31 July, 2018

Understanding Lesotho’s political-security discourse and its historical and contemporary relevance

One important notion regarding Lesotho’s persistent political and security instability evolves around the politicisation of the security sector and/or the vulnerability of the security sector to political influence. It is true that the security sector (i.e. the LDF and the LMPS) in Lesotho is politicised, as a result it often interferes in political affairs at which it tends to become involved directly and/indirectly in high-level political battles, with one of these institutions and/or sectors respectively supporting either the government and/or the opposition.
The security sector is actively and openly involved and/or used in high-level political disputes. That is, to either intimidate, torture and/or kill politicians, and suppress political activism. However, this can be attributed to the historical relationship between politics and the military, but more significantly and to a large extent, to events following post-colonialization. Post-colonial Lesotho (1965-present), especially between 1965 and 1993, is a period within which the deep-rooted political-military linkages, and subsequent politicisation of the security sector were established.

Lesotho’s socio-political discourse and nature is unique in two ways. Firstly, Lesotho is an ‘enclave’ landlocked state. The only state in Africa with such a unique and uncomfortable geographic landscape. This means that it is entirely surrounded by a country (i.e. South Africa), thus making its problems and survival in the global political economy more delicate and serious than other states because its mere socioeconomic and political survival depends upon its encircling neighbour. And secondly, leading to and subsequent to this geographic situation, Lesotho was largely characterised by armed conflict (i.e. the Lifaqane/ Difaqane / Mfecane Wars (1818-1835); and, the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) etc.). Thus making it highly depended on militaristic capabilities.

Maseru from Parliament Hill

In an attempt to understand Lesotho’s contemporary political and security landscape vis-à-vis political and security instability, it is important to understand the abovementioned, but particularly, the postcolonial political and security nature of Lesotho. This will significantly help stakeholders and policy-makers (i.e. civil society, governments, NGOs and IGOs etc.) in their attempts to provide lasting short, medium and long-term solutions to the prevailing political and security instability in the country.

The current social, economic, political, peace and security situation in Lesotho is a result of the events, situations and environment of Lesotho following independence from Britain in 1966. A comprehension of these events and the environment during the post-colonial era will also address misinformation and misunderstanding (i.e. which have resulted in failed solutions) by those participating in the peacebuilding processes. The nature and politics of post-colonial Lesotho is largely the basis of the current political agenda vis-à-vis political culture.

However, the politicisation of the military in Lesotho is not a new phenomenon. This political–military relationship can be traced back and/or attributed to a number of socio-political events which can be categorised into two (2) notable eras, namely the “autocratic rule” (1965-1986), and “military rule” (1986-1993). In these periods, force (i.e. notably that of the security branch) was used more or less to access, maintain and/or exercise government power vis-à-vis “maintaining the political and social status quo”. What is later experienced in the current “democratic civilian rule” [1993-present] is a result and consequence of these two eras.

The first decades of the 20th century led to the emergence of structurally organised anti-colonial and/or nationalist movements in resistance to colonial rule globally. This was also the case in Lesotho (i.e. the then Basutoland – a protectorate of Britain), with political pressure resulting in Britain to concede in granting Lesotho independence (i.e. equality and native self-driven social, economic and political governance and control). However, given the British desire to maintain its control over Lesotho’s socio-political and economic affairs and its favour of “chieftainship” (i.e. social, political and economic entitlement) over “commoners”, power rested with those who were monarchical.

As a result, under British-Catholic influence and with support by the chiefs, the Basutoland National Party (BNP) (later renamed the Basotho National Party – largely dominated and driven by local chiefs) was formed in 1958/9. Its sole purpose was to counter the Basutoland Congress Party’s (later renamed Basotho Congress Party) radical socialist rhetoric and its advancement of the interest of commoners at the expense of chiefs, which threatened the protection and security of Britain’s social, political and economic interests. What was instrumental about British colonial rule, like any other colonised territory in Africa and the World, was its domination over and exclusive control of domestic affairs (i.e. social, judicial, security, political and economic).
Following Lesotho’s independence from the British’s 100 year rule (1866-1966), the socio-political landscape was marked by “intensive politically motivated military and/or police brutality”.

In April 1965 ahead of independence which was scheduled for the 4th October 1966, Lesotho held its first democratic elections. The elections were contested by the BNP led by Chief Jonathan Leabua, the BCP led by Ntsu Mokhehle and the Marema-Tlou Party (MTP – later referred to the Marema-Tlou Freedom Party (MFP) – which also opposed the ideological inclinations of the BCP).
The BNP narrowly defeated the BCP in the elections, winning 31 parliamentary seats to the BCP’s 25 and the MFP’s four out of a total of 60. The BNP, with Leabua as Prime Minister, led Lesotho to Independence. However, these election results were characterised by protests from the opposition BCP and MFP who now wanted independence postponed alleging that the BNP had rigged the process with implicit collaboration of the British colonial administration. This was followed by violent conflicts with many lives lost. In maintaining the Leabua-British 60s rule, the need for the establishment of a security branch became crucial. Thus making the use of force (i.e. in the form of a police unit or paramilitary) order of the day. And the motives were explicitly political. This led to the establishment a “Police Mobile Unit” or ”Paramilitary police”.

The subsequent elections of 1970 were won by Mokhehle’s BCP with 36 seats to BNP’s 23, while MFP only secured one seat. However, the elections were nullified and the country’s multi-party democracy was suspended. Chief Jonathan seized power and declared a state of emergency. This resulted in the arrest, torture and killing of political activists (i.e. particularly BCP members), and the exile of King Moshoeshoe II.

Between the periods (1970-1986), the Lesotho Paramilitary Force (LPF), also known as a “paramilitary youth league”, was established as a separate entity from the paramilitary police. The LPF was formally declared an “army” in August 1979. Leabua’s administration used and relied on this army to supress, intimidate, torture and/ or assassinate political activists and associated activism.

However, in January 1986, Leabua was ousted in a military coup by General Metsing Lekhanya. This resulted in a military regime (1986-1991) which similarly depended and used military force to acquire and maintain government power. Following the coup, the LPF was renamed to “The Royal Lesotho Defence Force (RLDF)” subsequently assuming the status of a defence force. The army was similarly used to suppress political activity, especially that of the BCP. Moreover, the success of the 1986 coup symbolised the army’s significant role in internal power politics. This administration and consequent era was symbolic, as far as the political-military relations are concerned, in that it effectively and legislatively (i.e. through the “1986 Order No.4”) put in place laws that allowed military presence in cabinet further prohibiting political activities.

The importance of military force in acquiring and/or accessing government power is further evidenced in the 1991 military coup by Colonel Elias Ramaema which ousted Lekhanya. Despite that this military administration (2nd May 1991 – 2nd April 1993) resulted in the transformation of Lesotho back to democratic civilian rule (1993-present), military force became a means in achieving internal political ends and/or outcomes.

Currently, the democratic civilian rule is similarly not immune to military dependence and/or allegations of military politicisation. A few realities are testament to this. On the one hand, the former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s (2015-2017) administration has been suspect and largely seen to be supported by the army under the LDF’s former commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli. And on the other hand, PM Thomas Thabane’s (2012-2015) administration was viewed to be supported by the late and former LDF commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao. In essence, the security sector has been perceived essential to Lesotho’s political elites in influencing the distribution of power and resources, evidently with numerous security personnel, civilian and official casualties occurring in the process.

The assassinations of the LDF’s commanders (i.e. Lieutenant-General Mahao and Motšomotšo in 2015 and 2017 respectively) and military personnel in less than two years is testimony to the extent and depth of the political-military relations. Furthermore, the killing of the second commander in 2017 (i.e. Motšomotšo) despite numerous peacebuilding initiatives by various stakeholders and policy-makers to stabilise the political and security situation in the country following the assassination of Mahao in 2015 also points to the misunderstanding and/or ignorance of the entrenched historical political-military relations, thus resulting in failed and/or poor solutions in their respective initiatives.

In conclusion, if the abovementioned political-military relations continue to be ignored and misunderstood, Lesotho’s political and security sector will continue to worsen and casualties will increase rapidly. Moreover, governmental policies such as the 1995 Lesotho Ministry of Defence policy; state-driven military training operations such as the 1998 Operation Maluti training operation, and the 2001 Indian Army Training Team (IATT) operation; regional and institutional–driven civilian workshops and seminars such as the 2000 Institute of Security Studies (ISS) civil-military relations dialogue; and, regional initiatives such as the 2014-2018 Southern African Development Community (SADC) preventive mission which, among other key issues, aim to stabilise the political landscape and transform the LDF into an apolitical and accountable defence force will constantly fail to achieve respective desired political and security outcomes.

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