THE Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s decision not to extend the tour of duty of its Standby Force is understandable.
However, it should also be a cause of worry to all and sundry eager for permanent peace and stability in our perennially troubled Kingdom. The objectives for which the force was deployed have not yet been fully attained. Instead of making progress around the implementation of multi-sectoral reforms while the Standby Force was in the country, our politicians elected to pursue what they know best; endless bickering at the expense of progress.
Unfortunately, time waits for no man. It seems like the Standby Force only landed yesterday. Yet the force – also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) – was formally unveiled in Maseru on 2 December 2017.
The deployment was done to help stabilize the country which had endured prolonged instability and turmoil.
In a short period from 2014 to 2017 the country witnessed an attempted coup by soldiers under the command of Tlali Kamoli, the assassination of two army commanders in 2015 and in 2017 and the unbridled murder of police officers and civilians, with some bodies being dumped in the watery graves of the Mohale Dam.
SADC had no option but to come to our rescue with its deployment and help end the anarchy that the previous regime of Pakalitha Mosisili had masterminded.
Among other things, the stated objectives of the SAPMIL was to assist the LDF in managing the security crisis in the country in the aftermath of the 5 September 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his renegade subordinates.
Another of the main objectives of the SADC deployment was to “assist in isolating renegade elements within the LDF”.
The SAPMIL also had a mandate to support Lesotho in retraining its army personnel, especially in the area of civil-military relations while working towards security sector and other institutional reforms.
Time flies and it is already a year since SAPMIL was deployed initially on a six months mission to Lesotho.
Everyone would agree that the presence of SAPMIL has helped foster an atmosphere of peace and tranquility in the country. Whether this remains after SAPMIL has gone remains to be seen. SADC itself has previously cast doubts about whether the “renegade elements” in the army have been fully contained.
In one of its confidential reports on Lesotho seen by this publication, SADC noted that “currently, the political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho is relatively calm. This notwithstanding, the likelihood of reprisal attacks and other acts of instability cannot be ruled out given the residual tensions and deep-rooted mistrust amongst politicians and divisions among the security establishments specifically (in) the LDF”.
It is hoped that those who may want to foment chaos and instability will see light and desist from any nefarious actions. Ultimately, it’s is our responsibility as Basotho to take charge of our affairs and restore sanity in our country. SADC came to assist.
The regional body cannot remain here forever. We would have wanted to see progress while the Standby Force was still here. We would have wanted to see the trial of all the rogue soldiers happen, or at least begin, while the Standby Force was here. But alas, the crisis in the judiciary, which mirrors the political crisis spawned by our ever-bickering politicians did not make this possible.
The implementation of the multi-sector reforms has not even begun. We would have loved for there to be progress while the Standby Force was still here. Instead, we are still in the planning stages where stakeholders are engaging in talks about the reforms process and not the implementation itself.
With the Standby Force gone, Lesotho faces an uncertain future. Our politicians have not done enough to convince the regional body that they are serious about any reforms and so deserve an extension of SAPMIL.
SAPMIL has done a good job since its arrival in fostering peace and stability in the country. Its mere presence here had substantial deterrence effect. We surely would have wanted it to stay.
The initial six-month period envisaged for the Standby Force’s deployment was never enough. So, it was extended by a further six months. But at some stage, SAPMIL had to leave. No one can predict what lies below the veneer of peace and tranquility we have enjoyed thus far. The rogues are still out there. Some are licking their wounds in remand prison. While it would be inappropriate for the SADC force to leave before all the LDF rogues who committed so many atrocities alongside their political masters, who encouraged these atrocities by doing nothing to curb them, are held fully accountable for their vile actions, it seems there is little that can be done now.
We hope the LDF under its new credible command will effectively deal with any miscreants who may want to cause chaos once the Standby Force has left.