Govt vs army: A danger­ous cat and mouse game

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PER­HAPS this has been our demo­cratic curse, for ever since Le­sotho was in­tro­duced to democ­racy, the coun­try has been marked by a never end­ing turf war be­tween the gov­ern­ment and its mil­i­tary.

The coun­try has ex­pe­ri­enced a string of coups and coup at­tempts that have ended in blood baths and brought the coun­try to the brink of a full blown war.

In 1986 the then prime min­is­ter of Le­sotho, Le­abua Jonathan, a great grand­son to Moshoeshoe I, was over­thrown in a mil­i­tary coup, spear­headed by the then army gen­eral Mets­ing Lekhanya, which cul­mi­nated in the coun­try’s seven years of mil­i­tary rule from 1986 to 1993.

Within that pe­riod, there was yet an­other a coup, within the mil­i­tary it­self, that ousted Ma­jor-gen­eral Lekhanya inau­gu­rat­ing in his stead Colonel Elias Tut­soane Ra­maema as the head of then rul­ing mil­i­tary coun­cil.

Although one can never be sure of the events that lead to the 1986 coup, it came amidst great tur­moil.

It all started in 1970, with Le­sotho hav­ing gained in­de­pen­dence four years ear­lier. There had been a great po­lit­i­cal ri­valry be­tween the two prin­ci­pal po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the coun­try; the Ba­sotho Na­tional Party of Chief Jonathan and the Ba­su­toland Congress Party (BCP) lead by Ntsu Mokhehle.

Elec­tions were held that year with the BCP win­ning the ma­jor­ity of the votes. How­ever, Chief Jonathan would not ad­mit de­feat. From then on, chaos could only en­sue.

In a des­per­ate bid to hang on to power Chief Jonathan al­lied him­self with South Africa as seen in his ad­her­ence to a num­ber of col­lab­o­ra­tive poli­cies of the then apartheid regime.

The al­liance, how­ever, would not last. Per­haps in a bid to serve a big­ger po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion, he turned around to shun the very op­pres­sive poli­cies he had col­lab­o­rated with.

Chief Jonathan then switched sides to lend sup­port to the African Na­tional Congress which, at the time, had been fight­ing against the op­pres­sive ten­den­cies of the apartheid regime.

It is not sur­pris­ing then that the South African gov­ern­ment re­tal­i­ated. It gave its sup­port to the mil­i­tary wing of the BCP and the Le­sotho Lib­er­a­tion Army (LLA); based in the repub­lic at the time sub­se­quent to a failed coup by the BCP in 1974.

The LLA in the com­ing years would carry out a se­ries of nui­sance raids in Le­sotho. The SA gov­ern­ment car­ried its own mil­i­tary raids into Le­sotho fol­low­ing sus­pi­cions that the BNP was har­bour­ing ANC stal­warts. Note­wor­thy was the 1982 raid which re­sulted in a num­ber of deaths and is still com­mem­o­rated in the coun­try to this very day.

Fur­ther­more, the SA gov­ern­ment im­posed a block­ade as well as diplo­matic, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sanc­tions which would all prove crip­pling to Le­sotho’s de­vel­op­men­tal prospects.

The sit­u­a­tion was dire. Per­haps it is this turn in events that prompted the mil­i­tary coup that soon fol­lowed, or maybe it was the em­i­nent un­rest ow­ing to the BNP’S own estab­lish­ment of a mil­i­tary wing; no one knows for sure.

Le­sotho fi­nally re­turned to civil­ian rule in 1993. How­ever, it was not long be­fore the army made de­mands for pay in­creases. The move sparked in­ter­nal fight­ing within the mil­i­tary as many of­fi­cers did not see eye to eye.

Le­sotho sought in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion to the cri­sis which had al­ready claimed five lives. A Com­mon­wealth-bro­kered peace ac­cord saw the dis­ar­ma­ment and re­turn to bar­racks of the feud­ing fac­tions.

Not long af­ter, a gov­ern­ment prom­ise of a probe into the events that led to the fac­tional squab­bles within the mil­i­tary sparked fur­ther in­sta­bil­ity.

Cer­tain gov­ern­ment min­is­ters were ab­ducted while one was killed when he had re­sisted. There were other iso­lated acts of de­fi­ance to fol­low. Ac­tion had to be taken and gov­ern­ment then con­vened a com­mis­sion of en­quiry.

The com­mis­sion was tasked to “look into the events that took place, to in­ves­ti­gate the role of the (R)LDF and its of­fi­cers in those events and to make rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the fu­ture com­po­si­tion and com­mand struc­ture of the (R)LDF”.

In Au­gust of 1994, the fo­cus was, for a brief mo­ment, shifted from the gov­ern­ment-mil­i­tary ri­valry to the monar­chy.

The shift fol­lowed the King’s an­nounce­ment of his dis­missal of the then prime min­is­ter and to sus­pend the con­sti­tu­tion. Civil­ian rule was re­stored a month later.

A sig­nif­i­cant split in the rul­ing BCP that fol­lowed saw the break­away fac­tion; the LCD, lead gov­ern­ment for the re­minder of the term lead­ing up to elec­tions of 1998. The LCD won with an over­all ma­jor­ity.

How­ever protests en­sued over claims that the elec­tion were rigged. In­sta­bil­ity could only be the or­der of the day. The LCD gov­ern­ment, fear­ing an em­i­nent coup, sought the mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion of South Africa.

The in­ter­ven­tion of the South African De­fence Force (SADF), later joined by the Botswana De­fence Force (BDF), was bloody and left the coun­try in ru­ins.

The wan­ton de­struc­tion of build­ings in Maseru’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict painted a hor­rid pic­ture of the af­ter­math which would later be termed as the South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) in­va­sion.

The po­lit­i­cal par­ties agreed to the for­ma­tion of an In­terim Po­lit­i­cal Author­ity (IPA) whose man­date was to over­see the tran­si­tion to a fresh elec­tion, which by unan­i­mous con­sent of all par­ties con­cerned, would be in 2000.

Per­haps a more press­ing is­sue the IPA was faced with was the in­tro­duc­tion of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion model within the ex­ist­ing first past the post model.

The ven­ture was met with re­sis­tance by the rul­ing LCD. As a re­sult, the elec­tions were de­layed well into the sec­ond quar­ter of 2002.

Mean­while, a team from the SADC forces had re­mained to as­sist in pro­fes­sion­al­is­ing the LDF. The 2002 elec­tions came and went. What was his­toric was the peace that fol­lowed the elec­tions.

This was to break a long and a rather best forgotten sta­tus quo of po­lit­i­cal party feud­ing and un­wel­come mil­i­tary in­volve­ment to add fuel to an al­ready rag­ing po­lit­i­cal wild fire.

The 2007 elec­tions that fol­lowed five years later did well to quell the fears and an­swer to an ever re­cur­ring ques­tion in Ba­sotho minds; “will the peace last”?

Five years on, Ba­sotho’s for­tunes seemed set to blos­som as in 2012 not only were the elec­tions a suc­cess, they por­trayed a never seen be­fore tol­er­ance and ma­tu­rity in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. It is worth not­ing at this point that no one party won an out­right ma­jor­ity.

The Demo­cratic Congress led the pack with 48 seats, the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion was in sec­ond place with 30 seats while the LCD and BNP fol­lowed in third and fourth places with one at­tain­ing 26 seats and the other 5 seats re­spec­tively.

The three smaller par­ties went on to form the never seen be­fore coali­tion gov­ern­ment mean­while strip­ping the lead­ing DC of the al­most cer­tain victory.

The DC was not go­ing to be sore losers ei­ther, they peace­ably ac­cepted their new role as the op­po­si­tion in His Majesty’s gov­ern­ment.

The years of peace and tran­quil­lity proved to be but a dor­mant phase for the tur­moil that had wreaked havoc in the coun­try over the years.

The in­sta­bil­ity was to rear its ugly head when the tri­par­tite coali­tion gov­ern­ment failed to set­tle its dif­fer­ences and to lead the coun­try in uni­son. The events lead­ing up to the ul­ti­mate col­lapse of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment are well doc­u­mented.

What is worth re­it­er­at­ing here for the pur­pose of this ar­ti­cle is the sub­se­quent in­volve­ment, put rather mildly, of the mil­i­tary in civil­ian af­fairs. We are tempted to ask at this point, will it ever end?

The supreme law of the land, of which sec­tion 146 thereof es­tab­lishes the LDF, states that there shall be one such force for the main­te­nance of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity and the de­fence of Le­sotho.

The sub­se­quent leg­is­la­tion, the Le­sotho De­fence Force Act of 1996, merely mim­ics the con­sti­tu­tion as far as the legal du­ties of the de­fence force are con­cerned.

The Act is how­ever elab­o­rate on is­sues such as, in­sti­tu­tional or­gan­isa- tion of the force, com­mand struc­ture, dis­ci­pline and so on. I have to say that un­til this point I was in­clined to view the mil­i­tary as an un­ruly horse that could not be tamed.

My sud­den change of heart, for rea­sons that will be­come vivid later, is thanks to Kha­bele Mat­losa in his com­pre­hen­sive and in­sight­ful work ti­tled From a desta­bi­liz­ing fac­tor to a de­politi­cised and pro­fes­sional force:

The mil­i­tary in Le­sotho. Sim­i­lar to my view­point, Mr Mat­losa ac­knowl­edges that the gov­ern­ment-mil­i­tary divide has been rife.

He, how­ever, goes on to con­clude that, on a pos­i­tive note con­trary to my ini­tial in­cli­na­tion , de­spite the seem­ingly ro­bust divide, re­mark­able in­roads have been made to­wards en­sur­ing a de­politi­cised and pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary backed and an­swer­able to civil­ian demo­cratic gov­ern­ment.

On top and above the leg­isla­tive safe­guards al­ready cov­ered, he notes that the in­sti­tu­tional frame­work, to wit, the estab­lish­ment of the Min­istry of De­fence. Of course it’s through the Min­istry of De­fence the mil­i­tary be­comes accountable to civil­ian rule in that the com­man­der of the LDF is re­quired to ac­count to the min­is­ter in charge of de­fence in his day to day run­ning of the mil­i­tary.

Se­condly, de­fence pol­icy, ar­tic­u­late pol­icy cre­ates a road map along which mil­i­tary func­tions are to run.

As I in­di­cated ear­lier the writer man­aged to sway my thoughts. The ini­tial view was that the mil­i­tary is un­ruly and needs tam­ing.

Per­haps we don’t dif­fer as much, as I did in­di­cate that we are unan­i­mous in the gov­ern­ment-mil­i­tary divide. Con­ver­gence seems to lie then as to why the mil­i­tary is un­ruly.

My ini­tial and rather ill-in­formed view that the mil­i­tary was ne­glect­ing its de­fen­sive man­date to pur­sue po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions out of mal­ice and hunger for power is laid to im­me­di­ate rest when he at­tributes at the least, most of the mil­i­tary’s mis­deeds to po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion.

He says for ex­am­ple that dur­ing the pe­riod be­tween 1970 and 1986 “the BNP ex­er­cised strin­gent con­trol over the armed forces and con­structed the forces af­ter its own im­age in or­der not only to ward off ex­ter­nal threat but also to emas­cu­late in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion”. As­sum­ing his find­ings to be true, I am swayed to share his sen­ti­ments.

If po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion is the cause for the un­ruly na­ture of this horse then it fol­lows that to tame it we best rid it of un­healthy po­lit­i­cal sub­or­di­na­tion.

I say un­healthy be­cause we still need healthy sub­or­di­na­tion to ren­der it an­swer­able to the elec­torate.

That be­ing so, the sta­tus quo, that the prime min­is­ter be­ing head of gov­ern­ment is also the heard of the min­istry of de­fense thereby also el­i­gi­ble to the chair­man­ship of the mil­i­tary coun­cil, is a devel­op­ment that can­not and should not, as the pa­per rec­om­mends, be main­tained.

The in­com­ing coali­tion gov­ern­ment would best be ad­vised to look into this mat­ter ur­gently.

The mil­i­tary ought not to be a po­lit­i­cal tool, if not by the rule of law, then by the harsh lessons of our his­tory as a na­tion.

The Le­sotho Times wel­comes read­ers’ feed­back on top­i­cal is­sues. The e-mail ad­dress is: edi­tor@les­times.co.ls Let­ters may be ad­dressed to: The Edi­tor, Le­sotho Times, A2200 Lower Thet­sane, Maseru 100.

Mnikelo Kili.

Re­tired Ma­jor Gen­eral Mets­ing Lekhanya.

Le­sotho’s first Prime Min­is­ter Le­abua Jonathan.

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