coalition government, there could be contradicting opinions on how to deal with the Commission.
“We have many governments within this government. Some of its members might want this problem solved, especially those who were not in the previous government,” Dr Kapa said.
“They might feel ashamed and want the Commission to expose the perpetrators. They also look to the outcome protecting them from the same perpetrators. But those who were in the previous government might want to protect the military, particularly some elements.”
Dr Kapa believes if government and the military continue withholding information from the Commission, Lesotho will not solve its current security and political challenges.
The Commission, he adds, is yet to make any recommendations and Lesotho can only move forward “if we abide by the recommendations”.
“We expect government to live up to the promise it made to SADC, that it would cooperate with the Commission and provide it with facts. The Commission needs facts to complete the work for which it was designed,” Dr Kapa says.
Tlohang Letsie, also from the NUL’s political science department, agrees with Dr Kapa, adding Dr Mosisili appears under pressure to protect certain military elements “hence government’s refusal to cooperate”.
“It seems Dr Mosisili is under pressure and duty-bound to protect the military. The senior-most people in government are withholding information that you would find under normal circumstances because they are protecting certain elements within the military,” Mr Letsie said.
According to Mr Letsie, the lack of cooperation made him wonder if government is still in charge.
“Can we really say we have a government in charge or do we have one that only serves the interests of the military?” Mr Letsie says.
On what could be the outcome should government continue to give the Commissioner the cold shoulder, Mr Letsie said: “If the Commission does not get the information it needs, it will produce a poor report in which it will simply state it wasn’t able to access critical information due to lack of cooperation from government.
“However, SADC is also not going to turn a blind eye to the situation because of the funds committed to the Commission. This will badly affect the PM because the report will be clear that government frustrated the Commission’s efforts.”
Mr Letsie also warns there could be repercussions for Dr Mosisili among his regional peers, notably the new SADC chairperson, Botswana president Ian Khama, who is a former military commander.
“This might land Dr Mosisili in trouble. President Ian Khama is a former military man who’d want to protect the integrity of militaries in the SADC region one way or the other,” Mr Letsie says.
Professor Mafa Sejanamane, also of the political science faculty of the NUL, also puts emphasis on government’s undertaking to fully cooperate in the probe.
“The PM promised SADC that government would cooperate with the Commission and implement the recommendations it will eventually make,” Professor Sejanamane said.
However, he also points to the apparent confusion and difference of opinion in government. Professor Sejanamane notes Dr Mosisili told the Commission in his testimony three weeks ago that Brigadier Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander by former premier Thomas Thabane was legal, while DPM Metsing and Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi said otherwise.
“It is either they are confused as a whole or are all complicit because we can’t have them saying different things. My view is that they are going in circles deliberately,” Prof Sejanamane says.
“But if that is the case, then it’s a futile attempt because it’s already pretty clear who killed Mahao. Colonel Bulane Sechele made it clear that he was commander of the operation during which Mahao died although it’s not clear who pulled the trigger. There’s lots of evidence.”
However, on the outcome of the investigation, Prof Sejanamane says unlike previous Commissions whose recommendations were never implemented, “it is not going to happen this time around”.
“The most important thing is that this Commission reports directly to SADC, hence its report will not end on the shelf somewhere, gathering dust. I can assure you that people are going to be held accountable,” Prof Sejanamane says.
“SADC will see to it that the recommendations are implemented. There are people who will pay heavily, based on the common purpose principle, even those who were not in Mokema when Mahao was killed. Besides, the last SADC summit was clear that accountability is of utmost importance.”