Demilitarisation: A viable reform option
For instance, in the current budget, defence is the sixth highest ministry in terms of budget allocations in Lesotho.
The defence ministry has been allocated far more than that of agriculture among other ministries. This is despite the fact that the majority of the citizens are facing serious food insecurity due to the recent drought. Channelling of resources to more productive sectors would, in the long run, benefit the country at large, including the current and potential members of the army.
It would, however, require the country to exercise serious commitment and caution if demilitarisation were to be undertaken. Currently, the Lesotho army employs around 3 000 members and has an average yearly recruitment rate of around 300. Each working person is reportedly responsible for an average of six individuals in Lesotho. This implies that the earnings from the army cater for around 18 000 livelihoods. It would thus be important that if Lesotho opts for demilitarisation, everything possible is made to ensure that these livelihoods are not drastically affected.
Alternatives would include amongst others retirement of all officials nearing retirement age (with all benefits calculated on their official dates of retirement) and transferring younger officials to other ministries, or private organisations. It is worth emphasising that there would need to be serious retraining programmes that the demobilised officials would have to undergo in order to be adequately reintegrated into civilian life. These are highly trained individuals who can easily become dangerous to society if just thrown to struggle in civilian life. Failure to adequately reintegrate the demobilised soldiers would be catastrophic as it proved elsewhere. For instance, in Haiti the demobilised soldiers regrouped and overthrew the country’s civilian government.
Under the circumstances Lesotho finds itself in, demilitarisation remains the most viable option in search of permanent or at least long-lasting peace. Obviously, demilitarisation would require massive resources as it has to be thoroughly planned in order to be successful. The process would only be costly in the short run. It would, in all likelihood, prove to be a viable investment sure to pay peaceful dividends to the nation as a whole. It is not impossible for Lesotho’s future prime ministers to sing their country’s praises the way President Oscar Andrias Sanchez did about his own country — Costa Rica.
l Letsie is a lecturer in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the National University of Lesotho