THE curtain finally came down on the year-long tour of duty of the Southern African Development Authority (SADC) standby force with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane expressing confidence that peace and stability will prevail even after their departure.
Dr Thabane said the Standby Force’s stay and interactions with Lesotho’s security agencies which included training programmes for the latter had helped instil a sense of professionalism and a respect for civilian authority as enshrined in the national constitution.
Dr Thabane said this while addressing the official closing ceremony of the standby force also known as the SADC Preventative Mission in Lesotho (SAMPIL). The ceremony was held at Setsoto Stadium in Maseru on Tuesday.
It was attended high-ranking officials drawn from SADC states including Namibian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Zambian Defence Minister Davies Chama, SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Lawrence-Tax, the SAMPIL Head of Mission Retired Brigadier Timothy Kazembe, SADC Oversight Chairperson Retired Chief Justice Mathew Ngulube the former head of SAMPIL and Oversight Committee Chairperson Matias Matondo as well as cabinet ministers.
The function was also attended by other representatives of the SADC countries namely, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
SAPMIL’s departure comes almost a year after the force was officially unveiled in Lesotho on 2 December 2017. It is made of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts.
The SADC force was essentially deployed to prevent rogue LDF soldiers from destabilising Dr Thabane’s coalition as it went about implementing SADC recommended reforms to curb perennial instability in the Kingdom.
The reforms include holding the scalawag LDF members accountable for their past atrocities and helping mould the LDF into a professional force via some targeted re-training. Former LDF commander Tlali Kamoli has himself been languishing in remand prison for about a year over a plethora of atrocities he spearheaded.
The Standby Force was also meant to help in the investigations of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi as well as the earlier killing of another LDF boss, Maaparankoe Mahao, among other tasks, work that has been done and completed.
On Tuesday, Dr Thabane said the government was fully confident in the regional troops’ ability to help stabilise the country when it requested their deployment last year.
“The call (for the SADC force) was made against the backdrop of a brutal murder of the commander of the defence force Lt-Gen Motšomotšo. There was uncertainty and suspicion among our security agencies. The security uncertainty was a threat to the national reforms programme.
“However, the subsequent joint operations between and among the security agencies and reinforced by the training from SAMPIL has left us with the confidence that our security agencies will now respect civilian authority and conduct their services as mandated by the constitution of Lesotho and nothing else,” Dr Thabane said.
He praised the SAMPIL for providing a conducive environment for the reforms process, adding that the government was fully committed to an inclusive and transparent reforms process.
On his part, Minister Chama said the SADC mission had achieved some milestones which included the successful convening of the first and second national leaders’ forum in August and November this year.
The leaders’ forum brought together leaders of the governing and opposition parties to the negotiating table as part of efforts to forge a political consensus on the reforms and national reconciliation.
Mr Chama said SAPMIL training programmes for the security agencies — namely the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS0 and the National Security Service – had largely contributed to achieving stability in the country.
“Allow me to thank all the personnel in all the components of SAMPIL for a job well done. Your efforts will go a long way in improving the livelihoods of the people of Lesotho.
“I would like, on behalf of SADC member states, to urge and encourage all exiled political leaders to voluntarily return to Lesotho by 25 November 2018 to participate in the multi-stakeholder national dialogue,” Mr Chama said.
Exiled former Deputy Prime Minister and current leader of the opposition Lesotho congress of Democracy (LCD) Mothetjoa Metsing, his deputy Mr Mokhosi and the leader of the Socialist Revolution (SR) Teboho Mojapela are all expected to return home on Sunday.
Also expected to return are former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa, former Director of the NSS, Tumo Lekhooa; Assistant Superintendent Bereng Ramahetlane who is an officer with the LCS and Lebohang Setsomi who was head of procurement at the LMPS.
This follows the recent SADC-brokered agreement between the government and the opposition that will ensure that opposition leaders will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the processes leading up to the implementation of the multi-sector reforms.
On her part, Dr Lawrence-Tax said the SAMPIL’s presence and confidence building patrols among others, acted as a deterrent to rogue elements and also created a conducive environment for the implementation of the reforms.
“The political and security situation is calm and there is significant improvement in the working relations among the various security agencies, the government, the civil society and other stakeholders,” Dr Lawrence-Tax said.
She also commended the SAPMIL for working tirelessly and exhibiting a high level of professionalism in ensuring that Lesotho remains calm despite the complexities in the reform process.
“Peace does not mean an absence of conflict and differences will always be there. Peace means solving those differences through engagements, dialogue and peaceful means. It is therefore, my humble plea, that as SAMPIL is closing down, we should all endeavour to maintain the momentum. We have come a long way. Let us continue to work together as a nation and as a region to ensure that Lesotho remains calm as we proceed with the reforms and the national dialogue,” Dr Lawrence-Tax added.