Security reforms needed for peace and unity

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Peete Molapo

BASOTHO are sick and tired of suffocating in a miasma of political instability, comatose state institutions, perennial underdevelopment and poverty.  Within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), Lesotho has been the epicentre of poor governance and military coups.

Befittingly, it has now become a pariah state. In the past three years, it has lost copious amounts in foreign direct investment due to, among other things, reputational risk. Most of its traditional development partners have lost confidence and have demonstrated this through aid reduction which the country can ill afford. The economy is currently facing serious challenges against falling revenues and unbridled state profligacy.

After the tit for tat rat race of the past four years by coalition governments, Basotho desperately want peace and stability. They need their lost national pride and dignity. They want to see their economy prosper like other countries. The so-called 4×4 government has its work cut for it. Although we need SADC and our neighbours to help, the primary responsibility rests on Basotho to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. To this end, we don’t expect the current government to repeat mistakes of the past. It must demonstrate political astuteness and maturity by working hard to usher in the much-needed security and political stability. This it can only achieve if it can make peace, security and national unity its number one priority. Lesotho is a deeply polarised nation and nothing can work without bringing all those living in it together. The recent murder, in cold blood, of the army commander has cast a dark shadow over the security and safety of the ordinary people.

With immediate effect, Lesotho has to embark on reforms covering the constitution, parliament, judiciary, public service, and security as advised by SADC. While all these sectors are equally important and critical, the security sector happens to be the most crucial as all other reforms cannot take place in a chaotic environment. The security sector is defined broadly as the army, police, intelligence and correctional services. This is the sector that has been most notorious for human rights violations and other social atrocities.  For all criminal offences committed within the sector, government must strictly not allow impunity as this would be undermining the due process of normal criminal justice system. I am of the opinion that government should have allowed the court-martial process to have run its full course so that truth about the alleged mutiny could be exposed. In this kind of environment, accountability for all past infractions is vital to facilitate closure of the many painful incidents.

As the first step, government has to transparently and openly take stock of all criminal offences and identify the perpetrators. Fortunately, this is what is already taking place. This process has to be done expeditiously as any delay could result in what is sometimes called insecurity dilemma. This is a situation where those who have been involved in acts of crime can for one reason or another feel compelled to prepare or cause the next round of conflict rather than opt for peace. Given the sensitivity of the security sector, government is lauded for inviting the SADC military involvement. SADC military presence has to be viewed from the point of ensuring accountability and security safeguards by neutralising government political utility of force and to a good extent facilitating cooperation and trust from the opposition side.  Had this been done earlier, there is a strong likelihood the murder of the army chief could have been avoided. It is of crucial importance that as this process unfolds the public is regularly informed at the highest level of government. In this day and age of social media, misinformation can terribly ruin what could have otherwise been the good intentions of government. Damage control is never easy. So, passop!

Secondly, security sector reforms must quickly be put in place. As a first order condition, they must be broad and inclusive. It is important that security reforms should not be conflated with professionalisation of the army as often talked about. Security reforms should be broadly defined as effective and accountable provision of state and human security within the framework of democratic governance, rule of law, and respect of human rights. This definition makes it clear that the state should not only be concerned with the technical aspect of military reforms but must put Basotho safety and security first.  As to the cause of security sector instability in Lesotho I have every reason to believe that the main culprits are dysfunctional governance and political interference. I hold a rather strong hypothesis that the causal link between the existence of the army in Lesotho and political instability is not a direct one but it derives from bad governance and political meddling. If that be the case, the solution then does not lie in the dissolution of the army but in addressing the two issues head-on. Dissolution of the army in Lesotho is an extraneous matter of public policy. All these remain to be confirmed until the sector reform discourse.

In conclusion, firstly government has to swiftly and indiscriminately take action on all criminal cases committed within the security sector. Given the emotive nature of the political environment, in order to ensure credibility, process transparency and neutralisation of government utility of force, oversight and/or support from SADC accountability and safeguards is essential. Secondly, security sector reforms must be put in motion and in doing so it is instructive that reforms should not be misconstrued as technical. Priority should be on Basotho safety and security. Thirdly, as should be done for all other sector reforms, security reforms should be undertaken within the core and thematic framework of uniting the nation and peace-building. To this end, government should set the right standards and a peaceful tone that impunity cannot be tolerated and that without any discrimination it strives for justice and welfare for all Basotho. Regular interaction with the people through the media must be the norm. Basotho have a constitutional right to information and knowledge.

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