The army and  civilian authority

The army and civilian authority

THE Director of Development for Peace Education (DPE), Ramokhali Sofonea Shale, reminded us of a very unfortunate event that happened on September 22, 1998, 21 years ago. This week I want us to focus on the critical issue of civil-military system.

“Basotho 21 years ago on this day at this hour the post-Apartheid South African National Defence Force by the invitation of the Prime Minister entered Lesotho to disarm Lesotho Defence Force, take charge of strategic military installations and provide territorial integrity to Lesotho. This followed the act of Opposition parties having rendered Lesotho ungovernable, paralysing functionality of state, police being unable to defuse protest and the army being at best spectators to use the words of the Prime Minister then. Junior officials had forced senior officials including Commander out of office. In its operation in Lesotho the SANDF dispersed protesters at the so-called Freedom Square, broke the gate at the Royal Palace and flew the  South African flag, attacked and killed Basotho soldiers at Katse Dam and attacked Makoanyane barracks”.
I concluded a long time ago that the events of September 22, 1998 would not have happened if our police and army had submitted to civilian authority. Failure to submit to civilian authority cost us lives, infrastructure and the economy.

When the whole city was burned to ashes in 1998, it reinforced the belief in some of us that army officers should not participate in politics. They should follow the orders of the Prime Minister, no matter who is in power. Indeed 1998 was a period of greatest danger to civilian control of the military.
1998 is a reminder that when the military refuses to submit to civilian leadership, all hell breaks loose. Everything becomes crazy, disorganized and chaotic.
On August 17, 1994, King Letsie III ousted a democratically elected BCP government and dissolved parliament. According to Dr T Mothibe this move which undermined a democratically elected government enjoyed the support of the army.

On August 29, 2014, the then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli from the command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) but unfortunately the military refused to submit to the civilian leadership.

In accordance with our nation’s Constitution, the military leadership is rightfully subordinate to civilian authority. The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) should stay in their lane and stop rocking the boat.
On September 9 and 10, 2019, some LDF officers who were supposed to protect Members of His Majesty’s cabinet (Ministers) deserted from work by abandoning their duties and posts without the civilian permission. This was done in protest against the proposed normalisation of the security sector salary structure.

On September 10, 2019 the Commander of the Army addressed a parade at Ratjomose barracks. That morning, his security had increased as a demonstration of force at his disposal and of his readiness to use that power.
According to the Members of Parliament Salaries (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations, 2016 (section 5.1): A Deputy Minister is entitled to have the following staff: (a). a private secretary, (b). a ministerial secretary, (c). a personal aide, (d). a special assistant, (e). a house helper, (f).a gardener, (g). two senior Chauffeurs, (h). two bodyguards and (i).a constituency secretary for an elected member.
Section 5.1 (h) is key in this particular matter – two bodyguards is an entitlement. Some Ministers including Deputy Minister Mofomobe, who was very vocal about this issue, were denied bodyguards they were supposed to get as long as they still served His Majesty in cabinet.

The army gave a lame excuse that the military officers had to report at the Commander’s parade. How come other military officers responsible for providing protection to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and other Ministers did not report at the Commander’s parade?

The coalition government immediately suspended the exercise to normalise the security sector salary structures. How can this be allowed in a democratic dispensation?
This was a very unfortunate incident. It also suggests that the military is refusing to submit to civilian authority.
This happened after a week-long Military Civil Relations workshop where the US Ambassador didn’t mince her words when addressing the issue of the military submitting to civilian authority. She strongly concluded by stressing that the military should never again think of usurping power.
The writers of the Constitution understood the perils of creating a powerful military. The armed forces must be subjected to civilian control and must be designed to execute military operations, not determine their necessity.

The role of the military is to advise on how to use military might to achieve the policymaker’s goals, not to get involved in the political decision-making process. The military serves as a government organisation that implements rather than formulates policies. But in this particular case, the military interrupted the government policy formulation process.
We are in trouble if soldiers obey the First Lady, when she instructed the military officer to go and get petrol in order for her mission to set cars on fire at a mechanic’s workshop to succeed.
So it is also possible for the civilian leadership to manipulate military leaders to the detriment of military security. This raises a number of compelling questions: Should there be a limit to civilian authority over the military?

What should the military do when the civilian leadership disregards sound and important military advice? What options do our generals have when the Prime Minister makes critical mistakes that will cost the lives of the soldiers? Obedience and respect for civilian leadership is one of the basic tenets of our civil-military system, yet can one be loyal to a fault?
In conclusion, I want to argue that the abandonment of a duty or post without the civilian authority’s permission is an act of disobedience. A military officer is on thin ice if he dissents on any grounds other than purely legal basis and that ultimately, his overriding obligation is loyalty to his civilian masters.
For me, there is no middle ground when the military officer receives a legal order from an authorised superior, he should not hesitate, he should not substitute the order with his own views; he must obey instantly.

By: Ramahooana matlosa

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