The struggle to ‘liberate’ security forces
WHEN the situation is as bad as it is these days in the country, it is best to start with a summary and conclusions. Experts on civil-military relations tell us that the role of elected representatives is to make policy, and the role of the military is to implement it — civilians decide the ends of policy, and the military its means.
They also say once that policy, or any decision based thereon, has been pronounced, the military man has only three distinct choices — obedience, resignation, or revolution. Note that the last option is not revolt but revolution that to revolt is to stage an uprising, to mutiny, which is a military crime, while revolution is felling a government and usually replacing it with oneself.
Lieutenant-general Tlali Kamoli could have been quite aware of the same when he moved to topple former premier Thomas Thabane when he dismissed him as commander of the Lesotho Defence Force in August 2014. Dr Thabane kept Lt-gen Kamoli in post for far too long following his media conference remarks in June of that year that the prime minister (who was his de facto commander-in-chief since his advice to His Majesty the King who carries that title as head of state is peremptory) was being badly advised, and that he (Lt-gen Kamoli) would leave post only at the time known to him and on his own terms — on a supposed retirement date that he penciled by him.
That was in reference to Dr Thabane’s mysterious cancellation of his dissolution of Kamoli’s court-martial against the late former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao (who was then brigadier and head of logistics in the army). Lt-gen Mahao was charged for reprimanding a Captain Tefo Hashatsi for working up the Special Forces to swear to die resisting a supposedly impending removal of Lt-gen Kamoli.
In contrast to Lt-gen Kamoli, when General Christopher Mccrystal who was commanding US forces in Afghanistan told Rolling Stone magazine that President Barack Obama looked uneasy and fidgety in the meetings with chiefs of staff, the media made a lot of the fact that he was instantly recalled, and anticipated his dismissal. It came to pass as such.
Only Dr Thabane could co-exist with Lt-gen Kamoli, thereby undermining the principle of civilian supremacy over the military, which is central to modern democracies, as he did. Perhaps he was personally frightened of Lt-gen Kamoli, as some of the evidence of that fateful night at the Phumaphi Commission appears to show, but it was for Kamoli as a supposedly professional soldier to refrain from display of fearsomeness to his boss.
The authoritative S.E. Finer in his The Man on Horseback suggests that given the obvious power of the armed forces, what should be a wonder is why they obey their civilian superiors, not why they don’t; and proposes that they do so more out of respect for their civilian masters as a moral obligation than for professional reasons.
Where Finer, however, proposes that the army like any other part of the civil service has a right and duty to woo the government to convert to its point of view, and that “it is in no better, but certainly no worse a moral position than any other department of the civil administration” in so seeking to so; Kenneth Kent and Charles Hudlin in their seminal study of the nature and limits of civil supremacy over the military, counter that the ease with which the military develops a corporate identity as opposed to other branches of the public service, its monopoly of extreme force, and therefore potential to use it to coerce or blackmail civil authority, advises against admitting it into the sphere of some form of policy dialogue.
They advocate that in the end, policy influence should be farthest from the mind of a soldier at any point in time, thus buttressing Finer’s own point that soldiers submit to their civilian overlords as a matter of their moral obligation. They note further that, while an officer may come to enjoy an influence on policy by way of weight afforded his opinion, if such influence arises because of services sought, that would be improper; they must carefully shun such an opportunity of having their way. It would seem like Lt-gen Kamoli and his colleagues failed this test if we take developments of the past three years.
They imposed on the rulers to opt for an unwritten, carte blanche policy of “the end justifies the means” in hounding opponents, simply because their instruments of war were “needed” to quash unprecedented surge of opposition between 2007 and 2015. Choice of a commander is certainly also choice of direction of defence and other policy of the state, including a new content of civil-military relations; and obstruction or resistance of the same (appointment) cannot be anything less than contesting the policy prerogative of the state principals.
In reversing the dissolution of that Mahao tribunal, Dr Thabane was pandering to a propensity of negotiating with the forces, which is frowned upon by time-tested principles of civil-military relations. For example, Kent and Hudlin sharply criticise a “foolish, improper, and dangerous inquiry” by the government to the British troops posted in Northern Ireland as to whether they would support some limited form of self-government that London was intending to grant the territory, since the main opposition party in Westminster was spreading rumour that the troops wouldn’t put down its resistance by Ulster Unionists loyal to London. One brigade commander proceeded to say he wouldn’t, and was recalled to London for censure; but ended up going back to post only after a written undertaking by the government that his forces wouldn’t be expected to quash such resistance if it materialized. The prime minister’s shame-face withdrawal of that undertaking did little to repair the damage done.
In parallel with the Lt-gen Kamoli case, the opposition, with sections of the War Office, was of course surreptitiously sponsoring this insubordination, and promising reinstatement of any troops that would be dismissed if and when they came to power. Here we had, like in the case of Lt-gen Kamoli, a case which Samuel Huntington in his The Soldier and the
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