Former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander, Major General Metsing Lekhanya, says he foresees “problems” after Saturday’s parliamentary elections because of unresolved “security issues”.
Maj Gen Lekhanya overthrew the Basotho National Party (BNP)-led government of Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan on 24 January 1986, but was to suffer a similar fate when his subordinates toppled him on 2 May 1991.
In March 1999, the now retired soldier was elected BNP leader—a position he held until party supporters passed a vote-of-no-confidence in his leadership on 18 December 2010.
Mr Lekhanya has since retired from active politics but attended the BNP’s final campaign rally at Setsoto Stadium on Sunday where he spoke to the Lesotho Times about the country’s current political and security crises, which have prompted a general election two years earlier than originally scheduled.
Speaking to the Lesotho Times during Sunday’s heavily attended rally, Mr Lekhanya said while the upcoming elections might end the political crisis which has dogged the country since early last year, they would not resolve differences between the LDF and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).
On 30 August 2014, members of the LDF attacked three key police stations in Maseru, resulting in the death of one senior LMPS officer, and Lekhanya fears more such clashes after the weekend elections.
“I think the SADC Facilitator (South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa) put too much trust in the elections being able to solve all our problems.
“But what I foresee happening is they will end the political crisis we find ourselves in, but not the tension between our security agencies which have abandoned their mandate and allowed themselves to be abused by politicians,” Major Gen Lekhanya said.
“Instead of politicians looking for support among the masses, they have been seen going after the police and army to gain their sympathy for their own selfish agendas.”
According to Mr Lekhanya, Mr Ramaphosa was also supposed to have addressed such security issues as well as pronounce himself on the command of the LDF.
Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who was fired as LDF commander by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in August last year for alleged insubordination, has refused to vacate the post, arguing the dismissal was unlawful.
His replacement, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, has not been able to takeover the position due to the standoff.
Mr Lekhanya noted: “I still maintain that elections are not going to solve all our problems. When Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli was appointed LDF commander in March 2012, a certain minister said he was getting the post because he was one of them. In Lesotho, ministers are politicians and if a minister says you are one of them, one concludes you belong to the same political party, which should not be the case because the army is supposed to be apolitical; it owes its allegiance to the government of the day and not a certain political party. This has been the problem in Lesotho, which I can foresee persisting even after the elections because the politicians are trying to abuse our security agencies.”
When he was LDF commander, Mr Lekhanya said politicians respected the country’s security institutions and would never manipulate them “the way they are doing now”.
He added: “During my time, we used to have weekly meetings with the then Director of National Security Service (NSS) Sehalahala Molapo and Police Commissioner Shadrack Matela to discuss security issues.
“We never fought over which institution was superior than the other; we shared responsibilities and assisted each other where necessary. This was done with the sole purpose of advancing the country’s interests not our personal or political agendas.”
Mr Lekhanya believes the 1986 coup could have misled the army into believing it could do as it pleases.
“The army’s intervention then, when it felt the country was not being properly governed, appears to have twisted the minds of some of the current LDF members who have clearly forgotten their mandate, which is to protect Basotho and their property from external enemies.”
Major Gen Lekhanya said if he was to suggest a solution to the country’s current instability, it would include restructuring both the LDF and LMPS.
“The LDF ruled between 1986 and 1993, which has made some military officers believe they can do as they please, without understanding what made the army do what it did back then,” he said.
“That is why I have this strong feeling that if the security issue is not resolved alongside the political one, then the infighting between the LMPS and LDF is going to flare-up, prompting outside intervention. I fear when this happens, Lesotho is going to end up being ruled by other nations, in this case SADC, and for what? Because our politicians have failed to govern this nation by obsessing themselves with, and abusing the security agencies?”
Asked what he thought of the BNP, and the upcoming elections in general, Mr Lekhanya said to begin with, he had not yet decided if he was going to cast his vote.
However, he said it was pleasing that the BNP had grown its support base over recent months, which he credited to Thesele ‘Maseribane’s leadership.
“BNP supporters had become disillusioned following events of 1986 and were no longer attending the party’s rallies. But things changed when the party became part of the coalition government in 2012.
“I didn’t vote in 2012 because I was very unhappy with the way our politicians were conducting themselves, and I am still not decided if I am going to vote on Saturday.
“My advice to the BNP leadership is to reinvent the party at grassroots level because I can see the interest coming back again.”
Asked to predict the outcome of Saturday’s vote, Mr Lekhanya said he believed there would be no single party with an outright majority win.
“From what I see, the Democratic Congress and All Basotho Convention are the biggest parties that are going to win many of the seats. What happens next would be up to them—to form a coalition government together or opt for an alliance with smaller parties,” he said.