By Keiso Mohloboli Maseru
The assassination of army boss Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates on September 5, has confirmed the existence of factions and instability within the military, taking Lesotho closer to a failed state, retired Major-General Samuel Makoro has observed. A member of the army since 1981, Lieutenant General Motšomotšo was assassinated in his Ratjomose Barracks office by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, on Tuesday morning.
This came a few weeks after Motšomotšo reportedly told an army parade exiled soldiers were set to return to the country following a meeting in South Africa with some of these exiled soldiers Motšomotšo’s death comes exactly nine months after his appointment as the army chief following the removal of Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli on December 1, 2016.
The duo, Brigadier Sechele and Colonel Hashatsi, were later fatally shot by the commander’s bodyguards. According to military sources who witnessed the assassination, Sechele and Hashatsi forced to see the commander without an appointment and a few minutes after by-passing his bodyguards, gun shots were heard and the commander was shot dead. “
One would assume that Brigadier Sechele died on the spot while Colonel Hashatsi died in hospital around 4pm in the afternoon,” a military source said. Sechele and Hashatsi led an operation that killed the former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, in 2015.
Meanwhile, Makoro said the killing of Motšomotšo is one of the serious elements revealing instability and serious chaos in the army. “The military is supposed to be stable in order to protect the constitution and the state but since 2012, serious factions fueled by political influence started to show.
“It is the responsibility of the army commander to protect the king and his cabinet but for the Lesotho Defence Force commanders to be killed by subordinates instills mistrust and tension to civilians,” Makoro said. Makoro further said that in as much as the LDF was guided by legal frameworks such as the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) ACT of 1996, LDF Regulations and general ethics and ethos of the military, “the LDF urgently needs restructuring, retraining, reform and transformation”.
He continued: “If the current civil authorities don’t act quickly and with urgency to restructure the LDF and give soldiers correct philosophies of the military, the chaos or instability in that institution will definitely hinder the government to peacefully and smoothly rule the country. “The Prime Minister must closely look into political influence within the institution that is supposed to be apolitical and quickly put in place mechanisms to stop the influence.”
According to Major General Makoro, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his allies in the quartet coalition should take full control of the army because once it assumes control and not monitored, it becomes dangerous. He said there was a good reason behind civilian authorities controlling the army because once the army becomes autonomous and in absolute control of things, people get killed like what was currently happening in Lesotho.
Current situation Following the assassination of Motšomotšo, PM assured the Basotho nation and development partners that the army was still under the control of the civilian authority.
Thabane further said that acting army boss, Major General Lineo Poopa, and the remaining army command convinced him that everything was still and would be in control. He added that the army was working together with other security agencies in the country and would continue to monitor and manage the situation. On the other hand, SADC quickly deployed a fact-finding mission to inquire about circumstances that led to the killing of the three top soldiers.
The SADC mission started arriving in the country on Wednesday and was expected to meet stakeholders from 8 to 9 September 2017. History of political and security instability in Lesotho Thabane’s relations with the army started to rear its ugly head a few months into the country’s first coalition government that came into office after the May 26, 2012 elections.
The soured relations were exposed after Thabane’s deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, complained that he was not consulted as an ally about key governance decisions. On 30 August 2014, the army under general Tlali Kamoli raided police stations and Thabane fled the country claiming the army had attempted a coup d’état. It was this time that it became apparent that the army was dabbling in politics as it was defended by Metsing who alleged there was no coup attempt. Soldiers disarmed police on 30 August 2014, attacked police headquarters, Maseru Central Charge Office and Mabote Police Station where the main office of police Special Operations and Special Support Unit are.
The raiding resulted in the killing of one sub-inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko who was on duty during the incident. In another incident on the same day, the residential home and vehicles of General Maaparankoe Mahao was sprayed with bullets. It was later disclosed that prior to the coup attempt, Kamoli was fired and in his stead, Mahao was named the LDF commander.
Following the incidents, a political solution was drawn with the facilitation of SADC facilitator, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa with the warring security chiefs sent on leave in November 2014 to make way for a fresh election and restore constitutional normalcy in the kingdom. Thabane’s coalition was replaced by Mosisili and Metsing led coalition following the February 28, 2015 polls.
Upon return into office, Mosisili reinstated Kamoli as army commander and stripped Mahao off his ranks in a bizarre reinstatement. Kamoli, back in in the barracks, started a ‘witch-hunt’ mutiny that led to the killing of Mahao on May 25, 2015 by soldiers led by Sechele. A commission of inquiry instituted by SADC recommended the prosecution of soldiers that killed Mahao in cold blood and other soldiers who committed crimes like treason, murder and attempted murder.
In December 2016, the Mosisili led government removed Kamoli from the helm of the army as per recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry and appointed Motšomotšo as army commander. Thabane got back to power as the country’s Prime Minister after the June 2017 snap elections and formed a quartet coalition government with Alliance of Democrats leader Moleleki as Deputy Prime Minister, BNP leader Maseribane and Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader Rantšo. Thabane pledged before the SADC Double Troika Summit in August 2017 that, together with his allies, he was going to make sure that they implemented recommendations of SADC which had been shelved by the previous government led by Mosisili. Among the important recommendations by SADC, were the removal of Kamoli from the apex of the army, prosecution of soldiers suspected of a litany of crimes and delayed undertaking of constitutional, public sector and security reforms. -MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism