SOUTHERN African Development Community (SADC) Oversight Committee Chairperson, Matias Bertino Matondo, has warned Basotho on the perils of chronic instability, saying there is need to engage in a serious soul-searching exercise to establish why Lesotho is the only one, out of 15 regional countries, to continuously endure an unstable political climate in which governments do not last full terms and army commanders are killed by subordinates.
A serious comparative analysis of Lesotho against the standards of its regional peers would also help Basotho focus on the things they need to improve to rid the Kingdom of its tag as the perennial bad boy of the region.
Dr Matondo defended last month’s deployment of the SADC standby force to Lesotho which has been criticised by opposition parties and some sections of civil society, saying it was a necessary move to create a conducive environment for the implementation of SADC recommendations.
He said some people were “oblivious of what was happening” on the ground in Lesotho and there was more to the security situation in the country than meets the eye, necessitating the SADC deployment.
The SADC standby force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL), was deployed to Lesotho on 2 December, 2017. The standby force is made of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts.
A confidential SADC report that was prepared ahead of the deployment of the SADC force and seen by this publication, stated that the latter had a mandate of assisting 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.
Furthermore, the SADC force will “monitor the investigation of the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, prioritise and expeditiously assist in the operationalisation of national unity and reconciliation dialogue with a clear approach, to be facilitated by SADC”.
The confidential SADC report also speaks of arms of war and ammunition missing from the armory of the LDF as well as heavy AK47 rifles that had disappeared from the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS).
Also missing are the arms confiscated by the LDF from the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) during a coup attempt on 30 August 2014 when the army raided and seized arms from police stations around Maseru.
It is suspected that all these arms are in the possession of rogue elements of the LDF who might want to use them to launch reprisal attacks, heightening instability in the Kingdom.
And even though there is a semblance of stability since Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was returned to power in the June 3 2017 elections, Dr Matondo said the standby force was necessary to maintain stability while Lesotho embarked on crucial reforms to ensure lasting peace which was crucial to socio-economic development.
In an exclusive interview with Lesotho Times this week, Dr Matondo said people should not be deceived by the fact that people were going on with their business as usual as there could be simmering tensions below the surface which could destroy the peace.
“I have been telling our colleagues, brothers and sisters from the Kingdom of Lesotho that everything is peaceful until something happens and when things happen, they come unannounced,” Dr Matondo said.
“I have been telling them that a single bullet to somebody’s head- God forbids- can disrupt the whole (reforms) process. We should not take things at face value and be deceived by the fact that people are going on with their business as usual.”
He said the standby force was not here to fight but to protect Basotho, which is why theirs was termed a “preventative mission”.
“We are here to ensure that no one is arrested out of personal vendettas, that human rights are protected and that no one is abused. We are not here to fight with the Basotho.
“Our mission is to help strengthen peace, security and political stability, lend assistance in the implementation of the constitutional, public and security sector reforms in line with SADC decisions and recommendations.
“We envision a peaceful, stable and vibrant Kingdom of Lesotho geared towards the realisation of its full economic, social and cultural potential through sustainable economic growth and development,” Dr Matondo said.
He said it would be a “beautiful” thing for Basotho to do comparative analysis to establish why other SADC countries had not experienced the kind of upheavals Lesotho was experiencing.
“How many countries have gone through what has been taking place here? How many chief of defence forces have been killed by their junior officers?
“It has never happened in South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia or Zimbabwe but it happened here twice. We have to ask ourselves, what is wrong, why should junior officers kill their senior officers twice? These are questions all Basotho should ask themselves.
“Secondly, why do we have so many snap elections here in the Kingdom of Lesotho? Why should we have snap election after snap election in this country?”
Dr Matondo said all these issues needed to be urgently addressed to ensure that governments were given a chance to rule the country for a full term after the reform process.
“So people should not be oblivious of what is happening here because sometimes we wake up in the morning thinking everything is alright when it is not alright.
“Only when things happen do we say there is something wrong that ought to be addressed. Common crimes will happen but when things are taking place and are politically motivated, then there is something wrong,” he said, adding they were also engaging the media to spread the correct message about the SADC mission which was to engage Basotho to ensure that the SADC decisions and recommendations were fully implemented.
“We will assist our Basotho brothers and sisters with training, capacity building and addressing the root causes of instability and these root causes are embedded in the political dispensation.”
He said Lesotho was the only country in SADC where floor crossing was so active and dynamic that a politician could be part of a coalition one day and suddenly shift allegiance resulting in the collapse of the government.
“We have done a diagnosis and there are specific provisions that need to be amended and one of the key issues which should be addressed is that of floor crossing.” Dr Matondo said, adding that failure to abolish floor crossing was a recipe for anarchy where governments would continue to collapse soon after being formed.
“Why not give a government time to go through the full-term to focus on development and investment? We are not saying the motion of no confidence should be abolished because those are instruments of democracy but they are instruments that should not be abused but used as mechanisms of holding governments accountable.”
He added: “We are not trying to please SADC but to build lasting peace and stability in this country. We want to ensure that there is real peace and stability and that no one will have a reason to flee this country”.
“No one in opposition should flee. There will be no need to flee when everybody is protected by the law. This is what democracy is all about,” he said.