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WE note with utter dismay the violence that erupted at a Democratic Congress (DC) youth meeting in Maseru last weekend.

Violence in any form should have no place in a democratic dispensation.

The party must reject and eject all merchants of violence in its midst. It must send a clear and unequivocal message that violence in any form will not be tolerated within the organs of the party.

It is public knowledge that party youths are split into two main factions with one backing party leader Pakalitha Mosisili while the other is allegedly said to be rooting for his deputy Monyane Moleleki.

In our opinion, there is nothing wrong per se in having factions within political formations. They are often a sign of a vibrant democratic culture within parties.

In any case, the issue of factions is nothing new within the DC.

They have been there as long as we can remember, dating back to the period when the party was still under the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) banner.

Factionalism will always be there in any vibrant political formation. To expect that everyone should think alike would reduce party members to morons. And that would be tragic.

But what are sometimes seen as factions are merely genuine differences of opinion among party members.

While differences will always be there within a party, they must be managed well so that they do not spark violent scenes like we saw last weekend.

But it is also critical to add that bitter acrimony over leadership is not limited to the DC. Almost every party in Lesotho has its fair share of worries over the matter.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and MFP have had their own leadership squabbles in recent times.

Yet, it is how such differences are managed that matters.

What we saw last weekend could be a raw manifestation of the festering issue of leadership change within the DC. How the DC manages the political transition from the Mosisili era to the next leader will have a major impact on the future of the party.

Mosisili did extremely well in keeping his former LCD party together for 14 years. Despite losing power in 2012, he remains the darling of the rural masses through his pro-poor policies such as old age pensions.

At the next election in 2020, Mosisili will be 78. It is inevitable that a discussion on leadership renewal will soon dominate the corridors of power at the Government Complex and party offices in Maseru.

But it would be a pity if such discussion morphs into mobilizing party functionaries to stampede him out of power before his term ends. The transition must be orderly and well planned.

It is our hope that the DC has begun candid discussions on the future of Mosisili and the party in general. The DC must begin a serious introspection on the issue of succession.

In our opinion, Mosisili has a clear constitutional option. He can allow the party organs to elect a successor as is mandated by the party’s constitution.

This option is viable and workable. That is how he became the successor of Ntsu Mokhehle.

Of course this option of allowing the party to elect a successor is more democratic and desirable.

This we hope is the discussion that is going on behind the scenes and in the corridors of power at the party’s head office in Maseru.

The party must allow free and unfettered debate on the subject. It is not treasonous.

 

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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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