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Fight poverty

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THE Lesotho Situation Report done by UNICEF which was released in December last year says 679 437 people in Lesotho’s rural areas are in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
The report says the most immediate needs relate to access to food and clean drinking water.

It adds that about 17 percent of rural households in Lesotho are using water from unprotected sources.  That is particularly true especially in Maseru, Mokhotlong and Thaba-Tseka districts where between 22 and 32 percent of people are using water from unprotected sources. But the situation is not just dire in rural areas.

There is also rampant urban poverty. Preliminary results of an urban vulnerability assessment were due to be released last month. We have no reason to believe the results in urban areas will be much better.  Our gut feeling is that poverty is also at frightening levels in urban areas.  The evidence is all over Maseru.

We believe the Unicef assessment report aptly captures the dire situation that the majority of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people find themselves under.
The HIV infection rates, which are among the highest in the world, have only served to worsen the situation, according to the aid agency. While this information is nothing new, we believe the government and the political leadership across the divide, must act now to avert disaster. Our problem as a country is that we seem to be so fixated with politics to the extent that we have ignored the other critical social programmes to uplift the poor. That has not served to help the poor.

The fundamental issues affecting the lives of Basotho appear to have fallen off the agenda.
When politicians speak of hunger, it is not with the idea that they want to proffer solutions to the problem.
They are doing so because they see it merely as an election issue.
That is wrong.

The whole national leadership must address the issue of hunger holistically. Lesotho needs permanent solutions to this social malady.
We cannot continue to rely on international aid agencies to feed our people. Lesotho must grow its own food.
That will require a fundamental shift in the manner we do our agriculture.

With our vast water reserves, we believe it is totally unacceptable that very little of our land is under irrigation.  The key to sustainable agriculture for Lesotho will eventually lie in growing our crops under a commercial farming programme.  We need to put the little arable land available under irrigation. Lesotho has the water and it must make use of it to boost its agriculture.
This means we must look beyond a single season. We need to plan for generations.

We also find it quite odd that we still have huge numbers of Basotho without access to clean drinking water. That is also totally unacceptable.
The fact Lesotho sells water to South Africa when its own people have no access to clean water is simply unfathomable.
Access to clean drinking water is a fundamental right for every Mosotho.

\It is therefore critical that these two issues, access to food and access to clean water, are addressed as a matter of urgency.
These two, we believe should be election issues, whenever elections are held in Lesotho.  We need a visionary political leadership that can put in place effective, long-term programmes to wean Lesotho off donor dependency.

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Stirring a hornets’ nest

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IT would appear the government of Lesotho is set to tweak a controversial law that was meant to reserve certain sections of the economy to indigenous Basotho.

This is not surprising given the hostile reception from foreign businesses operating in Lesotho following the enactment of the law about a year ago.

In a statement last week, the Ministry of Trade said it remained “committed to fostering economic empowerment and inclusivity for all Basotho trading community”.

THERE has been a public uproar following the declaration last week of 12 notorious famo music gangs as subversive and unlawful organisations.

The measure came after a spate of recent murders linked to the famo music gangs in Fobane, Leribe.

The gazette is based on the Internal Security (General) Act of 1984 which gives the home affairs minister vast powers to deal with threats to national security.

Under the gazette, it is now a crime to be a member of any of the 12 “subversive” organisations. Any individual convicted of the crime could be detained without trial for two weeks or be fined between M10 000 and M100 000.

They could also be liable to prison sentences of between five and 20 years.

It is quite clear why the government of Prime Minister Sam Matekane has come up with the gazette. It appears desperate to do something about a situation that is clearly getting out of hand.

Matekane was at his persuasive best two years ago in the run-up to the general elections when he promised to take on a criminal mafia stoking the violence in the famo music circles.

His government’s move last week is one of its boldest moves since he assumed office.

Yet in seeking to solve what is clearly a policing issue, the government might have stirred a hornets’ nest, judging by the swift and vicious responses from a few human rights lawyers who spoke to thepost this week.

For a start, there is a concern, and rightly so, that the new law might be too overreaching as to undermine Basotho’s basic freedom.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the new legal framework is a magic bullet that could deal effectively with the rampant scourge of violence.

The government will also need to balance two competing interests – the need for security and respect of basic freedom of citizens accused of violating the law. That will not be easy.

Especially with a police that is already pushing the boundaries under the current law.

We do however understand that doing nothing under the circumstances was not an option for the government given the massive outcry from Basotho over the deadly violence.

This was clearly a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

We therefore understand the rationale behind the move.

We would like to believe that the government, often accused of recoiling into its own cocoon, could be laying the groundwork for a massive operation by the police to crush the famo music gangs.

But that is where problems could get out of hand.

In seeking to crush the famo gangs, the government must strive to operate within the gamut of the law. Our police already have a notorious reputation when it comes to respecting the people’s basic rights.

The police, in their current state, are in a sorry state to fight the famo gangs. Look at how they have struggled to fight petty criminals in Koalabata.

As one lawyer correctly noted elsewhere in this issue, this is a structural issue that will require a multi-modality approach if the government is to succeed in taming the famo gangs.

The government will need to deal with the structural issues stoking the gang culture in Lesotho. They must deal with the kingpins fueling the violence. Those that are convicted of stoking violence must be condemned to long prison sentences.

The corrupt police officers who are working with the famo gangs must be rooted out.

Political party leaders who are working closely with the famo gangs must also be taken to task over their illicit liaisons.

That way, we could begin to see a shift in the battle against the violence.

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Stay in your lane

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THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) announced that its raid in Liphakoeng last Thursday had yielded illegal guns and ammunition. The army said the raid was part of its Puff adder operation targeting illegal firearms.

The raid came days after the murder of five people in Fobane in a gruesome attack suspected to be linked to famo gangs in Liphakoeng.

News of the raid was received with much praise on radio and social media, with some cheering the army to fight fire with fire. It however soon emerged that in addition to seizing guns, the army unleashed violence that left some villagers with serious injuries.

Spades, gun butts, sticks, boots and fists were allegedly used as soldiers forced the villagers to either surrender their illegal guns or name those who have.

The operation is now a public relations disaster. The allegations of brute force are irrefutable because the evidence from the pictures and testimonies of victims is overwhelming.

thepost has seen dozens of victims who tell gory stories of the brutal violence inflicted by the army.

The incident is a stuck reminder of the dangers of using the army in law enforcement operations. At the core of the problem is the fact that the army is not trained for policing operations and therefore not oriented for law enforcement.

The differences in the orientation of the police and the army are succinctly explained by Colonel Charles J. Dunlap Jr, an American army officer, in his 1999 article ‘The Police-isation of The Military’ in the Journal of Political and Military Sociology. Colonel Dunlap Jr writes that “using military forces for tasks that are essentially law enforcement in nature requires a fundamental change in orientation”.

“To put it bluntly, in its most basic iteration military training is aimed at killing people and breaking things. Consequently, military doctrine has forces moving on a target by fire and manoeuvre with a view toward destroying that target”.

He says this is entirely different with the police which gather evidence and arrest suspects in a process restrained by judicial process. He notes that where the army sees enemies of the state the police, when properly oriented, “sees citizens suspected of crimes but innocent until proven guilty in a court of law”.

Colonel Dunlap Jr concludes that “it is difficult for military personnel trained under a regime that emphasizes combat skills to easily align themselves with the more restrained procedure required for police work in a democratic society”.

Although Colonel Dunlap Jr was writing in the context of the United States, the import of his article perfectly applies to Lesotho’s army and its involvement in law enforcement.

The brutal force used in many operations against civilians is evidence that the army should stay away from police work or drastically reduce their interaction with civilians.

The history of the army’s crime prevention operations has proven that time and again. Aggressively reactionary operations are not effective crime prevention tactics.

Actions are not necessarily solutions.

Raids like the one in Liphakoeng have little long-term impact on what is essentially a long war of attrition among the gangs and a perennial problem of illegal guns.

The real gangsters committing murders and terrorizing the people are most likely to be tipped off before the such operations and skip the country.

As things stand, the soldiers who allegedly assaulted the people in Liphakoeng should be considered crime suspects. Hiding behind claims that this was a sanctioned military operation would not cut it.

The army’s intentions are noble but their execution methods are wrong because they don’t have the skills or orientation for the job. Their enthusiasm doesn’t make up for the fact they have usurped the police’s job and they are bad at it.

We are aware that some senior military officers believe the army should be involved in law enforcement because the police is incompetent. They could be right but that doesn’t make the army competent for police duties either.

In any case, such contempt is unhelpful in the fight against crime. The army should let the police lead the fight against crime while it provides limited and measured support when needed.

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We need new ways to fight famo gangs

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THE people of Fobane are mourning five people brutally murdered last Saturday. The suspects are still at large but the gory incident bears the hallmarks of a famo gang-related attack.
Precisely, the police suspect the killings are linked to famo gangs involved in illegal gold mining in South Africa. That these murders could be linked to famo gangs is not a discovery.

The gangs have left a trail of carnage in villages across the country.

The tit-for-tat murders have escalated over the years.

Yet, curiously, the number of suspects arrested and convicted has not increased at the same pace.

Hundreds have been killed in the gang wars but we are hard-pressed to recall any famo gangster convicted of murder. Those who have been arrested have been granted easy bail and skipped the country. Some routinely sneak in and out of the country to commit more murders.

There is brazen impunity about the murders.

At some point, the police should admit that it has neither the will nor the skills to deal with this menace. Yet that admission would just be a formality because their failure is well known. So is the fact that some in their ranks either belong to the same murderous gangs or supply them with illegal guns.

That complicity and incompetency explains why the police have dismally failed to deal with the gangs.

Politicians should take their fair share of the blame.

Some of them have openly embraced the gangs for political support. It is also known that some of them have received donations from the gangs. Little wonder their condemnation of the gangs appears timid and insincere.
We are disappointed that even this new government appears to have been quickly overwhelmed by this crisis. It doesn’t seem that there is much political will to take the gangs head-on.

We have not heard of many cases in which Lesotho is seeking to extradite gangsters wanted for murders. If anything, we are aware that some of those wanted for murders in both Lesotho and South Africa continue to roam freely. Our parliament is not clamouring for action from the government.

Nor have the been shown any appetite for legislative interventions to tighten bail rules or make the sentences stiffer.

Because there is no law specific to criminal gangs in Lesotho, the police have failed to break up gangs. They know that most of the hitmen are acting on orders but they don’t seem to have the capacity to go after the real bosses.

The investigations don’t appear to be systematic.

The point we are making is that we need new laws and new systems to deal with the gangs.

We might also add that we probably need new police officers for this job.

We cannot continue to behave as if it’s business as usual when gangs are wreaking havoc in our villages. The old strategies and laws have failed. The police, in its current form, has failed.

It’s time to try new things.

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