The current security problems facing the Kingdom of Lesotho have their origins in August 2014, when then Prime-Minister Tom Thabane attempted in vain to effect changes in the command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). It reached its pinnacle after the change of government, with the fatal shooting of Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015 by fellow members of the LDF under claims that he had resisted arrest for his alleged involvement in a mutiny plot within the army. The tragedy was preceded by the arrest of some officers and members of the LDF on allegations of planning a mutiny. The period leading to regime change, and immediately after it, was one characterized by insecurity in the country, marked by the fleeing out of the country by leaders of opposition, other members of opposition, including some members of the LDF for fear of being assassinated by the LDF. The glaring blaze’ approach of the government of the day in Lesotho, in arresting these acts, and bringing about a sense of normalcy, as well as its blatant disregard for the work of the SADC Commission of Inquiry led by Judge Phumaphi, and resistance to implement its sweeping recommendations which would clearly shake the command of the LDF, clearly point to the fact that the current Lesotho government and the LDF are in cahoots on this situation. This should not come as a surprise given that at the time of the stand-off between then prime-minister and the army command, the two leading parties in the current coalition government had come out openly to countenance and embolden the unprecedented defiant actions of the LDF.
Since Lesotho attained its independence in October 1966, the only time that relations between government and army were relatively stable was during the period 1965-70. After this period, to date, the LDF has been dogged by manipulation and politicization, lack of professionalism and reported acts of human rights abuses. As I have written in the past, this has been all, ‘’as a result of the politicians’ penchant to use the military for their own narrow political purposes that propels the military, in specific its senior hierarchy, to openly support a given political party or parties as it is happening at the moment. This has unfortunately tipped the circumstances in the political arena from being within the capability of our politicians to solve, to one requiring external intervention and inviting our peaceful nation the opprobrium of the international community and uncomfortable spotlight of the world media.” Several attempts at reforming the military in Lesotho have been made, starting in 1994. These have included the establishment of the Ministry of Defence in 1994, the promulgation of the Lesotho Defence Force Act of 1996, together with its ancillary regulations. This was with a view to outline issues of management and administration, including reporting relationships, in order to foster regulation and control of the army by the government. Furthermore, the international organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Red Cross, have previously contributed by providing technical assistance through programmes intended to promote respect for constitutionalism, human rights and submission to civilian authority. Other countries have also been of help in contributing to professionalise the LDF, through provision of programmes in their military and professional schools of training, in order to instill an air of genuine professionalism within the LDF. These countries include South-Africa, Botswana, Zambia, India, Great Britain, the United States of America, Zimbabwe, including the People’s Republic of China.
Commissions of enquiry have, over the years, also been formed and came up with recommendations of reforms towards depoliticizing and professionalizing the LDF. The latest one, the Phumaphi Commission of 2015, also recommended, among other things, that, “….some of the political and security problems peculiar to the Kingdom of Lesotho emanate from the Constitution of Lesotho. The deficiencies and overlaps in the constitution and mandates of security institutions need to be looked into urgently with a comprehensive strategy to reform them.” Despite all the historical attempts surmised above, Lesotho continues to be clouded by periodic political instability, due in part, to the involvement of the Lesotho Defence Force within the political arena. A new-look approach to reforms in the LDF, including all security sector-wide reforms will be critical for the country’s transformation, development and post-conflict peace-building. A central prerequisite for the successful reforms process will be a principled acceptance of democratic politics, informed by the will to reform on the part of various relevant partners in Lesotho – government, the opposition, civil society, and indeed the nation at large. Just like in many parts of the world where this process has been undertaken, donor assistance will be needed. SADC and other development partners have long declared their readiness to assist Lesotho in this regard once requested to do so. Taking into account past reform efforts and whether or not they have been successful, this new-look approach will be essential. The time for these reforms will also be an opportunity to take other salient factors into considerations, factors which have never been looked into, in the past when reforms were being undertaken. These include Lesotho’s economy, its geo-political setting, and the thorny issue of whether or not Lesotho needs an army. It would also be wise to draw from experiences of other countries which have successfully undertaken comparable reforms.
The post-independence instability in Lesotho no doubt needs to bring into focus the need to review the entire edifice of governance in the country, taking into account issues of security, human rights, rule of law and democracy. The need to reform the security sector is urgent given the destructive involvement of the army in the political space. These reforms will address constitutional, legal, and policy changes needed to infuse accountability, professionalism, and efficiency. Once successful, these changes will help create peace and other suitable conditions for social reconstruction and development to take place in Lesotho. All political players who will be involved in the reforms should clearly define the outcomes they desire to see before the design of a strategy that can help them realize their objectives for reforms – constitutional, legal, policy, institutional. This should, most importantly, emanate from a national dialogue and some form of consensus. Establishing the constitutional basis of the idea of security will also be an important starting point for designing an effective security governance policy framework. Articulating a strong security governance policy that can win public support and cooperation will require an inclusive reform process that is shaped by the broader public. Inclusivity and consensus will be vital given the nature of Lesotho’s electoral model which, it seems for now and the foreseeable future will always yield inconclusive election results, thus presenting hung parliaments and shaky coalition governments. Any effort therefore, on the part of one player to attempt to institute reforms without involving others, could only qualify as futile minimalist posturing. The Kingdom of Lesotho is geographically a small country, with very low resource endowment, and it is completely surrounded by the Republic of South-Africa (a regional and continental power, in terms of the economy, and the military). Lesotho is also a member of the Southern-African Development Community (SADC), and party to its Protocol on Politics Defence and Security Cooperation; a member of the African Union and therefore party to its Peace and Security Architecture. Like any other country in the world, Lesotho’s primary defence interests are to protect its territorial integrity, providing support in the maintenance of law and order, and fulfilling its obligations and responsibilities in regional and continental peace and security. That being recognized, Lesotho as a sovereign state is not directly threatened by any other country besides South-Africa, and is not likely to be involved in heavy widespread conflicts.
It is on these considerations that Lesotho’s future defence policy should be based. This will help the country to make a determination as to what it wants the Lesotho Defence Force to do, domestically, and internationally, as well as decide upon issues of capability and training (size of force, type of training to address specific potential threats to specific areas of interest, and type of arsenal). Another unchartered turf in the history of military reforms in Lesotho has been an informed rational debate whether or not Lesotho needs an army. There are people within the country (across the political spectrum) who strongly attribute Lesotho’s slow economic progress and doubtful political viability to the intransigent army. Others believe that, given the country’s small fiscus and its geo-political setting as an enclave within South-Africa, budget allocated to the army is inordinately large, relative to other urgent priorities of the country, such as education, health, roads and bridges, electricity and water, food security and other social programmes. Admittedly, while the discourse about the existence of the army has not reached official level, there are mixed opinions as to the benefits and costs of an army in Lesotho. As part of the reforms discourse, this matter will also need to be openly discussed and concluded. There are countries that exist without an army, and most of them can point to significant political and economic progress since they disbanded them. Upon abolition of the army in 1949, the government of Costa Rica established civilian control over remnants of its military force as per its constitutional obligations. This process was made easier by the absence of a standing army with no need for a high command or general staff. Other measures that have been put into place to maintain civilian control and to prevent any growth of a military sphere of influence in politics are, (i) constitutional stipulation requiring relatively high government spending on non-military programmes, including education, (ii) no security officer promotion to a rank higher than colonel, (iii) mandatory retirement for upper ranks of security forces with a change of political administration, (iv) Costa Rica relies on the Rio Treaty of the Organisation of American States for collective security in the case of armed attack.
The citizens of Costa Rica responded positively to the decision to abolish the army and fully endorsed the concept of a nation whose security forces could not become susceptible to political manipulation. Costa Rica now has international reputation as a non-violent nation proud to have “more teachers than soldiers”. Money that would otherwise be spent on military force is instead invested in healthcare, education, and other progressive economic development areas. One of the rewards of this social spending is a particularly Costa Rican pride in and political preference for leaders who respect the democratic process, espouse non-violent political solutions, and maintain strong civilian control of the state’s small security and police force. Ultimately, the constitutional rules against a politically active armed force have strengthened national faith in the Costa Rican values of democracy. In contrast to Costa Rica, there are many other countries that have experienced many years of conflict and hardship, at the centre of which were their armies. After disbanding their armies, they have since experienced periods of high economic development, social progress and high standards of living, all underpinned by peace and security. Some such countries, with no army or highly limited armies, are the following: Iceland, Mauritius, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Panama, Grenada, and Andorra. Democratic Lesotho, with aspirant leadership for peace and development, will need to openly put this matter on the table in the wide-ranging discourse on genuine security sector reforms in the country. Lesotho’s political principals will need to embrace the notion of domestic public diplomacy, which not only make it mandatory for all to participate meaningfully in the country’s agenda, but also instills a sense of hope and faith within the citizenry, while also enhancing the country’s image beyond its borders. Failure to equal this requirement can only result in Lesotho remaining under the tutelage of the international community in resolving its problems.
About the author: Mr. Thato Mohasoa is a former Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Defence and National Security – Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho, under Prime-Minister Tom Thabane. He writes in his personal capacity.