Lesotho a headache for SADC

Lesotho is once again facing security and political instability worries following the killing of a former army commander.

This has jolted the Southern African Development Community into action with the chairperson of the region’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation President Jacob Zuma of South Africa sending his Deputy and SADC Facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa to the mountain kingdom.

And as on numerous occasions in the past, the current instability has the hand of the army after former Lesotho Defence Forces Commander Brigadier Maarparankoe Mahao was allegedly killed in a shoot-out with members of the army.

Members of the army were reportedly carrying out an operation to arrest suspects believed to have been plotting a coup against the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

President Zuma deployed Deputy President Ramaphosa after getting a report from a Ministerial Fact Finding Mission he dispatched to Lesotho following the killing of Brigadier Mahao. The fact that the army is again involved in the turmoil in the mountain kingdom calls on the authorities in Lesotho to instil discipline in the country’s armed forces. It looks like the security forces in Lesotho are highly politicised and that does not bode well for a professional army as well as the country.

The mountainous kingdom, surrounded by South Africa, has a long history of political instability that dates back to its independence in 1966.

And in most of the conflicts that have erupted in Lesotho the army has been at the centre of great deal of the disputes.

In 1974 there was an attempted coup led by opposition Basotho Congress Party’s Ntsu Mokhehle on Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan’s government.

Further political instability occurred in January 1986 when troops of the Lesotho paramilitary force, led by Major General Justin Lekhanya deposed the Jonathan government.

  In 1991, a coup orchestrated by Major General Elias Phitsoane Ramaema, a member of the military council, succeeded in removing Lekhanya.

  In January 1994 army units fought each other and the presidents of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe met in Maseru and agreed to establish a regional task force to monitor a ceasefire.

   This resulted in a truce in late January 1994.

There were, however, continued cases of indiscipline within the army. In mid-April 1994, rebel troops assassinated Selometsi Baholo, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance who had been kidnapped along with four other cabinet ministers.

In 1998, junior officers of the Lesotho Defence Forces arrested 29 of their seniors including the army commander, and coerced him into announcing his resignation over national radio.

These are just some of the numerous cases of the misdemeanours of the Lesotho Defence Forces that have time and again plunged the mountain kingdom into a crisis. And from the 1990s, SADC has always come to the rescue of Lesotho but whenever the region thinks a solution has been found, a fresh crisis erupts and the actors involved always include the army or security forces. There is no doubt there is a need for a transformation of the security forces in Lesotho so that they concentrate on their job of protecting the territorial integrity of the country and not meddle in politics.

July 2015
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