Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

Continued from last week

What is the exact significance of this discussion on the Lesotho economy in relation to the post-2015 political violence and instability? In a labour reserve setting, without a robust private sector and under conditions of poverty, unemployment and inequality, the state and the public sector become a key avenue for wealth accumulation and political survival of the elite.

Thus, the contestation over the control of the state in Lesotho tends to be considered war by other means. This is not surprising because the political elites look up to the state as the most lucrative site for wealth accumulation given both the attractive salary perks and innumerable benefits that come with state officialdom.

Over and above these suggestions, the state in Lesotho is also an avenue for not only abuse of power, immunity and impunity, but also fast accumulation of wealth by the elite through fair or foul means. Those elites in control of the state would do everything it takes to maintain their stay in power. Those elites in opposition would put in place all manner of strategies to capture the reins of power.
Thus, central to Lesotho’s politics is the phenomenon of state capture by the elites for accumulation and survival purposes over and above the altruistic pursuit of national purpose or interest.

Since the structural root causes of Lesotho’s post-2015 crisis are traceable to its structural socio-economic situation, it is unlikely that a sustainable solution can be found to the current crisis by merely focusing on its political manifestations alone. A more comprehensive policy response will require the combination of a far-reaching socio-economic development agenda and structural transformation programme aimed at broadening the national cake on one hand and governance and security sector transformation on the other.

If no transformation takes place, Lesotho will know no durable peace and sustainable political stability in the foreseeable future. This prospect is bolstered further by the new trend of re-militarisation of politics and re-politicisation of the military which, it had been thought, would be reversed for good following the political transition from military rule to multi-party democracy since the 1990s. The current trend since 2012 has proved our previous assumptions wrong as the next section demonstrates.

Militarisation: The Military is back in the Political Fray

One of the biggest threats to Lesotho’s fledgling democracy today is the rising spectre of militarisation. Lesotho finds itself at the crossroads between the promise of democratisation, peace and stability (the 2012 elections and its immediate aftermath) and the tragedy of militarisation, violent conflict and political instability (2015 election and its aftermath). This tension between democratisation and militarisation points to a worrying trend in Lesotho’s contemporary politics; namely, that, during elections, Basotho are allowed their democratic right to cast their ballot and choose leaders.

However, almost immediately afterwards, ballots are cast aside and bullets take centre-stage and effectively redefine the country’s political landscape. There exists a tug-of-war between ballots and bullets, where ballots aim to anchor democracy (albeit temporarily) and bullets propel authoritarian rule, in between elections.

This conundrum speaks to the ambivalent character of the Lesotho regime, which at one moment seems democratic (by holding regular elections), yet at another, it seems praetorian, authoritarian and autocratic (especially in between elections, with the military driving politics entrenching a culture of fear, malfeasance, corruption, violence and impunity).

As the recent post-2015 developments vividly demonstrate, the military withdrawal from state power in the 1990s has not translated into their withdrawal from politics. The military may have withdrawn from the state house, but the institution remains a critical political actor as political elites contest state power. Although operating outside formal political structures, the military has not left politics to politicians alone.

They remain a major and most influential political actor in their own right, almost as if they are a political party. Given the immense influence of the military, it is possible to postulate that, in Lesotho, today, we have a Janus-faced governance in which a de jure civilian regime lives side-by-side with a de facto military regime in an uncomfortable marriage of convenience between the political and military elites, constituting the bureaucratic-military alliance.

The political elite began to re-invest in the military for political gain since 2012. Around the same time, the military elite showed more appetite for dabbling in politics; a trend it had been assumed to have been reversed for good with the political transition of 1993. One of the clear signs for this renewed trend was the appointment of the then Major General Tlali Kamoli as the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force on the 15 March, 2012 (Legal Notice No.4) only three months before the election which took place on 26 May 2012.

By this appointment, Kamoli was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General. The political strangeness of this appointment is that, Mosisili’s LCD was perfectly aware that an election was looming; the appointment should have, at least, waited until a new government was installed after elections.

By the time elections took place, Mosisili had broken away from the LCD, and he contested the elections leading a new political party, Democratic Congress (DC), much to the chagrin and umbrage of the LCD. With this split, both Mosisili (as leader of the DC) and Mothetjoa Metsing (as leader of LCD) clamoured for Kamoli’s support.

When Mosisili failed to form a coalition government and later became the official opposition leader in parliament, the new Prime Minister, Motsoahae Thomas Thabane first confirmed Kamoli in his post, and, later, dismissed him, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao as the new commander.
Both Mosisili and Metsing publicly denounced the dismissal of Kamoli and “supported his unconstitutional refusal to leave office” (Sejanamane, 2016:1) and protested the appointment of Mahao. Brigadier Mahao was appointed as new LDF commander and also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General by Legal Notice No. 64 ofd 29 August, 2012. Kamoli refused to relinquish the top military post and simply defied Thabane’s order.Maaparankoe never physically occupied the top military post beyond the declaration of his promotion through a government gazette. Kamoli had effectively defied a civilian order, which is one of the cardinal principles of civil-military relations in a democratic setting marked by constitutionalism and rule of law.

On 30 August, 2014, an abortive military coup took place in Maseru with a number of police stations attacked by soldiers from LDF, leading to the death of one police officer (Ramahloko) and scores of police officers injured.

As part of this pre-dawn military raid, Lt.-Gen. Mahao’s house was also subjected to military assault. Thabane, ’Maseribane of BNP and Mahao himself fled the country to seek temporary refuge in South Africa, only to come back later under heavy security detail provided by the government of South Africa.

This was the second act of defiance by Kamoli’s military command to civilian authority; the first having been an outright rejection of his dismissal by Prime Minister Thabane. From here, things began to fall apart, leading to the SADC intervention with the South African Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, appointed as the SADC envoy to mediate a durable solution to the Lesotho crisis.

SADC and Ramaphosa did not prioritise broader governance and security challenges in Lesotho. Instead, the SADC envoy focused on the symptoms rather than the root causes of the political crisis: namely elections. In his calculation, the problem was with elections and the solution has to be the holding of elections. This assumption was flawed as it portrayed elections as the panacea for the deep-seated political crisis besetting the country.

Most observers of the Lesotho political scene are all agreed that SADC and Ramaphosa failed Lesotho by rushing the country to an election before addressing structural governance and security issues first and foremost. Maaparankoe Mahao in his first interview in April 2015 upon his return from leave of absence in South Sudan, when asked what he regretted most, said he regretted “that SADC failed to comprehensively deal with the fundamental problems in Lesotho. They failed to ensure that the government can never be undermined by security forces” (Mahao, Interview with thePost, July 2-8, 2015).

The only concrete step that SADC and Ramaphosa took in respect of the security situation in Lesotho was the signing of the Maseru Security Accord which facilitated leave of absence for the three security chiefs, Mahao, Kamoli and Khothatso Tšooana (the Police Commissioner). Mahao was sent to South Sudan and Tšooana to Algeria.

Kamoli was supposed to have gone to Sudan, but ended up in South Africa for the entire duration of their leave of absence (six months, November 2014-April, 2015). It has never been explained explicitly by the South African government as to why Kamoli never reached his final destination, namely Sudan, for his leave of absence.
Kamoli’s failure to reach Sudan and, instead, remain in South Africa—none of this portrays South Africa in good light as a SADC mediator in the Lesotho crisis, especially given the South Africa’s strategic interest in Lesotho’s water resources. Within the prism of neo-realist politics, given its interests in Lesotho’s water resources, it is arguable that South Africa kept Kamoli in South Africa—probably his preference—because South Africa is more interested in a stable Lesotho rather than a democratic Lesotho.

Thus, in dealing with Lesotho, it is most likely that South Africa prioritises addressing violent conflicts that may have negative repercussions for it than the larger goal of democratisation as such.

The third signal (beyond Kamoli’s rejection of his dismissal and an attempted coup) of the deteriorating civil-military relations was manifested by the post-2015 developments. Upon his reinstatement as the Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili dismissed Tšooana as police commissioner, demoted Mahao to his original position as Brigadier (an unheard-of action, as top ranking military personnel are ordinarily retired with their ranks and not demoted).

Tšooana was retired from his post by Legal Notice No. 84 of 17 August, 2015. In his place, Molahlehi Letsoepa was appointed as the new Commissioner of Police by Legal Notice No. 134 of 3rd November 2015. Mahao’s appointment was terminated by Legal Notice No. 60 of 21 May 2015. On 21 May 2015, by Legal Notice No. 61, the Prime Minister appointed Lt.-Gen. Kamoli as the LDF Commander with effect from 29 August, 2014; backdating the re-appointment by about eight months, simply to rub pepper into the wound of the former Prime Minister Thabane; this was a clear sign of politics of vengeance.

This politics of vengeance emboldened Kamoli’s iron-fist to deal, ruthlessly, with his supposed opponents, both inside and outside the army, using, largely, the elite force within LDF, known as the Special Forces, under the leadership of Tefo Hashatsi, whom Mahao had reprimanded previously for apparent lack of respect for civilian control over the military, an issue that worsened Mahao’s already sour relations with Kamoli .
This incident may seem insignificant at face-value. But it was an important part of the internal faction-fighting within LDF and the deteriorating civil-military relations. As Maaparankoe Mahao puts it himself:

I got information that a captain was inciting some soldiers to rebel against the government if the army commander is replaced. I then told the officer that it was the prerogative of the government to decide who is appointed army commander. The army commander was not happy with that and I was charged (Mahao, Interview with thePost, July 2-8, 2015).

This incident had led to Mahao being hauled before the court martial which was ultimately disbanded and the charges dropped. Evidence collected by the SADC Commission of Inquiry confirms that

Lieutenant-General Kamoli was neither comfortable nor at ease with Brigadier Mahao, thus he regarded him as the enemy of the state. The division became even more evident after the removal and appointment of Lieutenant General Kamoli and Brigadier Mahao respectively (SADC, Commission of Inquiry, 2016:49).

The fourth signal of trouble within the military was the abduction of soldiers as from May, 2015, on charges of allegedly planning a mutiny. The operation, which was marked by excessive reign of terror, resulted in some 23 soldiers being detained in Maseru Maximum Security Prison and about 24 soldiers fleeing the country to seek refuge in South Africa.

It was also around this time that some high-profile killings, military-style, happened in Lesotho, including the murder of a well-known businessman, Thabiso Tšosane, who was an active member of Thabane’s ABC. Opposition leaders, namely Motsoahae Thomas Thabane (ABC), Thesele ’Maseribane (BNP and Keketso Rantšo (RCL) fled to South Africa for fear of their lives.

Mahao did not flee the country, this time round, despite the open-secret that the Kamoli faction of the LDF implicated him in the so-called mutiny. It was also an open- secret that the Kamoli faction of LDF was determined to eliminate Mahao.

The fifth signal of the collapse of the civil-military relations was the operation to assassinate Mahao. It was also clear that the army was divided into two factions; one faction, including the Special Forces and Military Intelligence, in support of Kamoli, and another in support of Mahao.

Upon assuming the reins of power as Prime Minister in March, 2015, Mosisili extended his gratitude to the military, especially Kamoli for ensuring that he was back in power; this was an irony of ironies, as he was elected into power by Basotho and not installed through a military coup.
The Kamoli faction was emboldened when he was re-appointed as the army chief and the Mahao faction was weakened when efforts were made by the new government to demote him. The SADC Commission of Inquiry confirms the divisions within the LDF as follows:

Soldiers were then divided into two groups, majority of those who joined the army in 1996 known as Intake 21 rallied behind Brigadier Mahao, while others rallied behind Leiutenant General Kamoli. One witness described those that supported Lieutenant General Kamoli as trouble seeking members and those on Mahao’s side as those who were shaken by the turn of events within the LDF (SADC, Commission of Inquiry, 2016:49).

By the time of his assassination, it was no secret that the Kamoli faction was following Mahao’s moves on a daily basis.
Mahao was attacked by the army at his home in Koalabata, Maseru on 30 August, 2014, but survived, while his property was destroyed (house and cars) and one of his dogs was killed. Giving evidence to the SADC Commission of Inquiry, Mahao’s wife, ’Mamphanya, attested to the fact that her husband had identified one of the voices of his attackers as that of Colonel Sechele (SADC Commission of Inquiry, 2016:29).

While the first attempt at his life on 30 August, 2014, was not successful, the second one, of 25 June, 2015, was to prove fatal with devastating effects not only for his family, but for the overall security situation of the country. Mahao’s assassination forms one of the major contributory factors to the current crisis afflicting Lesotho today. This act alone represented the apex of politicisation of the Lesotho military. At the same time, it demonstrated the level of militarisation of Lesotho politics.

In addressing this problem, Lesotho has three main options: (a) maintain the status quo, assuming the problem will go away with time, (b) embarking on far-reaching governance and security sector reforms as recommended by the Commonwealth and SADC; and (c) consider disbanding the army, integrating it into a strengthened police force.

The first option, above, spells political disaster for Lesotho, as the country is already on a slippery slope towards more militarisation and a culture of violence, human rights abuse and impunity. The second option holds the promise of democratisation in which democratic institutions could be strengthened and militarisation reversed through, inter alia, civilian control over the security forces.

The last option above is both controversial and interesting. It is controversial because one may ask: how can you have a country without an army? In any case, how can you get rid of an already existing army with the sole monopoly of violence, without risking your own demise?
There are examples of countries, especially small states, around the world, which do not have standing armies. These include Iceland, Mauritius, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Panama, Grenada, Costa Rica and Andorra (Mohasoa, 2016). One common characteristic of these countries is that they are all small states.

They still survive without standing armies. A landlocked country such as Lesotho benefits little from an army as it faces no major external security threat, given its geopolitical location within South Africa: the regional hegemon, par excellence, in Southern Africa.

Unlike during the era of apartheid regime, post-apartheid South Africa poses no major security threat to Lesotho that requires an army.
This option is not necessarily about getting rid of the army, but rather integrating the army into the police force; strengthening the police force; increasing the equipment of the police force; reducing or eradicating the conflicts between the army and the police by merging the two.

Khabele Matlosa

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