ISS Today: Is SADC flexing its muscle at last in Lesotho?

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    First published by ISS Today

    Will the Southern African Development
    Community (SADC) get it right in Lesotho this time? After over
    three years of quite intense diplomacy, the regional body has
    failed to end the chronic instability in a tiny country that
    ought to be manageable.

    That failure was underscored dramatically on
    5 September when Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander
    Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo was shot dead in his
    Ratjomose Barracks office in Maseru by his subordinates
    Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi. They in
    turn were swiftly shot dead by Motšomotšo’s
    bodyguards.

    Now it looks as though at last SADC intends
    to bring the necessary force to bear on the problem. SADC
    military chiefs are meeting in Luanda, Angola, where – Prime
    Minister Tom Thabane and most other Basotho hope – they will
    approve a proposal to send a full battalion of troops into
    Lesotho by the end of this month.

    That force may just be enough to provide
    Thabane with the protection he needs to act against members of
    the LDF who have effectively been running the country for
    years, killing enemies and committing many other crimes with
    impunity. The LDF has been destabilising Lesotho for decades.
    But it placed itself firmly on SADC’s


    trouble list
    in
    August 2014 when LDF commander Tlali Kamoli launched an
    attempted coup against Thabane’s government, forcing him and
    some of his allies to flee to South
    Africa.

    SADC called a summit and provided protection
    for Thabane to return to the country. SADC special envoy Cyril
    Ramaphosa, South Africa’s deputy president, then negotiated an
    agreement with all Basotho parties to bring forward scheduled
    elections two years to February 2015, to try to address the
    problem.

    In those elections Thabane was defeated by a
    coalition led by former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili. But
    the elections did not bring the hoped-for
    stability.
    Four months
    later
    General
    Maaparankoe Mahao, who had been Thabane’s defence chief, was
    shot dead. He was allegedly resisting arrest by soldiers sent
    by Mosisili’s reinstated defence chief Kamoli to bring him in
    for supposed complicity in a coup plot.

    SADC then conducted the Phumaphi judicial
    commission of inquiry into Mahao’s killing and into the
    underlying causes of Lesotho’s chronic instability. It
    recommended a raft of political, constitutional and security
    sector reforms as well as stern action against Mahao’s killers.
    These Mosisili largely ignored.

    Under extreme outside pressure (mainly from
    the United States it seems) he did eventually fire Kamoli in
    December last year, but that was about all. And so Thabane
    returned to office after winning elections in June this year,
    vowing to implement SADC’s recommendations. The dramatic
    initial result was the murder of Motšomotšo, reportedly shot
    dead precisely because he had insisted on carrying out
    Thabane’s – and SADC’s – instructions to take action against
    those implicated in the killing of Mahao and other crimes.
    These included Sechele and Hashatsi, both henchmen of
    Kamoli.

    Rather ironically Amnesty International last
    month accused Thabane of failing to tackle the “deeply
    entrenched culture of impunity for past human rights
    violations”, lamenting the lack of clear progress in solving a
    series of cases involving killings by Lesotho’s security
    forces. Only trouble is that when he tried to do just that, the
    result was the killing of his defence
    chief.

    The killing of Motšomotšo appears at last to
    have jolted SADC into recognition of the true nature of the
    problem in Lesotho. Leaders put their heads together and
    dispatched a ministerial fact-finding mission to the country on
    8 September led by Angolan Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti (as
    Angola currently chairs SADC’s organ on politics, defence and
    security).

    The ministerial mission reported to a
    double-troika summit (involving the heads of SADC itself and
    the organ) in Pretoria on 15 September. The summit approved
    Thabane’s request for a regional ‘multi-dimensional’ standby
    force comprising military, security, intelligence and civilian
    experts, to assist the government manage the security
    crisis.

    From 25 to 27 September a SADC technical
    assessment team visited Lesotho “to assess the security
    situation in the kingdom, and determine the requirements and
    prepare modalities for deploying a multidimensional SADC
    Contingent Force by
    1
    November, 2017”
    , SADC
    said in a statement.

    After consultation with a wide range of
    Lesotho stakeholders, the team prepared a detailed report. This
    included recommendations on the requirements and modalities for
    the proposed contingent force of military, police and civilian
    components as well as its draft concept of operation, rules of
    engagement and status of forces agreement.

    SADC’s military chiefs are now meeting in
    Luanda to decide whether to adopt these recommendations. The
    critical one, according to SADC official sources, is that the
    contingent force should be battalion size – around 1,000 or
    more – in strength.

    If that is agreed, as seems likely, it should
    be strong enough to allow Thabane to start acting against the
    LDF renegades – including, most dangerously, Kamoli himself –
    without fear of provoking further assassinations of top
    security commanders, or even a military
    coup.

    Professor Mafa Sejanamane of the political
    science department of the National University of Lesotho
    believes that SADC has at last realised that it must first
    tackle the security sector issues in Lesotho before embarking
    on the broader political and constitutional reforms recommended
    by the Phumaphi commission.

    Sejanamane wrote in a
    recent

    blog
    that this
    recognition had been missing from SADC’s earlier interventions,
    “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 Motšomotšo SADC has now been
    disabused of the tinkering around with the security vacuum in
    Lesotho but wants it solved”.

    According to Sejanamane, Chikoti’s report to
    the 15 September SADC double-troika meeting also included
    recommendations for an assessment of all of SADC’s previous
    interventions in Lesotho. These were to date back to the
    military incursion of 1998 which prevented a coup – but at the
    cost of many lives and much material
    destruction.

    If the military chiefs in Angola do indeed
    endorse the recommendation of a full battalion to be deployed
    into Lesotho by 1

    November,
    this will presumably be the trigger for Thabane to really start
    moving against the LDF renegades.

    Some SADC officials insist that the mission
    of the contingent force will be more about “putting brains on
    the ground than boots on the ground”. They say the force’s
    initial aim will be to try to “influence” the behaviour of key
    players, most notably to persuade the military to stay out of
    politics.

    But if past experience is anything to go by,
    brawn will prove at least as important as brains, if SADC’s
    intervention is to succeed this time.

    Peter Fabricius is an ISS
    consultant.

    File photo: Lesotho Prime Minister
    Tom Thabane arrives at the White House in Washington DC on 5
    August 2014. Photo: Michael
    Reynolds/(EPA).

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