A RANDOM street survey held recently by the Lesotho Times seeking to hear people’s perceptions about the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) mostly revealed feelings of mistrust and fear for the security agency.
Most of the people interviewed cited such negative perceptions to the assassinations of former LDF commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, in 2015 and Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo on 5 September 2017. Both men were killed by their army colleagues.
Some even called for the disbanding of the LDF, while others cast doubt on the LDF’s sincerity in discharging its mandate to protect the nation.
Another group of interviewees pointed to the need for the LDF to embark on a self-reflection and a reform process to redeem its image.
In this wide-ranging interview, the Lesotho Times’ (LT) Tsitsi Matope talks to Ministry of Defence and National Security Principal Secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae (RCTM) on the ministry’s efforts to rebuild the image of the LDF.
LT: Various stakeholders have a lot of questions and concerns about the Lesotho Defence Force. Many of them want to believe the worst is over, yet still seem to struggle to see beyond the pain and disappointment. What is the ministry doing to rebuild the nation’s trust in the army?
Mothae: Firstly, I would like to apologise to the nation for what happened, and again to the families who lost their loved ones. What happened on 5 September 2017, did not only shock Basotho but also the international community. We do not condone such actions and that is why we are open about these issues. I understand how people feel because, in any country, when an army commander is killed, it means the whole country is in danger. A commander is a national flag-bearer, and taking the life of such an individual brings about a crisis. It is for that reason that the government of Lesotho invited the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help us respect our own national flag.
Coming to what we are doing about this issue of working towards changing the negative perceptions about the army, we are operating at various levels in the ministry and at the LDF. We are mainly focusing on working from within, with the understanding that the actions we have started to implement will positively reflect through our personnel’s conduct. This is what we are doing as of now while we wait for the implementation of security reforms.
LT: It appears your activities are largely short-term, but what is the plan for the long term in order to make a real impact and bring about real transformation?
Mothae: As the Ministry of Defence, we have a responsibility to ensure that the LDF operates within its national mandate and in conformity with the constitution of Lesotho. Ensuring that the LDF executes its duty in accordance with the laws of this country would make transformative actions manageable and results achieved within a reasonable timeframe.
LT: What critical issues are you reflecting through your messages both to the public, development partners and within the LDF?
Mothae: The LDF is for the nation. It does not serve certain individuals and it has to be seen just like that. When something goes wrong, we have the responsibility to correct the situation and not to protect perpetrators. We would like Basotho, our development partners and all the people residing in Lesotho to understand we have accepted that we have security challenges and we are cooperating with SADC to resolve the problems. We are transparent; we are not hiding anything or protecting anyone. The LDF is not beyond redemption. It remains one of the best-trained forces in southern Africa. Trained and well-disciplined, but of course, we all know what happened and we have already started correcting that. With the participation of everyone, we can all emerge from this stronger.
LT: What do you have to say to those who have called for the LDF to be disbanded, or have suggested that Lesotho does not need a fully-fledged army because the country is surrounded by South Africa and can therefore seek its assistance if need be? These sentiments, of course, largely come from those disgruntled by the unsavoury developments in the LDF.
Mothae: The Lesotho military is not just a composition of certain individuals. It’s a constitutional requirement further supported by the Defence Force Act which also guides how it should be organised and managed. Lesotho is a sovereign state, with its own municipal or domestic laws on how the state should operate in line with its independent state status. The fact that when we have some security challenges South Africa and the rest of the region come to assist, does not mean we do not need our own army.
Lesotho is a member of SADC, the African Union, Commonwealth and other bodies. We have treaties which prescribe how we work together. For example, when one member-state needs assistance, the other members assist. It is the same at community level. When a neighbour has a challenge, they always call on a neighbour for help, but that does not mean the neighbour has to dissolve his own family because he has asked for support.
Therefore, as much as people are disappointed, wishing away the LDF is not an easy thing to implement because it’s a constitutional matter. If Basotho feel strongly about it, they can institute some measures that can lead to the disbandment of the army. Basotho are the ones who wanted the military and they are the ones to also say we do not want it anymore if they think it is not serving them.
LT: Through its international operations, the LDF had acquired a good image, and reputation. But why does it seem like the same LDF failed to appreciate that charity begins at home?
Mothae: It is true that the LDF has performed exceptionally well internationally, working in difficult environments including Darfur, Syria and others. Officers from other countries who have worked with our officers always get surprised when they hear of the violent events here in Lesotho, knowing the discipline our officers demonstrated. These are the issues we are working to address.
LT: But why this change in behaviour?
Mothae: We must always maintain a rigorous promotion process to have commanders who lead soldiers to the future. I believe that is our challenge. At the same time, in the military, a commander and those working close to him or her, must be aware of external factors that may influence the behaviour of the military. This ensures that the military is left to perform and fulfil its constitutional roles, without any interference, and also to ensure that the military understands its constitutional role, and not to interfere in other roles which do not fall under its jurisdiction.
Because we are discussing image-building, which should start from within, if it has to be real and sustainable, we need to work on the officers to understand that the higher you go, the more responsibility you assume and the need for you to understand the dynamics around your position as the chief-of-defence or as deputies or as the general staff or senior officers of the defence force. When you are trained in the military environment, it is in such a way that you are able to grow with the system, understanding the national requirements, expectations and dynamics.
Of course, not-withstanding the fact that we also have our international obligations as a country and as a defence force, so we must also understand the international dynamics and obligations. An army commander is not just a commander of the LDF, but has to be a commander who understands the international environment within which the military is operating. He or she has to understand the local environment and the dynamics associated with all the operations. When you talk about the image, this is exactly where we now have to start and build understanding and appreciation of the role of the military at various levels. Our image-building programmes have to focus on many angles to reshape it to conform to the required standards.
LT: You talk of the need for a rigorous promotion process when it comes to senior positions. Do the challenges in the LDF reflect some flaws in the promotion criteria?
Mothae: I think if you can recall what Lt-Gen Thuso Motanyane said during the burial of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, he was very clear as one of the advocates who contributed to the formulation of some of our defence policies and regulations. If those policies had been respected, we would probably not have these security challenges. The army has a very good promotion policy, and other set of rules that guide all operations, including a selection criteria on what must happen for one to be a senior officer. Respecting those regulations is wisdom.
This respect was demonstrated clearly by the past LDF leadership, which did a lot to shape the institution. For example, we had a number of restructuring programmes working together with all the policies I am referring to. Lt-Gen Motanyane was actually hands-on on such matters and so were other generals before him.
Rigorous restructuring started during Lt-Gen Makhula Mosakeng’s era before he moved this programme further, leaving it in the hands of Lt-Gen Motanyane who actually advanced its level. If such hard work had been respected and preserved, the LDF would have been far ahead. It is sad that some of the policies and standards set by these generals were overlooked and never followed. As a result, we have again been pushed backwards.
The two generals I have just mentioned really worked hard in trying to ensure that good systems worked for everybody.
LT: Does the military discuss a succession plan with the prime minister and minister of defence, for instance, to ensure the selection of the right candidate for the command position?
Mothae: Of course. We think a succession plan is very important. The preparation for a commander or commanders to succeed the incumbent should be very clear. There should be criteria stating that for one to be the general, this is what is required. Senior promotions also consider the issue of maturity, because in the army we believe the older you become, the more mature, experienced and wiser. Maturity is critical because you are leading an institution which has a huge potential to influence certain decisions and which can also unleash serious violence in the country. If you lack maturity and excellent managerial skills, you will not be able to understand and manage the internal and external dynamics.
The army has the potential to mount violence against anybody and everybody because it is the military. Therefore, whoever manages or commands the military must have a clear understanding that this is what we possess but it is not meant to unleash violence; it’s meant to protect the territorial integrity of our country.
LT: What bitter lessons did you learn from the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, a month after your appointment as principal secretary?
Mothae: I learnt that we had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and now commanders that decide to take the right direction are killed in Lesotho because of those who do not want to see a stable defence force. The saddest part of this whole issue is when you discover that certain individuals are being used to carry out these atrocities on behalf of the masters hiding in the dark. It is very sad. I am sure we have all learnt some key lessons from all this – that it is not worth it. I realised painfully why the army should always respect the rule of law. And I am sure with all the support from other army officers, society at large and other partners, we will together create an environment where LDF commanders will never be killed again.