Le­sotho mur­ders: The mil­i­tary must re­form

Mail & Guardian - - Africa - Si­mon Al­li­son

On Tues­day morn­ing, the com­man­der of the Le­sotho Defence Force was shot dead, al­legedly by one of his own of­fi­cers. Although the ex­act se­quence of events is un­clear, the Le­sotho Times is re­port­ing that Lieu­tenan­tGen­eral Khoan­tle Mot­so­motso was in his of­fice at the main bar­racks in Maseru when two se­nior of­fi­cers — Lieu­tenant Colonel Tefo Hashatsi and Lieu­tenant Colonel Bu­lane Sechele — forced their way in.

In an en­su­ing gun fight, Mot­so­motso, Hashatsi and Sechele were all killed.

Although tragic, no one is es­pe­cially sur­prised that the army’s in­ter­nal ten­sions have ex­ploded into vi­o­lence again. Mot­so­motso was not the first Ba­sotho army boss to be as­sas­si­nated by his own sol­diers.

In 2015, for­mer com­man­der Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Maa­parankoe Ma­hao was killed by sol­diers. Not co­in­ci­den­tally, it was Mot­so­motso who au­tho­rised the op­er­a­tion that led to Ma­hao’s death and Sechele who car­ried it out.

Sechele in­sisted that Ma­hao was killed for try­ing to re­sist ar­rest, but a South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) re­port into the in­ci­dent reached a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion, say­ing that ex­ces­sive force was used by Sechele and his men.

The re­port also ob­served: “It is worth not­ing that this ap­par­ent dis­re­gard of civil­ian rule by the mil­i­tary in Le­sotho has a long his­tory. The mil­i­tary in Le­sotho has, over the years, been dogged by con­tro­versy and has a his­tory of seiz­ing power as ev­i­denced by the 1986 mil­i­tary coup, con­flicts of 1994 and 1998 and the po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity un­rest of 2007.”

The mil­i­tary’s size­able and usu­ally ma­lign in­flu­ence on Ba­sotho poli- tics is prob­a­bly at the heart of the Mot­so­motso’s death, too.

Prime Min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane, elected in June, has pledged re­peat­edly to re­duce the power of the mil­i­tary. In an in­ter­view with the Mail & Guardian just prior to the vote, he even con­tem­plated elim­i­nat­ing the mil­i­tary en­tirely.

“When we win, we will grad­u­ally look at ex­am­ples in the world where there are armed peo­ple who are not a clas­si­cal army,” he said.

SADC has also rec­om­mended a whole­sale over­haul of the army, which Tha­bane has promised to im­ple­ment. This would leave the mil­i­tary se­verely weak­ened, and may even lead to crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of sol­diers — such as Sechele.

Mafa Se­jana­mane, pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics at the Uni­ver­sity of Le­sotho, said Tha­bane is plan­ning to im­ple­ment these re­forms in the next few weeks rather than months, and had per­suaded Mot­so­motso to sup­port him. “Mot­so­motso is not re­garded as a par­tic­u­larly strong per­son, but he has been rel­a­tively fine since the elec­tions be­cause he has not re­sisted the gov­ern­ment,” said Se­jana­mane.

This may ex­plain why Mot­so­motso was tar­geted by his fel­low of­fi­cers.

“These sol­diers knew their fate was sealed,” said Se­jana­mane. “They can­not take over the gov­ern­ment, but they can kill and as­sas­si­nate. This es­sen­tially is what seems to be hap­pen­ing. If you look at the peo­ple who were in­volved in this fra­cas this morn­ing [Tues­day], which re­sulted in the com­man­der be­ing killed, it is ex­actly the same peo­ple who were in­stru­men­tal in the chaos of 2014.”

Charles Fo­gel­man, an ex­pert on Le­sotho at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois, ar­gues that the most re­cent in­ci­dent high­lights again why sub­stan­tial se­cu­rity re­forms are so nec­es­sary.

“The con­tin­ued rash of po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions in Le­sotho in­di­cates that elec­tions are in­suf­fi­cient to solve Le­sotho’s is­sues. Se­cu­rity forces are rou­tinely re­placed by other po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees, who are seen as more friendly to the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment,” he said.

“When gov­ern­ment changes, [be­ing a] high-rank­ing se­cu­rity forces mem­ber be­comes the most dan­ger­ous job in the coun­try. Fur­ther re­forms are needed to di­vorce the se­cu­rity forces from elected of­fi­cials.” A Ugan­dan start-up, Eco Smart Pads, was cre­ated as a so­lu­tion to girls miss­ing school when they men­stru­ate be­cause they can’t af­ford san­i­tary tow­els. The company’s san­i­tary tow­els are made from sug­ar­cane by-prod­ucts, which are en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. The pads should be more af­ford­able be­cause the pro­duc­tion costs are low. The company won a $10000 grant for ad­dress­ing sex­ual re­pro­duc­tive health prob­lems and is in the process of fi­nal­is­ing its prod­uct.

Obasanjo awarded

Pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf awarded Liberia’s high­est hon­our to for­mer Nige­rian pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo. Obasanjo was granted the Most Ven­er­a­ble Or­der of the Knight­hood of the Pi­o­neers for Nige­ria’s role in end­ing Liberia’s civil war (1989 to 1996). She recog­nised Obasanjo for “pro­mot­ing Africa, democ­racy and peace” and thanked him for his ser­vice to the con­ti­nent, which “has been ex­cep­tional”.

Busi­ness as usual: The killings of three se­nior of­fi­cers in Maseru this week are thought to be linked to re­sis­tance to the prime min­is­ter ef­forts to re­duce the pow­ers of the mil­i­tary. Photo: Sam­son Motikoe/AFP

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