Lesotho defence force and democracy



The Basotho nation is going through a crisis. A political crisis that is for our elected leaders to resolve through “constitutional and peaceful democratic” means. This means a return to the hustings to allow the people of Lesotho to become the final arbiters of who should democratically govern the kingdom.

The emphasis is on democracy and the rule of law, as enshrined in the constitution of 1993. The role of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and its command and control is circumscribed in the Lesotho Defence Force Act No 4 of 1996. 

A legal instrument that definitely does not sanction such actions by the LDF, or by units within it, as those that were witnessed on August 30 that have challenged the very notion of the military being subordinate and answerable to the king, who is its commander-in-chief.

The LDF is sworn to uphold Lesotho’s constitution and remain under civilian control, in which the chain of command descends from the prime minister in his capacity as the head of government and the minister of defence and national security all the way down to the lowest private in the force.

The question that has never been answered is, how it is that 21 years after Lesotho cast aside undemocratic rule, giving the nation a democratic constitution, we still have the military playing a role in politics? Why do military officers refuse to adhere to any of the laid down norms and channels of command in Lesotho?

The answer may partly lie in the politicians’ penchant to use the military for their own narrow political purposes. This propels the military, and specifically its senior hierarchy, to openly support a given political party or parties as is happening at the moment. That unfortunately tips the scales in the political arena from being within the capability of our politicians to resolve, to one requiring external intervention.

I shall not delve into the causes that have led to the present deadlock between our political leaders over parliament being prorogued for a certain length of time. I shall restrict myself to the aforementioned breakdown in the lawful chain of command of the LDF in pursuance of a high risk politico-military strategy for personal gain, which is fraught with danger and poses a serious threat to the future of genuine participative democracy and civil-military relations in Lesotho.

Let me explain through a quote from a book, which our brothers in uniform are fond of using in their press releases from time to time. Samuel P Huntington’s ‘The Soldier and the State’ is a seminal book that is still required reading for leaders, be they civilian or in uniform.

Huntington describes the necessity of objective civilian control over the military and I quote: “Objective civilian control achieves its end by militarising the military, making them the tool of the state. Subjective civilian control exists in a variety of forms, objective civilian control in only one. The antithesis of objective civilian control is military participation in politics: civilian control decreases as the military become progressively involved in institutional, class, and constitutional politics.”

Unfortunately what we are witnessing, and continue to rue the implications of, is a military in Lesotho that is unable or unwilling to distinguish between lawful civilian control and its almost compulsive desire, driven by its senior leadership’s DNA, in a manner of speaking, to remain at the centre of Lesotho’s politics. This is the crux of the present problem, despite the considerable time and effort spent since 1998 to be rid of such undemocratic thinking within the LDF.

Countries such as the US, India, SA, Botswana and China have been offering us technical help and sending personnel of the LDF to their schools of professional training so as to inculcate in them genuine professional capabilities that will allow the LDF to fulfil its mandate of ensuring peace and security in Lesotho so that all Basotho can get on with their lives in an atmosphere of calm and stability.

Accountability does not imply subservience, nor does it mean that the LDF is a tool to be used for partisan political gains. We must also remember that while it is in the nature of politicians to use the military to gain political advantage, our history shows that no politician has ever been punished for using the security cluster to his advantage.

In contrast, military leaders (from the very top and even middle-rung officers) have seen the inside of prisons and have even been exiled in the past for intruding in the political arena. Today, within the southern African region, there is very little tolerance for the meddling by the military in political affairs and thus actions by military commanders that are not within the ambit of national security will not go unnoticed or unpunished, however long winded and tedious the process may be.

In the end, and against the backdrop of the long history of the LDF’s entrapment in the political space, it seems only evident that the issue of civil-military relations in Lesotho is yet to be resolved, including the issue of the future role of the army in socioeconomic development.

A commission of inquiry was established to investigate the events that took place in November 1993 and April 1994. Its report of January 1995 made some compelling recommendations, inter alia that the defence force should be employed in civil works, and that this role should be emphasised more than the defence role, that Lesotho must maintain a unified and effective defence force that will be professional and well-equipped to effectively discharge its roles by emphasising the recruitment of technical and professional personnel at the expense of the nontechnical and nonprofessional personnel, that the nonprofessional component of the defence force should be gradually downsized and that the quality of command and leadership in the LDF will be improved by retraining the leadership of the LDF and creating a separate officer training programme from that of the other ranks.

These reform processes involving the LDF are necessary for the stability of the country. Parliamentary oversight will also have to be strengthened to counter military subservience to political parties. 

These interventions are essential to help turn around the fortunes of the LDF and its personnel, who have always ended up as losers or victims at the end of any of the incessant political crises that have characterised Lesotho’s political history. African Union director of political affairs Khabele Matlosa’s observation on this dark history of the LDF is apt: “No other institution of state has been more beset by political controversy than the military in Lesotho.”

• Mohasoa is the principal secretary in the Ministry of Defence and National Security in the Kingdom of Lesotho

November 2014
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