THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) through its outgoing chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, Angolan President Joao Lourenco, appointed Ambassador Matias Bertino Matondo as both the chairperson of the SADC Oversight Committee and the SADC Preventative Mission to Lesotho (SAMPIL) a year ago.
Dr Matondo’s assignment in Lesotho ended last month when Zambia was appointed the new chair of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, giving Zambian president Edgar Lungu the powers to appoint new chairpersons for both the Oversight Committee and SAMPIL.
Former Zambian Chief Justice, Retired Justice Mathew Ngulube will now take over as Oversight Committee Chairperson while his fellow countryman, Retired Brigadier Timothy Kazembe takes over as SAMPIL Head of Mission. The two Zambians began their duties in Maseru last week.
In this exclusive exit interview with Lesotho Times’ Senior Reporter Pascalinah Kabi (LT), Dr Matondo talks about investigations into the assassination cases, hits back on the SADC critics and pleads with Basotho to give peace a chance.
LT: What do you think about the school of thought which believes that Basotho need to reform their mindsets before they can even start the process of multisectoral reforms since this is not the first time SADC has intervened and this is also not the first National Dialogue Lesotho has had under the auspices of SADC?
Dr Matondo: SADC has been intervening in this country for 20 years. The first deployment was ordered by His Excellency Nelson Mandela in 1998. I totally agree with you that Basotho themselves should also sit down and reflect on why does it take SADC 20 years to attain lasting peace in the country. What is the problem? Is SADC a problem or is Lesotho a problem? Is it a problem from SADC leadership or the Basotho stakeholders themselves? We have been exhorting and calling on the Basotho and their leaders to put the interest of the country first.
It is a give and take game and at the end of it the winners will be Basotho themselves. Instead of putting so much time or wasting so much time and energy, we have to deal with this issue once and for all so that we can focus on development. There is a lot of potential in this country, untapped potential that needs to be developed. This country has been losing a lot in terms of foreign assistance — the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) and corporations with European Union (EU) and other international partners.
As long as this instability prevails in the country, most of the investors and international partners will be reluctant to come and invest in here. So, it is the country that is losing. The people are losing and it is time for Basotho to sit and reflect because the solution will never come from SADC. SADC is helping and it is upon the Basotho themselves to be a home-grown solution.
You have asked me as to what happens if SADC or SAMPIL leaves, as of today, the decision of the Heads of States and Governments is that SAMPIL should withdraw come November 20 this year. What will happen after that, I cannot preempt but the only message and appeal to Basotho is to maintain the same spirit they have upheld — the spirit of reconciliation, they should keep on talking and the opposition on exile should not close their doors. Up to now they have been talking to the government directly or through the Oversight or facilitator and that is good.
The fact that SAMPIL might withdraw on 20 November 2018 does not mean that there is room for anarchy. We have been training LDF, LMPS and other security personnel and the undertaking that they have shown in terms of peace and security is encouraging. We are appealing to them to maintain that same spirit. The fact that we might leave does not mean that there is a room for anarchy. They should not do that because anything that happens to this country affects SADC but the first victims are going to be Basotho themselves.
SAMPIL’s withdrawal should not mean that people should resort to any kind of attitude, that is why we have been training and we are not alone in training. There are other international partners conducting trainings, coaching and capacity building on the ground. So, you can tell that the international community is teaming up in favour of Lesotho, putting up money, energy and resources in Lesotho for peace and stability in this country. This is really an opportunity opened and offered to the Basotho and that should not be wasted.
LT: What are some of the challenges that you have encountered since the deployment of Oversight Committee and SAMPIL?
Dr Matondo: There have been plenty of challenges and some of them relate to the fact that not everybody was pleased with our presence here. There were people right at the beginning telling us that the problem that has befallen this country was of a political nature therefore there was no need for boots on the ground. We have been telling them that one single bullet can disrupt the whole process.
We did not come here to fight, we came here as a preventive force to prevent a number of things including abuse, human rights violations and violence and we have achieved that. It has been challenging because in the beginning, people across the nation, especially from the opposition, were uncomfortable with our presence. People thought that we came here to support or be on the side of the government.
As we have been saying it time and again, our deployment was based on the request of the government but more than the request, there was merit on the request. The SADC Heads of States and Governments decided to deploy this multi-dimensional force not to focus solely on military issues but other issues like training and reforms. Our presence here was not just for the sake of having boots on the ground but to create a conducive environment for reforms process to unfold and to ensure that while the reforms process is unfolding, no human rights violations are taking place in the country.
Sometimes there are people talking, making comments that are not fitting with our objectives on the ground. There are things that we are doing that people do not know. So, we ask those people with any query or problem to come to our office and ask because whoever comes to our office with an issue that is fitting our mandate, that equal what we are trying to achieve we had acted immediately upon those issues.
When the lady from the Office of the First Lady (‘Makarabo Mojakhomo) went missing, we received the call and on the same night our officers went to seek the Police Commissioner’s (Holomo Molibeli) audience to find out what was the problem, why was the lady detained. Even though that was a legal or court issue, since her family was complaining that she was nowhere to be seen and disappeared, we intervened immediately.
But there are certain radio stations talking about SAMPIL in very derogative ways, calling names and even talking about people doing business here, people getting monies that will enable them to retire in their countries after SAMPIL is withdrawn. These kinds of comments do not help. If people who are coming up with these kinds of comments have questions and want clarity, they can come to our office and we will openly talk about these things because not everybody speaks Sesotho. There is a lot of contempt in certain radio stations against the Oversight and the SAMPIL.
The other challenge was to try and instill in Basotho themselves the need to come together, talk and indeed put the interests of this country at the center of their actions. I think frankly speaking we have done a lot. I am not trying to blow my own trumpet but we all worked hard to get the Basotho stakeholders to come together and talk.
For example, during the National Leaders Forum (NLF), there was a standoff between the government and the opposition on the composition of the National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC) in terms of the number and who should represent who but there was an honour of magnanimity from the side of government.
The government accepted the principle of parity and both opposition inside and outside parliament was forthcoming and as a result we have the NDPC with everybody on board. So, everybody was magnanimous from the government led by the Prime Minister and also the leaders in exile to a point that after some guarantees were given by the government, they decided to allow their members to participate and the participation was full. We should applaud the Basotho for taking full ownership of the NLF and the NDPC.
LT: Besides the trainings, shuttling diplomacy between politicians and other affected parties, what is it that you have been doing on the ground, not seen with a naked eye, to create a conducive environment for the reforms?
Dr Matondo: Shuttling diplomacy is one of the fundamental actions that we have been taking here on the ground. Shuttling diplomacy is not always about going back and forth but trying to bring everybody on board, such that as we are sitting here, the facilitation team led by Justice Dikgang Moseneke has already met three times with the exiled leaders to sensitise them on the need to come back home and fully participate in the process. That is fundamental.
A little bit away from shuttling diplomacy and the political process, we have been assisting LMPS in the investigation of high-profile assassinations that took place in the country. Our assistance is in terms of exhibit and forensic analysis and that is crucial because we actually want to get to the bottom of what really happened in this country, this is also part of our mandate to participate in the investigations. Those things are so sensitive that we do not publish their results but we actually know what happened. We went there alongside our LMPS colleagues, we took all the evidences at the crime scene, and we have all the exhibit. There are certain things that the SAMPIL has been doing on the ground that are not for public consumption.
LT: Which are some of the key assassination cases that the Oversight Committee and SAMPIL have been involved in and how far are the investigations?
Dr Matondo: Some of them are very sensitive but we are talking about the LDF commander Lt-Gen Motšomotšo who have been assassinated and others. The former First Lady (Lipolelo Thabane) is one of those cases that are so sensitive that we have been assisting our colleagues to investigate. I cannot go into details of such cases; legal people say those are sub justice cases. I am sorry but our colleagues (Oversight and SAMPIL) are busy on the ground alongside with their colleagues from the LMPS, so let us give them time to do their job.
LT: SADC has been accused of, for a lack of better word, being in bed with sitting government and that most of the times it listens to government instead of other stakeholders like the opposition. What is your reaction to that especially in the context of your mission?
Dr Matondo: People have been voicing their own opinions and making judgements. There are certain things that we have been doing. If we tell people that there were times when we were crossing the border weekly to meet with the opposition leaders in exile, many people would not believe that we have been meeting more with the opposition than the government.
The problem is that sometimes if you talk to the opposition during a certain period, the government might say you are giving too much space to the opposition and if you are doing the same with the government, the opposition will say you are sleeping with the government.
Our terms of reference are clear and everybody who has access to them can read them. There are certain things that have been happening because of SADC’s engagement with the government. SADC has been pleading with the government on certain things, there are certain things like concessions that have been done by the government thanks to SADC and the same applies to the opposition in reference to Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing, Mr Tšeliso Mokhosi and others.
However, the problem is that people do not understand our mandate and sometimes people tend to forget that there is a sitting government in this place. This government has been elected by the Basotho, the last elections held in this country have been declared free and fair by the SADC, the African Union and indeed international community and people should recognise there is a sitting government here.
Not everything the government is doing is right, I do not want to make any value judgement on that but sometimes people believe that “since we are in opposition everything coming from the government should be undermined or despised”. No, it should not be like that and the same thing applies to the government that not everything coming from the opposition is bad or negative. The problem is to see things, proposals or moves on their merit irrespective of whether it is coming from the government or the opposition. As long as they commensurate with the peace process, with the bigger picture that we are trying to achieve on the ground, we do not see any problem.
But sometimes people from the opposition believe that whatever claim coming from the opposition should be sustained or upheld by the government and vice versa. The problem is to refrain from doing anything that is contrary to the spirit of peace keeping and the atmosphere that is being created by the NLF and NDPC. We are making progress.
LT: Congratulations that this time around reports of your (SADC) men on the ground getting in sexual encounters with Basotho women have been very limited as compared to the 1998 deployment. What did you do this time around to ensure that troops behave and respect the traditions and culture of Basotho?
Dr Matondo: There is always a psychological effect when people are seeing foreign troops in their country. I come from a country (Angola) that went through 28 full years of one of the most destructive and violent civil wars in Africa. We had peacekeepers from the United Nations (UN) and whenever foreign troops are in the country, normally there is a psychological impact. This is exactly what happened in Lesotho, not everyone was pleased with our presence on the ground, especially our troops. People were telling us that the problem in Lesotho was of a political nature and did not warrant the presence of troops.
Whenever a mission of this nature is deployed, the rules of the engagement should be effective and should be clear-cut — be either the mandate itself or the code of conduct. When we assembled the troops in Angola and Zambia, when people were selected and vetted for this mission, one of the overriding principles and objectives was to instill in them the code of conduct and to ensure that they are coming here to assist our brothers and sisters and not to get involved on a number of issues that were contrary to the spirit. So, this time around we came with a strong code of conduct that has been enforced since day one.
LT: Have there been any reports of mischiefs or misbehavior from your men on the ground?
Dr Matondo: Definitely. We are talking about young people here. Our troops’ age range between 22 and 30 years, those are young people and sometimes it is risky to lock young people for a long time because they are full of energy and sometimes they go overboard. We however, have our own internal disciplinary processes, so far so good.
LT: Anything you would like to add which you feel strongly about?
Dr Matondo: SADC did not come to Lesotho to fight. We cannot fight against our brothers and sisters. When the Heads of States and Governments on their wisdom decided to deploy SADC Observer Mission to Lesotho (SOMILES), Oversight Committee and SAMPIL, they had only one objective of lasting peace and stability in the country; to help this Mountain Kingdom to turn its bleak page of instability. So, please for those people who are criticising SAMPIL on certain radios, talking about people doing businesses on the ground, facilitating investments and all sorts of things, those things are not true and our code of conduct is very clear cut, its effective and it has been enforced across the board.
There is no single SAMPIL or Oversight Committee member that is involved in business in this country. No one came here to be rich, we came here to help our brothers and sisters with the mandate given to us by SADC. Whoever does not behave or uphold our code of conduct goes through our internal processes and once again I will appeal that anyone who has a problem, demand, question or advice to SAMPIL, our doors are open and we will talk; we will clarify issues and given them all the information that we can disclose. We are not here to fight and I will advise that people should give peace a chance in this country.