‘Female officers up to task of leading army’

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Tsitsi Matope

SOME of the female members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) possess ‎the requisite command and managerial capabilities to assume the highest rank of lieutenant-general, Ministry of Defence and National Security Principal Secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae has said.

Rtd Col Mothae told the Lesotho Times this week that although men currently hold more senior positions in the LDF compared to their female counterparts, this did not mean the army could not have a woman as its commander.

“Yes, for sure, the prospects are there: LDF women are very competitive. I don’t see why we can’t have a woman as commander. We do have women of high calibre in the army, who have been developing themselves over the years, among them pilots. If a woman can fly a plane, what can stop her to do more than that,” he said.

The LDF has gone through difficult times over recent years, with the assassination of commanders, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao and Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo by fellow officers in 2015 and 2017 respectively, among the highlights of this turmoil.

The LDF has never had a woman occupying the top rank of lieutenant-general while they have also not featured in other top ranks such as colonel, brigadier-general and major-general which come before lieutenant-general, respectively.

However, Rtd Col Mothae said at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) level, the Lesotho army has done well in terms of gender-equality.

Acting LDF commander, Major-General Lineo Poopa, also told the Lesotho Times that, of the 13.6 percent women working in the LDF, only one of the nine brigadier-generals was female while only one of the 11 colonels was a woman. There was no woman occupying the rank of major-general, he said.

“We do also have two lieutenant-colonels, one major and six captains. I cannot provide comparison with men on these ranks for security reasons,” he added.

However, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development encourages member-states to conform to its requirements.

The protocol, which was revised in May 2007, provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination, and promotion of gender-equality and equity through gender-responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects in line with global targets and emerging issues.

To measure the progress of countries in gender-mainstreaming in various sectors including regional defence forces, member-states report annually to the SADC sub-committees.

However, transforming the military to become amenable to women has been a slow development in many SADC countries, where most still play supporting roles. In most cases, women’s full participation is affected by negative stereotyping which makes the military a male domain.

Cultural obstacles and politicisation of the army have also pushed women into lower supporting ranks in most African armies.

Rtd Col Mothae explained that while there was need to have more women in the top ranks and in line with the SADC Gender Protocol and government’s Policy on Gender, the issue was not about appointing them as a token gesture or based on a quota system, but to ensure selection was based on merit.

“The military has its own promotion criteria and policy, which is inclusive of both women and men. All officers in line for promotion go through rigorous selection trainings. The process is mental more than anything. It’s both command and academic; that is having the relevant qualifications, relevant military training and understanding strategic issues,” ‎he noted.

The principal secretary also stated that while there were concerns over the security instability in the LDF, the challenge was not related to gender.

“The challenges we are experiencing in the army are about how things are managed alongside other factors that influence security. A commander, whether a woman or a man, has to understand what it is they are managing. It’s really about understanding your role and responsibility as commander.”

He further explained that in line with the SADC Gender Protocol, Lesotho was striving for gender-equality in the whole governance system.

“I do believe in a criteria that is inclusive in the sense that if you set a standard, people will improve themselves. I am sure women have already demonstrated their ability to out-perform men in so many areas, but obviously, it’s a matter of an individual’s capability to manage a certain organisation like the LDF.”

He acknowledged that Basotho women had done well in many sectors, including politics, and the judiciary where Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara is female.

“We even had a female police commissioner in ‘Malejaka Letooane, who was later appointed Lesotho High Commissioner to South Africa and also Lealimo Makakole who acted as director-general for the National Security Service (NSS) before the appointment of Col Tumo Lekhooa, so why not in the LDF?” he said.

In the current recruitment process in the LDF, he further explained, they would also factor-in female officers who have undergone the cadet officer’s course. “That is where the officer’s call begins and I hope most qualified women will meet the set standards and get the positions available.”

Rtd Col Mothae said he expected the highly-anticipated security reforms to also trigger discussions around issues of gender-equality in the LDF and NSS.

“I will discuss with the commanders what strategies we can employ and improve on to further advance gender-equity. I know that when we focus on policy, gender will feature as a priority. The highest level to be occupied by a woman will also form part of our discussions,” Rtd Col Mothae said.

Commenting on the need to include more women in decision-making positions within the army, the leader of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho political party and Labour and Employment Minister, Keketso Rantšo, told this publication that times had changed and the military was no longer a man’s world simply because of negative perceptions that say, “women cannot shoot straight or run up the mountains and shoot at the same time”.

She explained the need for women to rise above “destructive criticism”, continue to develop their capacity and believe in themselves and never to live according to the dictates of a “negative society”.

She continued: “To be ambitious shows progress in thinking and progress as a nation. We want to see women aiming for higher positions in the army, aiming to be prime minister and deputy prime minister and in all the other sectors of our economy and society.”

Rtd Maj-Gen Samuel Makoro also echoed the sentiments, saying that when he was still in the LDF, he realised women had no problems commanding men.

“It is a fact that in many African countries, women do not feature strongly in certain top positions and they are found mainly performing functions such as medical services, or in the mess and communication. They are not so visible in areas such as the Air Force and military tank drivers. I honestly think much of the military system, including training, was developed with men in mind.”

Gender-mainstreaming, he said, had to start with changing the physical training models for them to suit women.

“Female athletes do not compete with men at top events such as the Commonwealth Games, for instance, because it is just not fair. I agree with maintaining standards in the area of academic selection but I also think it’s high time we make adjustments in the physical requirements, without necessarily compromising the standards. This will make the LDF more attractive to female university graduates,” Rtd Maj-Gen Makoro said.

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