AN African Union Technical Assessment Mission has hailed the efforts of the two-month old Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force in the restoration of peace and stability to Lesotho.
The five-man AU Mission led by Mr Simon Baza was recently in the country from 5 to 9 February to assess the progress made by the SADC Standby Force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL), since it was officially unveiled in Lesotho on 2 December 2017.
The AU mission visited Lesotho for the fact-finding mission after being tasked to do so by the 748th meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 24 January.
The deployment of the standby force– made of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts- was endorsed by SADC leaders to assist the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in managing the security crisis in the country in the aftermath of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
According to SADC, one of the main objectives of the SADC deployment is to “assist in isolating renegade elements within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)”.
The standby force will also support Lesotho in retraining its army personnel, especially in the area of civil-military relations while working towards security sector and other institutional reforms.
In the aftermath of its recent fact-finding mission in Lesotho, the AU commended the SADC Force for “discharging its mandate in a professional manner”, adding that there was a “general consensus among stakeholders that the force’s deployment to Lesotho had contributed to relative calm and acted as a deterrent” to rogue elements who could foment chaos and instability.
“The security situation in Lesotho has been relatively calm and there is an improved working relation between and among the various security agencies,” the AU Mission noted in its report.
The report will be tabled for adoption at the next sitting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) later this month in Ethiopia.
The government was also singled out for the support it had rendered to the SADC force and it was further urged to ensure that the current momentum towards the implementation of the reforms is maintained in order to bring lasting peace and stability to Lesotho.
Lesotho has committed itself to the implementation of constitutional, security sector, public service, media and governance reforms in line with the recommendations of the regional body.
It is hoped that the reforms will bring the peace and stability which will lay the foundation for sustainable socio-economic development.
During its tour of duty, the mission held consultations with various stakeholders namely, the leadership of the SADC Standby Force, government officials, opposition parties, civil and non-government organisations, the Christian Council of Lesotho and the Law Society of Lesotho.
The mission also carried out field visits to areas where the SADC forces are deployed.
The mission further appealed to AU member states, the United Nations and development partners to offer technical and financial support to the SAPMIL to enable it to meet its budget shortfall of US$1, 6 million (approximately M20 million).
“It was observed that there is an urgent need for the AU and other partners to provide technical and financial assistance to enable the SAPMIL to effectively discharge its mandate.
“The Mission assured the SADC Secretariat of the AU’s readiness to support the SAPMIL and that the support to the Kingdom of Lesotho is based on the ideals of the AU Agenda 2063 that has an overall aspiration of “Silencing the Guns by 2020,” the mission noted in its report.