Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) director, Tšoeu Petlane, on Monday told the SADC Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability that efforts by government, civil society and other stakeholders to “professionalise” the army had failed.
Mr Petlane further told the Commission led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana that the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) had been politicised hence its lack of professionalism and propensity to destabilise the nation.
TRC is an ecumenical organisation established in 1979 and dedicated to the promotion of justice, peace, good governance and participatory development in Lesotho.
Mr Petlane said: “We want to clarify our stand as members of civil society that we have noticed Lesotho is having governance problems because of politics but also the army.”
But before Mr Petlane could continue, he was interrupted by Justice Phumaphi, who indicated there was evidence before the Commission that some politicians were also responsible for the country’s instability.
In response, Mr Petlane gave a history of the LDF and its involvement in the country’s instability.
“If we look at the history of the LDF, my understanding is it has always been a politicised state institution. Its growth from the Police Mobile Unit (PMU) comes from a context where we had either insurrection or some kind of political disagreement between the BNP (Basotho National Party) and BCP (Basotho Congress Party). The PMU was then beefed-up and upgraded to the LDF,” Mr Petlane said.
“You look at 1986, where the army takes over government. In any situation where the army takes over government, it says that is a politicised army. We also look at the crisis of 1994 which has been elaborated before this Commission, where because again of either the perceived or actual attitude of the army, it gets involved in that instability. You look at 1998, 2007 and I think Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing has talked about things like ‘operation pitika’, you look at 2014 where a politician stands in public and says ‘I don’t trust this army’.
“My analysis is that it has not only been politicians misusing or misdirecting the army but our processes to professionalise the army have not had full effect to the extent that I would understand the situation as mutual feedback loops within a politicised army and militarised politics. Whenever politicians feel they are not getting their way, they will run to soldiers to find fertile ground.
“If you know the history of this country, from the 1970s to the 80s and indeed until the change of government in 1993, the military was considered ‘not our army’ by the ruling BCP. That has been an issue debated in public and analysed.
“I think part of the problem was that between 1994 and today, our laws used to have a provision that allowed choosing the head of the LDF by civilian politicians and taking it away from the sole remit of the prime minister. I think that law was taken off the books”.
According to Mr Petlane, such a situation could have only led to trouble for Lesotho.
“This now creates a situation where whenever actions like (former prime minister) Ntate Thabane removing Ntate Kamoli as LDF commander and replacing him with Ntate Mahao, they become points of contestation between politicians. One politician stood before this Commission and said he disagreed with it and the other went public and said ‘I fired this man’, while yet another said ‘you had not fired this man’.
“To me, it says whenever politicians have disagreements, it affects the army, whether the disagreement was about the military or not. The army ends up getting involved either actively or otherwise.
“I think in a general sense, the whole public service and the army must be depoliticised,” Mr Petlane said.
Commissioner Noel Ndlovu asked Mr Petlane why civil society was not being listened to regarding the military.
“Civil society is seen as anti-government and secondly, in this country, those in power only listen to outsiders. For example, look at ideologies that come from the New Zealand coalition report (which was prepared last year). The majority of those ideas were shared by academics in this country but were never implemented. It applies throughout the region that if you want a native to work, bring a white man,” Mr Petlane said.
“As part of larger society, we have concluded that the dismissal and appointment of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao caused a lot of confusion not only in the army but society at large. The implication of backdating the gazette that re-appointed Lt Gen Kamoli gives the notion that between 29 August 2014 and 22 May 2015, the army had two commanders.
“The effective date of Mahao’s termination says 22 May 2015 but there is also point number two in the same gazette that says the gazette that appointed Mahao is now declared dysfunctional. So one has to understand what is going on there. If, on March 15, a soldier was to take any action under instruction from Kamoli, he could only defend himself on the basis of the 21 May appointment of him but if he was acting under instruction from Mahao, then he was acting legally. So that creates quite a bit of confusion. We are assuming this since we are not part of the army, but this should cause confusion in any workplace. We are also saying as part of larger society, this confused us.”
Mr Petlane also said as a human rights body, TRC has been offering counselling and legal assistance to the wives of soldiers detained by the army after being accused of being part of a plot to topple the LDF command.
Brigadier Mahao was shot on 25 June this year outside his Mokema farm by fellow soldiers, with government saying he was resisting arrest for his alleged involvement in a foiled plot to topple the LDF command.
The SADC probe was established to find out how the ex-LDF commander died, as well as Lesotho’s other security-related issues.