By Sofonea Shale
THE killing of Maaparankoe Mahao by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), an institution which by right was supposed to protect him, shocked Basotho within and beyond the territorial borders of this Kingdom.
Given the particular political context and the military situation in Lesotho within which Mr Mahao’s departure occurs, it may understandably not be easy to find solemnity in the wide spectra of debate over this issue in the public sphere. While some people are angry, shocked with fear, confused and in a state of despair, others are reported to be celebrating. Though this is unbelievable, it has occurred on several recorded times that when one person is assassinated and some cry others stand in applause.
None of the diversities of this society other than the realm of politics and perhaps business could be so cruel to sow this seed in the hearts and minds of the Basotho nation. In these circumstances, many views are expressed. Some want the resignation of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and the LDF commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.
Others are calling for civil war and suspect the killing was part of a long term plan by the leaders of current coalition. Many want revenge while others utter barbaric statements in mockery. A very little number call for calm and appeal to the nation to use the pain being felt to chart the way towards peace and impress upon political leaders to stop their gimmicks over the issue.
In the midst of many views, the question that one cannot avoid to ponder on is whether his killing was a command or not? In an effort to add a voice to the minority who opt for peace, this article engages the question and continually for peace. Answering it truly, fairly, honestly and convincingly would surely reverse the wrong direction Lesotho is taking.
At least it is now clear that Mr Mahao lost his life at the hands of the LDF, the institution he served and led at various levels including that of the first soldier of His Majesty. The government statement that Mr Mahao was shot in the operation that LDF is implementing.
Though the government has been accused of reluctance in communicating with people on important matters, clarity on the matter remains critical. The message whose content is not obvious calls for the similar public reaction. While government should be able to provide formal and reliable information timeously to protect people from making conclusions and decisions on limited facts which are unverified, such information cannot be passively assimilated. The military operation is an authoritative command undertaken by soldiers with little if any changes.
Read for comprehension, the government statement confirms that the operation was formal and legal. It was therefore authorised. One would take it that the operation was aimed at arresting some members of the LDF as its purpose is espoused in the government statement and not at killing Mr Mahao or any person for that matter. The life of Mr Mahao was lost in the operation that the government statement is referring to.
In the same statement, government has said it was an accident. Read to its logical conclusion, the accident denotes that there was a distortion or modification of the operation either in its objective or execution. If the military operation is flawed, is it not the responsibility of the leadership and therefore the lawful holder of the operation to act?
In the normal circumstances, would the legal holder of the operation find it awkward to condemn the act and chart the way forward? If the United Nations in New York can condemn, the African Union in Addis Ababa can condemn, SADC in Gaborone can condemn the assassination of Mahao and the Khokanyana-phiri at the Qhobosheaneng, and the legal holder of the operation for that matter does not condemn, would Basotho individually, collectively and otherwise justifiably ask whether it was a command?
In the unlikely event that the coalition government would ask this column what the path to peace from here should be, the response would be broader than precise, persuasive than instructional and engaging than confrontational and it would be as follows.
The assassination of this leader can make or destroy Basotho as a nation. Dr Mosisili should come out boldly and denounce the pre-meditation of the killing of Mr Mahao by the army, condemn the killing and pronounce that it was never part of the command and further say that the perpetrators will be taken to court as a matter of urgency.
Furthermore, pronounce government commitment to come out clean on the legitimacy and conduct of the operation that has been on for weeks now and commission an audit to look at the basis of the identification of abducted soldiers, allegations of torture, disrespect of the courts etc.
Such a statement would not only intellectually satisfy the people but shall emotionally bring them together. The response would go on to say that the prime minister, as the leader of government, should enter into talks with leaders of the opposition who are still outside the country.
He would then convince them to come back home and assure their safety and then embark on robust dialogue with them and other leaders on the way through which Lesotho can be taken back to normalcy. The premier would also deal with the outstanding governance issues lingering at the international stage.
If the premier takes this route, it would reassure Basotho that control of the army still resides in the civilian authority and help heal wounds and clarify the vision of this nation towards a common peaceful destiny. If he does not take this route and people continue to asking if the killing of Mahao had been a command, do not blame the column for not advising.