Motšomotšo murder: Did the militia overreach itself?
OVER the years in Lesotho, we have witnessed ordinary citizens and soldiers being murdered with impunity by those who had the power of guns. The situation took a turn for the worst from 2014 when an army rebellion against the civilian government by the command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) which soon transformed the army and other security units into a militia serving the interests of its leader rather than those of the nation. The level of the killings went a notch higher when the militia murdered the former commander of the LDF, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao in 2015. The militia expected that his murder would go unpunished since the government was virtually in its pocket. That did not happen since SADC and other institutions insisted on accountability thus forcing the head of that militia, Lt- Gen Tlali Kamoli to be ultimately forced out of the army.
His successor, Lt-Gen Motšomotšo pledged allegiance to the new government, but as fate had it, the central plank of the newly-elected government was the implementation of SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission Report. Lt-Gen Motšomotšo had apparently told all officers and the rest of the soldiers that government policy would be abided with and those who have cases to answer will have to do so. This was why he had to be eliminated. But his elimination could only be done as either an attempt to overthrow both the command of the army and the government or such elimination would be achieved through what is akin to a suicide mission. The consequences of such elimination have proved, as events have shown, a tipping point for the dismantling of the militia.
When Hashatsi, Ramoepana and Sechele went to the commander’s office to kill him on 5 September 2017, they unleashed a process of dismantling of their killing machine, which they could not have anticipated. They killed the commander, but not the command. They did not overthrow the government; and more importantly they released an unstoppable anger in the country and beyond on their perennial murder spree without accountability. Hashatsi and Sechele died in their act of rebellion while Ramoepana and other conspirators will go on to tell the story when their trial begins. At the same time, SADC has now finally agreed to send a Contingent Force to ensure that this time the situation is brought under control.
Internal discord and fall-out after the murder
The murder of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo as expected brought about an outcry even from unexpected sources within the military establishment. During his memorial service, figure after figure, and even those who were known to have participated in earlier crimes by the militia, condemned the killing in no uncertain terms. Two outspoken ones in particular need to be mentioned because of the far-reaching implications for the survival of the militia as a unit operating within the force. First was Brigadier Mokaloba who said it was a shocking embarrassment that officers within the army committed such a heinous act. He wondered what the overall plan of those plotters who murdered the commander was. But more revealing was his next statement, which applied equally to those in the military and those of their supporters outside the establishment.
“Mine is just to appeal to the people behind these heinous acts. These people met with others in the night and they were also together in the morning. On the day of the incident they met in the morning and dispersed and others when the incident came, they came late to the scene. Others are now disguising as though they are not part of this incident, but what’s important is for them to surrender….”
The unmistakable thing is that Brig Mokaloba seemed determined to portray himself and the rest of the Command as ready to dismantle the rogue elements which were ensconced in the army. But he also seemed to finger those outside the military who had been part of the plot to assassinate Lt-Gen Motšomotšo. This was a major turnaround by Brig Mokaloba. He was one of those soldiers in 2014 who were implicated in the attempt to overthrow the government. Indeed, in his evidence before the Phumaphi Commission, Brig Mokaloba was a cantankerous witness who claimed unfailing loyalty to Lt-Gen Kamoli, dismissing Lt-Gen Mahao as having never been a commander of LDF. Now that he has changed tack, there is hope that the militia has begun to self-destruct.
Acting LDF commander, Major-General Lineo Poopa, also came out clearly in the memorial service to apologise for having failed to protect the commander.
“We are ashamed that we failed to protect our commander and we failed the nation, we failed the whole continent and we are sorry,” he said. Maj-Gen Poopa talked about what his murdered predecessor had committed himself to and promised to continue where he had left off.
He clearly explained what the SADC decisions are and also gave them reasons why these SADC decisions must be implemented. And he said they shall happen in a manner in which they will not harm anyone, saying only the rule of law shall prevail. And I have also reiterated his words last week Friday, and I so repeat that Lesotho’s soldiers shall not be in harm’s way, but rule of law shall be enforced…
…Those soldiers who have been listening to people from outside the army command have been derailed and dabbling in politics….”
Both Maj-Gen Poopa and Brig Mokaloba had been deep in the Kamoli corner for some time, but they seem determined to prove that they can wriggle out of their transgressions of old. Indeed, several soldiers who were involved in the murder of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo have since been arrested and some charged with murder. Even others, who were also involved in some other murder cases, have been arrested. Five, including a brigadier and a captain were charged on Monday. In essence, the militia by murdering Lt-Gen Motšomotšo may have worked against its interests.
The apparent turnabout of some in the military to show remorse genuine or otherwise in order to placate the public and in order to save their jobs was not reflected in the opposition. While they could not ignore the killing of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, there was an embarrassing ambivalence. They regretted the killings of three senior officers and called for a Commission of Inquiry. In their statement, read by former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili, there seemed to be no sign of outrage at this only regret and a need for an inquiry. For Dr Mosisili and his allies who were at the press conference, Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s murder was just a footnote on the unfortunate deaths. He thus seems to have invoked a moral equivalence to the cold blooded murder of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo by the two senior officers and their killing by the former’s bodyguards. Indeed, the death of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was tucked towards the end of their statement rather than as a standalone or at the beginning of such a statement. It is extremely disappointing!
SADC’S response to the murder
SADC’s response to the developments in Lesotho was to dispatch a Ministerial Fact Finding Mission. The Mission was led by the Angolan Minister of External Affairs Georges Pinto Chikoti supported by other Troika Ministers and Ambassadors. It is their report which was tabled to the meeting of the Double Troika Summit in Pretoria on the 15th September 2017. The Fact Finding Mission observed and noted that there is a need to ensure that long-term solutions to the Lesotho crisis are found by supporting the government to undertake, on an urgent basis, the security sector reforms. It is clear from this report that recognition is now firm in SADC circles that Security Sector Reform must precede the broader reform process. This is what had been missing in all earlier Facilitation exercises, which saw politics as opposed to security as the source of Lesotho’s unstable environment. Thus, in 2015, SADC prescribed elections as a solution rather than to suppress the army rebellion. Following the murder of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, SADC has now been disabused of the tinkering around with the security vacuum in Lesotho but wants it solved.
Amongst the observations of the Fact Finding Mission were the following:
a) The need for an urgent deployment of a military and security technical fact finding team from the Double Troika to assess the security environment and requirements to ensure that peace and security is brought back to Lesotho. The Terms of Reference of the team should include an assessment of the previous interventions of SADC in Lesotho from 1998;
b) The need for re-training and mentoring of the LDF and also the need to weed out politicisation within the LDF. The need to ensure that the law prohibits politicians from interfering in the work of the LDF;
c) The need to review the role to be played by the King on the overall control of the army.
The above amongst others, indicates that there is now a deeper level of commitment to go to the bottom of the security challenges in Lesotho. The fact that the assessment of the successes and failures of the previous interventions was recommended is a big improvement already. Almost thirty years after the intervention and reforms, Lesotho is still where it was those years.
The Double Troika ultimately approved the deployment of a Contingent Force the size of which will be determined by the SADC Military Chiefs who have already met in Luanda in Angola. The directive was :
..direct the Chiefs of Defence and Security to assess the requirements, determine the appropriate size of the Contingent Force, and to prepare modalities for the deployment by 22nd September 2017, based on which, the secretariat should facilitate an urgent deployment by 1st November 2017…
The only outstanding issues will be finalised by the Status of Forces Agreement which could be signed in the coming weeks. This will determine the specific role that the SADC force will play in the coming months but in line with the decisions of the Double Troika. The implications of the above decisions for the militia are huge. For the first time, the militia would not have the last word on its future. By killing Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, the militia may have signed its death warrant.
Case for SADC military deployment
It is worth reiterating that Lesotho has been under the spell of the army rebellion from 2014 and since then successive regimes have either have had to endure or embrace the rebellion. The military held sway on all the decisions and operations of the government. The intermittent and ineffective SADC interventions from 2015 onwards only kicked the can down the road rather than helped to suppress the rebellion. More importantly, is that a large number of senior officers who did not willingly join the rebellion were either held in jail or forced into exile, while the rebellious junior officers were rapidly promoted two times in less than fifteen months. Some of those jumped ranks and are now part of the command. The two who assassinated their commander, were some of the prominent beneficiaries of the accelerated promotions process. Incidentally, they were also involved in the 2015 murder of Lt-Gen Mahao. The question therefore is how the rebellious troops can purge themselves.
It is delusional to expect that those in the Command, including the Acting Commander, who were united in trying to stage a coup in August 2014 and in overseeing the suppression of other soldiers since 2014 can suddenly reform themselves. First, they are unlikely to receive the trust of their colleagues who have borne the brunt of the crackdown since 2015. Second, they have to deal with other soldiers who have committed crimes, but are not in position to acknowledge the skeletons in their cupboards. The evidence given by several soldiers and the former Commissioner of Police during the Phumaphi Commission should have removed any doubt in most peoples’ minds that the LDF as presently constituted has embraced crime as its standard rather than the law.
As already pointed out, several soldiers have now been arrested for crimes including the murder of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo but nobody has yet been arrested for the bombings, High Treason, and the murder of both Sub-Inspector Ramahloko and Lt-Gen Mahao. It is those crimes which, unless a bargain is entered into, which will affect most of the members of the present Command of the LDF. This is why you need a Contingent Force to cleanse the organisation. Those in the Command who will remain need retraining and long-term observation. What we don’t need is the game which has been played by the current foreign mission at LDF which has been ensconced there but the military ethos has deteriorated while they are supposed to be training them to be professional.
Those later day converts to the view that we don’t need SADC troops in Lesotho are at best naive and at best opportunistic. No militia can dismantle itself. It has to be dismantled by someone with superior force or one perceived to have overwhelming force. SADC has committed itself to have its decisions implemented within the law. That’s what the Contingent Force will be expected to oversee.
l This article was originally published on Prof Sejanamane’s blog lesothoanalysis.com His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lesotho Times.