Doom and gloom
…as former army commander Major General Metsing Lekhanya speaks out on SADC, Mosisili, Kamoli, Mahao, government and the opposition.
Former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Major General Metsing Lekhanya predicted in January this year that the early elections brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for 28 February 2015, would bring nothing but chaos to Lesotho. Maj Gen Lekhanya strongly believes Lesotho’s current instability, which has prompted SADC to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the insecurity and related incidents such as last month’s assassination of former LDF Commander Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao by soldiers who had come to arrest him for allegedly leading a mutiny plot in the army, should be blamed on the regional bloc’s decision to “impose” an election on Lesotho two years ahead of schedule “instead of addressing the core issues”.
Speaking to the Lesotho Times (LT) Political Editor Bongiwe Zihlangu in an exclusive interview this week, Major General Lekhanya casts doubt on the Commission’s ability to bring solutions to Lesotho’s political and security crises. Maj Gen Lekhanya insists for the findings to be “credible”, the Commission should only limit its scope to Brigadier Mahao’s death and the country’s “ailing security” which has seen scores of soldiers being arrested, detained and tortured at Maseru Maximum Security Prison by the military since May this year because of the mutiny.
In addition, the former Basotho National Party (BNP) leader says for the Commission’s probe to have “some level of integrity”, arrangements should be made for exiled leaders of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) Thomas Thabane, Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) Keketso Rantšo and BNP Thesele ‘Maseribabe to return home “so they could participate fully in the investigations”. The three leaders fled for South Africa in May this year claiming there was a plot by certain LDF elements to assassinate them.
Maj Gen Lekhanya was commander when the LDF overthrew Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan in 1986—only to suffer a similar fate in 1991.
LT: Early this year, just before the 28 February polls, you questioned SADC’s decision to broker the early election after differences between leaders of the previous government led by Dr Thabane, had made it impossible for the coalition to continue working together. You said at the time that elections would not be a solution to Lesotho’s problems. Fast-forward to July 2015…what is your take on the current situation in Lesotho?
Lekhanya: I feel frightened each time I think of the current security situation in Lesotho. I am greatly concerned; there’s no stability in the country. It is not stable at all. I can’t say there is no security and I can’t say there is. But when you look at the current situation, it tells you that there’s no security.
There are people on the run because they feel their lives are not secure. People are running while others are dying. Blood is being shed.
I can remember vividly a person who was part of the opposition at one point, but is a minister now, saying “if somebody goes, blood will flow”. I was shocked by such a reckless statement, but today that same guy is a minister. We have reached a point where we’re governed by people with no checks and balances, people who don’t impose any level of discipline on themselves and have absolutely no fear.
LT: What is your view of the military today in comparison to when you were army commander?
Lekhanya: I see interference and political influence as opposed to military loyalty and discipline. We have now reached a point where people in the military have their supporters as officials of government, and can therefore get away with murder, the way they are doing now and that is worrying.
LT: Brigadier Mahao was assassinated last month and the official line has been he was shot while resisting arrest for his alleged part in a planned mutiny against the army top brass. On the other hand, the opposition is of the view that his murder had long been coming, that it was carefully planned. Do you think the military should have handled its issues with Brigadier Mahao differently?
Lekhanya: The military could have acted differently, done something different. There have been mutinies before and court martials established; there has never been anyone arrested the way the army wanted to take Mahao. How can you resist a whole field of soldiers in three double-cab vehicles, with a pistol or a 9mm gun? You’d be crazy to do that; it would be suicidal. I doubt Mahao was a man with suicidal tendencies. I believe he was a well-balanced man
LT: Why then do you think his differences with the army were handled this way?
Lekhanya: I think it was because he must have been a threat to some people or someone, or maybe a certain clique that wields power in the army. It is obvious there is that circle in the army, that group is there and you can see it. These are people who are not accountable on anything in the LDF.
LT: Would you then say his death was planned?
Lekhanya: If I go back using my own common sense, you will remember that during the previous regime (former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s administration), a court martial was established for Ntate Mahao, and was dissolved by the PM. What was the purpose of that court martial?
When you think of it, the purpose of establishing that court martial was because he had warned one junior officer against rebelling. That officer had said that the LDF Commander Lt General Tlali Kamoli, would only leave the force or be expelled over his dead body. Mahao reprimanded him, saying such things were never said in the military.
The sole reason behind the court martial against him was merely for reprimanding that junior officer. That just wasn’t enough reason to institute a court martial against him.
Section (42) (1) and (2) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act gives anybody between the ages of 16 and 60 the right to make a citizen’s arrest where a crime is being committed. In Mahao’s case, he was reprimanding an officer, no matter how junior he was, warning him openly against unbecoming behaviour. Should Mahao have just left it at that, but instead followed the lengthy procedure of reporting that junior captain? It’s unheard of; it’s unreal.
LT: Now there is this SADC Independent Commission of Inquiry set-up early this month to establish Brigadier Mahao’s death and circumstances surrounding it. What is your opinion of the Commission?
Lekhanya: Although I will not quote him verbatim, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has gone on record saying the Commission will make recommendations to SADC once it has concluded its investigations. Now the question is, does SADC have the right to tell the PM and government what to do and what not to do thereafter?
This Commission does not have any power and it has been said that its findings won’t be prosecutable. It’s all in SADC’s hands. SADC and the African Union (AU) are chaired by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. These bodies are just clubs of old boys who cover each other’s back. Look at Mugabe… he has been in power for decades and has strongly resisted every effort taken to remove him.
Besides, the opposition has been left out. Without their input, the Commission’s findings will be questionable. Arrangements should be made for the three opposition leaders to be provided with security and return home before the Commission starts its investigations.
LT: Are you saying you don’t have confidence in this Commission?
Lekhanya: I do not; it’s just a delaying tactic to put out the fires until the dust settles. Thereafter, it will be business as usual. All the African organisations are just there to protect their members. I honestly do not have faith in this Commission.
LT: Initially, the Commission’s terms of reference were limited to investigating Brigadier Mahao’s murder and circumstances surrounding the assassination. However, more terms of reference have been added, which include proposals by the PM to investigate some key decisions made by his predecessor, Dr Thabane. For example, Dr Mosisili has proposed that the former PM’s decision to increase police salaries be investigated. The tripartite opposition has also presented its own terms of reference. Does this not then dilute the original mandate of the Commission?
Lekhanya: The additional terms of reference render the scope of the Commission fluid. It will not serve its purpose of trying to restore peace in the country. The outcome of the Commission will be totally irrelevant, more so when you consider that it’s being said the findings won’t be prosecutable.
On the question of Thabane’s key decisions, it’s not right that Mosisili is having them questioned. When you enter government, you have no choice but to inherit the successes and mistakes of your predecessor. Anyone who comes after me inherits whatever decisions I might have made while in office and with time, you amend those that you don’t agree with. It’s wrong for Mosisili to just come out like that, disowning Thabane’s decisions in that fashion. To be honest with you, I am worried.
LT: If you could be PM for just one day, what would you do differently and what changes would you make in the security sector?
Lekhanya: I once proposed before parliamentary debates that the army should be answerable to a Military Commission but former PM Ntsu Mokhehle–May His Soul Rest In Peace— bluntly refused.
We were saying that the military should be out of the control of civilians and that they should be answerable to a team from the military, with the police and other security agencies incorporated.
LT: Would you say that civilian authorities are now abusing whatever relations they have with the military?
Lekhanya: Absolutely! The power they are gunning for is no longer that of their supporters in their parties, but of the security forces. As the saying goes, he who holds the gun calls the shots.
I really believe that if the security forces were to be taken away from the control of politicians and civilians, recreate their stability and loyalty to the country, then things would stabilise. Honestly, the oath is: owe allegiance to God, King and country. We can’t owe allegiance to politicians because they come and go.
LT: The United States of America has expressed concern over violence, lack of the rule of law and violation of human rights in Lesotho, as well as Lt Gen Kamoli’s reinstatement as LDF commander in May this year after his dismissal for alleged insubordination in August 2014. What do you have to say about this?
Lekhanya: It takes me back to the day he was sworn in as LDF Commander where one female minister was asked to say Grace before lunch. She went out of her way to remind Kamoli that he was her student and also told him not to forget what they discussed on a particular day.
She went on to say “I expect you to support us”. The PM then also stood up and backed that up. It takes me to the fact that Kamoli is owned and controlled by somebody, unfortunately.
That’s why when another government assumes office, it will appoint its own commander. Army commanders, commissioners of police and prison heads have been turned into political appointees. That’s why people commit crimes and take the law into their own hands. If you take stock of people who have been killed with impunity since the last election, then you will realise all is not well. Nobody has been held accountable; we’re headed for chaos. It’s not supposed to work out that way.
LT: If Lt Gen Kamoli were to come to you seeking advice as a former LDF Commander, what would you say to him?
Lekhanya: Gladly and willingly, I’d advise him to open his mind to working with people who differ with him in opinion, refuse to be used by politicians and respect other human beings as God’s creatures. I respect human beings because we were created in God’s image.
This man is trying to create an army within an army. I’d ask him, please don’t create another force within the force. I mean his so-called elite forces which he seems to like. But how elite are they if they allow themselves to be used?
LT: If you were to sit down and have a discussion with either one of the seven leaders of the coalition government, who would it be and what would you discuss?
Lekhanya: Wow! I’d seriously like to sit down with Ntate Mosisili and one of the questions I’d ask would be, are you in control of government or not? Are you running the show or not? If he’s the one calling the shots, then Lesotho wouldn’t be where it is today. I’d say, if you’re not in control, why don’t you point to the person in charge, so that we can hold him accountable for the state Lesotho is in.
LT: What is your opinion of the seven-party coalition government (comprising Dr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) and National Independent Party (NIP)?
Lekhanya: I prefer to call this government a seven-pack and it will never succeed because it mostly consists of congress parties. Indeed we are in an era of coalition governments, but this one just doesn’t have the potential to carry us through.