Makoro speaks out on Mahao

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Maseru District Administrator Major General Samuel Makoro
Maseru District Administrator Major General Samuel Makoro

Next government will rebury slain former army commander with full military honours, says ex-Lesotho Defence Force Deputy Commander

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

Former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Maaparankoe Mahao is going to be accorded a military funeral “befitting his status” once a new government comes to power, according to retired Major General Samuel Makoro.

Brigadier Mahao was laid to rest last Saturday in Mokema, with his family taking full charge of the funeral and refusing any assistance from the government.

A member of the LDF since 1996, Brigadier Mahao was shot dead on 25 June close to his Mokema farm by soldiers who had come to arrest him for alleged mutiny. His death came exactly a month after he was dismissed as LDF Commander and demoted from Lieutenant General to Brigadier by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who argued his promotion in August 2014 had been illegal.

However, according to Major General Makoro, who is now the Maseru District Administrator (DA), it was “worrisome and completely unethical for the General to be buried that way because he was not a civilian.”

Major General Makoro was LDF Deputy Commander when he left the military in August 2010 after 32 years of service.

“It is really worrisome to me that General Mahao was buried like an ordinary civilian. I was at the funeral on Saturday. My concern is that he was not buried militarily; he was not laid to rest according to military rules and ethics. And this means one of the army’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) has been violated because the military was supposed to take full responsibility of the funeral.

“Now, I want to give you my word that it is only a matter of time before General Mahao is reburied militarily. I am saying this with certainty that no matter the circumstances under which he died, it is just a matter of time before the next government, which is in full command of the LDF, makes a decision to give General Mahao a full military funeral, mark my words.

“Mahao was a General; he was not a junior or senior military officer. He was a General and what this means is he deserved to be buried before a full military parade. All commissioned officers in the army are buried, not just militarily, but before a full military parade.”

Major General Makoro further said the LDF was guided by legal frameworks, among them the LDF Act and LDF Regulations “and of course, the general ethics and ethos of the military.”

He continued: “Apart from these Regulations, there is what is called Standard Operating Procedures, which emanate from Standing Orders made by the Commander, or any other commissioned officer in command of the army. For example, it could be the Brigade Commander or Platoon Commander who issues a Standing Order, which subsequently forms part of the army’s SOPs.”

One of these SOPs, he explained, was that each morning, “everyone should be at the parade, and it could also be that every Monday morning there is a prayer conducted at the parade. This arrangement is made by the Commander through Standing Orders he issues.”

Apart from the SOPs, he said there were ethics and ethos of the military which members must comply with.

“These are basically the general norms through which soldiers should behave. Any soldier from any country abides by these ethics and ethos, which may slightly differ from one country to another depending on what is called doctrine or doctrinal training,” he said.

“The LDF has its own doctrinal training. What this means is that you can be able to notice that the LDF, or any other army, doctrine through the way the army operates or conducts its operations. Now, the LDF Act does not, in specific terms, describe how an officer should be buried. But there was a profound Standing Order made to that effect by the commander a long time ago.

“That Sanding Order was not made by the current commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. We all found it there as an SOP and for that matter, it is now a military rule. It says in specific terms how an officer of what rank should be buried.”

In most Commonwealth countries, of which Lesotho is a part, “all commissioned officers are buried in the presence of a full military parade,” Major General Makoro said.

Commissioned officers in the LDF start from the rank of Second Lieutenant upwards, he explained.

“The next commissioned ranks after Second Lieutenant, in order of seniority, are Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Brigadier, Major General and, in our case, Lieutenant General.

“In other countries, there are higher ranks of General and upwards depending on their SOPs, ethics and ethos. I may no longer be here when that time comes, but you will remember my words when the next government reburies General Mahao the way he deserves.

“Whoever will take command of the LDF, or the leadership of this country in future, is going to rebury General Mahao. On Saturday, General Mahao was buried as if he was a civilian. He was not even buried like a military officer of the lowest rank of Private, because a Private is buried militarily even though there is a difference between being buried militarily and being buried before a full military parade. Non-commissioned officers are buried differently from their commissioned seniors, but still the military way.”

Major General Makoro gave an example of former prime minister, Leabua Jonathan, whom he said died (on 5 April 1987) during the military regime and was buried “ordinarily”.

“But when the next democratic government came to power in 1993, a state funeral was held for Dr Leabua because he had been head of government. And there is a difference between a State funeral and an official funeral. A state funeral can only be made for either a head of state or head of government. Other funerals for government employees, including those of DAs, are official funerals and not state funerals. Mahao could not be buried in any of the two, and I am saying this because there is confusion that he should have been given a state funeral,” he said.

According to Major General Makoro, a state funeral can also be held for victims of a national disaster.

Returning to Brigadier Mahao, Major General Makoro said the LDF should have convinced the family to accept its mandate regarding the burial.

“Of-course, we know that the family wrote a letter rejecting government and the army’s assistance in the burial. But still, it remained the responsibility of the army to convince the family otherwise, regardless of how the General was killed.

“Anyone who is recruited into the army takes oath of allegiance to the King and command of the LDF. And he or she abandons his or her ordinary norms, including those of being under control of their families. He now becomes a soldier for the entire nation. He puts Lesotho first. And for a commissioned officer, it comes with even greater responsibility because that person has been commissioned by nobody else but the King directly.

“It is unacceptable now for the family to interfere after their relative has taken this oath of allegiance to the King and the LDF command. If I may make a typical example, it is like when a soldier is given orders to go on patrol and then the family comes in to say our son cannot go for such an operation. It is completely unacceptable and forbidden in the army.”

On his demotion, Major General Makoro said: “In my view, Mahao was a Lieutenant General when he died. There is an issue that he was demoted to Brigadier which to me does not make sense at all. And by the way, commissioned officers from the rank of Brigadier are called Generals. If, for some reason, you cannot address him by his specific rank, you can call him General, but only from that rank. They are also called Flag Officers, meaning they represent the country militarily wherever they are – and again that is from the rank of Brigadier upwards.

“Now according to military ethics and ethos, it is highly unacceptable for a Flag Officer to make mistakes in any operation. But if he does, he cannot be demoted by any authority. You cannot demote Mahao from the rank of Lieutenant General which he acquired lawfully through the endorsement of the King. It is unethical and has not happened anywhere.  As an authority, what you can simply do is take him out of the system by dismissing him. I was dismissed from the army the same way in 2010 and the authority could not demote me from the rank of Major General. The head of government has the right to dismiss you, but he cannot demote you. Similarly, a Flag Officer cannot challenge the decision from his authority concerning his dismissal, as per the same ethics and ethos of the military.”

Asked if there was anything wrong with the present LDF command, the retired Major General said: “Yes, absolutely. There is something terribly wrong with the present administration of the army. And I am saying this because in my observation, the army has taken control of the government and it is doing as it pleases.

“You see, there is a good reason why the army should be controlled by civilian authorities because the moment it is autonomous and in absolute control of things, it becomes dangerous. It is not wrong for civilian authorities to interfere in army operations. When the army is in control, the consequences are that people will be killed like what is happening now because they have power and the resources. We are now talking about a series of deaths committed by elements of the army, with nothing being done about it.

“So even if the army knew how General Mahao was assassinated by themselves, it was its responsibility again to advice government to convince the family that accidents do happen, so that at least some parts believed to be traumatic to the family could be skipped in a full military funeral which he deserved.”

During the “proper” reburial of Brigadier Mahao, Major General Makoro indicated the national flag, a military sword, his hat and belt would be placed on top of his coffin “and sent with his body underground.”

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