LATELY there has been a worrying increase in murders and other violent crimes such as rape and robberies. There have also been concerns about members of the security agencies’ involvement in criminal activities and joining violent Famo music gangs.
While the police have been found wanting, the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has commendably stepped to the fore to fight crime. The army has even introduced programmes aimed rehabilitating youths who have joined the violent criminal gangs commonly known as Manomoro.
It is against this backdrop that the Lesotho Times (LT) Special Projects Editor Bongiwe Zihlangu recently caught up with the LDF Public Affairs Officer, Captain Sakeng Lekola, for a wide-ranging interview on the army initiatives to fight crime and maintain stability in the country.
LT: What is the mandate of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)?
Lekola: The LDF is established in terms of section 145 of the constitution. Its primary mandate, as per that section of the constitution and the LDF Act of 1996, is to defend and protect Lesotho, its physical territory and people in accordance with the relevant provisions as well as principles of international laws regulating the use and employment of force. The army’s secondary role is to provide military aid to civilian authorities and ministries, institutions, departments and agencies as per section 5 (C) of the LDF Act which speaks to its role in “the maintenance of essential services including maintenance of law and order and prevention of crime”.
LT: The LDF has been performing duties that would ordinarily be done by the police force. These include fighting stock theft or crime in general. Some would say you’re overlapping and stepping into police territory and even overshadowing the police in the process. What is your take on this?
Lekola: The rising organised violent crime in the country threatens our territorial integrity as well as the proper functioning of public and private institutions. We are facing the threat of the institutionalisation of crime. The longer this trend persists, the more embedded it becomes, and the more difficult it is going to be to dislodge and neutralise it. This trend requires a broad-based range of interventions at all levels of society and institutions. It requires cooperation between or among the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and sister security institutions like the LDF, National Security Service (NSS), Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), the border management authorities and even private security companies. There is no overlap of functions or roles. Rather, there is binding institutional mutual support for one another as per section 5 (c) of the LDF Act, section 5(c). Section 190 (1) of the same act states that “the Commander of the Defence Force may, at the request of the Commissioner of Police, authorise the use of any member or unit of the Defence Force in support of, or to give assistance to, the Police Force in the discharge of their functions”.
Section 190 (2) of the same act further states that “a member of the Defence Force acting in pursuance to an authorisation under subsection (1) shall have and may exercise all the powers of a police officer of equivalent rank”.
LT: The LDF has also been working to curb violent crime through a rehabilitation programme for juvenile criminals known as Manomoro. How is the programme going?
Lekola: The LDF campaign is ongoing attracting huge interest from the public including the youth themselves. The graduates are expected to demonstrate behavioural change as well as a sense of belonging, ownership and love for the country and its people. Several graduates are participating in community assistance programmes and projects in their different localities.
LT: For many years the army was described as a rogue institution. It was accused of impunity, human rights violations as well refusing to submit to civilian authority. What can you say about the army ever since the appointment of the current commander, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Mojalefa Letsoela?
Lekola: Like other armed forces in various parts of the world, the LDF has been undergoing profound changes over the past decade. Prominent among those transformational challenges have been the various attempts to restructure the army in a manner that is consistent with the democracy within which it operates.
The LDF has always been an institution for the public good but it has been affected by the nature of democratic dispensation within which it operated. It has to be accepted that democracy can be divisive in nature. We acknowledge that the recent past has its historical narrative (about the army being a rogue institution). However, there is need for healthy civilian-military relations.
LT: The LDF has previously been described as a politicised institution, dabbling in politics in aid of some politicians and being used against others. What can you say about the army today?
Lekola: For many democratic countries grappling with defence transformation, there isn’t a bigger problem than that of the military and its relationship to the domestic political processes. The LDF hasn’t been an exception to this curse from independence through to 1986 when the military regime took over.
We therefore have to examine the LDF’s historical past in the context of the political system within which it was supposed to serve. Today, the nature and character of the LDF is that of a structure from which the current healthy civilian-military relationship has evolved.
Right now we have embarked on a multi-sector reforms process. The reform of the defence sector is an endless process since it is influenced by the dynamic security environment within which the army operates. The security sector reform initiative will steer the LDF to be a professional army with clear defence principles and values for the public good.
LT: There are widespread concerns that police, soldiers and other members of the security agencies are members of often violent Famo music gangs. What’s your take on this?
Lekola: There is a rapidly changing security threat posed by the involvement of members of the security agencies in Famo gangs. It indeed, poses a direct security threat to us as the army and a far bigger threat to innocent members of the public. Nonetheless we have strategy to deal with it by working in close collaboration with the police and other security agencies.
While we cannot ignore allegations of LDF members subscribing to Famo gangs, it has to be said that LDF values are the steadfast anchor that bind us all. We are all expected to adhere to them and those who fail to do so risk serious punitive measures. There will be maximum punishment for defaulters.
LT: Some soldiers have been involved in violent crimes. What are you doing about such rogue elements whose behaviour contradicts the values you are trying to instil through your programmes to rehabilitate criminals and engender the spirit of patriotism in Lesotho’s youths?
Lekola: Indeed, there are cases of service members engaging in violent crimes. There are cases of greed, corruption, indiscipline and irresponsibility all which taint the LDF’s reputation. What is however important is that we take immediate remedial measures against such offenders in order to maintain our core objectives of our development and rehabilitation programmes.
LT: What are the career paths in the LDF? What can one aspire to and what are the entry requirements?
Lekola: The LDF has two categories, namely, Officer Corps also known as the commissioned ranks and the Other Ranks also known as the non-commissioned ranks. Their entrance requirements differ as follows:
Commissioned Officers: In this category, quality tertiary-level academic education qualifications are required.
Non-commissioned Ranks: In this category, the main requirement is military training- from basic training to specific courses.