THE long awaited SADC Commission of Inquiry report into Lesotho’s instability has called for the dismissal of Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, describing the conduct of the LDF under his command as “disconcerting”.
Firing Lt-Gen Kamoli would restore credibility and trust of the army by the generality of Basotho, the report concludes.
It remains to be seen whether the government will implement the measure after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili reiterated this week that the inquiry’s recommendations were not binding. Dr Mosisili said the government would pick and choose the recommendations it would implement after studying the report while others would not see the light of day (see story on Page 7). A SADC double troika communique last month urged the government to implement the recommendations.
The report, which was authored by a 10 member SADC commission of inquiry led by Botswana High Court judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, was finally tabled in the National Assembly by Dr Mosisili this week after an original stalemate in which the regional body had demanded the release of the report by 1 February 2016, failing which it would release it unilaterally. SADC subsequently acquiesced to Dr Mosisili’s request to delay the release of the report by a week until the National Assembly’s opening on Monday 8 August 2016.
The report “strongly recommends” that Lt-Gen Kamoli be relieved of his duties in the “interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation”.
The SADC commission of inquiry was constituted by regional legal and security experts and was installed at the request of Dr Mosisili after the fatal shooting of former LDF commander, Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015. Lt-Gen Mahao was gunned down by LDF members allegedly as he resisted arrest for a suspected mutiny which the report also dismisses as a probable “fabrication”.
The probe was held between 31 August and 23 October 2015, culminating in the 62-page report titled “SADC Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao”.
The report also addresses the alleged mutiny within the army, alleged killings and kidnappings of opposition members and former LDF members as well as the appointments and removals of Lt-Gen Mahao and Lt-Gen Kamoli among other issues.
According to the findings of the report, the former army chief’s life was under threat before he was gunned down by his army colleagues in Mokema. The threats intensified after Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed LDF boss on 29 August 2014 after then premier Thomas Thabane fired Lt-Gen Kamoli, who however, maintained he was still the army chief.
“. . . there were consistent and persistent threats on Brigadier Mahao’s life by some members of the LDF who would publicly, before military parades declare that Brigadier Mahao will be shot if he could set foot in military barracks. These utterances and previous attempts on his life manifest a desire to have him dead,” reads part of the report.
It also notes that the army operation that resulted in the death of Lt-Gen Mahao was authorised by Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi.
“But (it) lacked control mechanisms in that the Honourable Minister did not insist on being kept abreast as the operation unfolded, neither did the LDF find it necessary to keep him informed,” the report states.
On a balance of probabilities, says the report, the evidence shows that Brigadier Mahao did not resist arrest.
“Even if it is accepted that he pointed a pistol at one of the arrestors, excessive force was used, particularly after the first shot, which immobilised his right arm, thus, the additional two shots were unnecessary,” reads the report.
“Therefore, the degree of force used on the deceased was not commensurate to the danger he posed with the pistol.”
The report also finds that Lt-Gen Kamoli’s return to the helm of the LDF on 21 May 2015 following his reinstatement by Dr Mosisili resulted in more divisions in the army and instability in the country.
“The re-appointment of Lieutenant-General Kamoli perpetuated the divisions within the LDF as he vowed to deal with those who celebrated his removal, as evidenced by fleeing soldiers and that he caused some officers to resign,” it notes.
“. . . the fleeing of opposition party leaders after Lieutenant-General Kamoli’s reappointment and parliamentary boycott by opposition amounts to political instability. These political challenges, if not arrested, might spiral out of control with the consequence of failing the current government.”
The report also takes note of the army chief’s refusal to hand over to the police LDF members accused of committing various crimes.
“This disregard for the rule of law by the LDF, is evidenced by existing warrants of arrests on some members of LDF including Lieutenant-General Kamoli charged with high treason arising from the 30th August 2014 unrests,” notes the report.
The commission also observes that the LDF’s mandate of dealing with internal disorder, maintenance of law and order as well as prevention of crime overlapped with that of the police. As a result, it notes that the investigation into Lt-Gen Mahao’s death had been stopped.
“The Commission is persuaded to believe that this move was calculated to hide the fact that the LDF hindered the investigations. “The facts are that the LDF refused to surrender physical evidence (weapons and vehicles used and the deceased’s mobile phones).”
The inquiry concludes its findings by noting the “deep rooted” politicisation of the security sector “especially the LDF and LMPS (Lesotho Mounted Police Service) as it was witnessed that some members of the said institutions actively participated in politics.
In light of its findings, the report recommends Lt-Gen Kamoli’s dismissal, stating that the conduct of the LDF under his command was “disconcerting”.
“In the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation, it is strongly recommended that Lieutenant-General Kamoli be relieved of his duties as Commander LDF, and all LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason be suspended while investigations in their cases proceed in line with international best practice,” the report states.
“The Government of Lesotho should ensure that the criminal investigations on the death of Brigadier Mahao be pursued vigorously and that the LMPS is empowered and resourced accordingly.
“The investigation should be conducted expeditiously and comprehensively without any hindrances and that all physical evidence be surrendered. The finality of the investigations should lead to a transparent course of justice.”
The commission calls for a review of the constitution with regard to the “deficiencies and overlaps” in the mandates of security institutions.
“SADC should come up with a direct strategy on how to assist Lesotho in the implementation of these reforms, and that the Lesotho Oversight Committee, established by the 3rd July 2015 Double Troika is operationalised,” it said.
On the alleged mutiny, the commission noted that some of the complainants in the court martial participated in the arrest of the suspects, “which is a clear conflict situation as they have personal interest in the cases”.
“When this evidence is taken into consideration with that of the suspects subjected to torture, the object being to extract confessions from them, as well as the evidence that Lt-Gen Kamoli himself, when he was reappointed as Commander of the LDF, stated that he would deal with those who celebrated this termination in 2014, it makes the whole case of mutiny highly suspect,” the report states.
“In these circumstances, we recommend a facilitation of an amnesty that will cover the detained mutiny suspects and ensure the safe return of all members of the LDF who have fled Lesotho in fear for their lives.”