…former army boss became a law unto himself through dubious promotions that “shocked everyone”
FORMER army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli consolidated his grip on the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) by promoting underserving officers to the high command- a development that allegedly “left the bulk of members of the LDF and other observers in a state of shock”.
The allegation was made by senior members of the LDF who were reintegrated into the army this year after being arrested, detained and tortured between May and July 2015 on charges of plotting to topple the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli.
The soldiers also alleged that Lt-Gen Kamoli openly disparaged the then police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana at army parades and vowed never to hand over soldiers suspected of involvement in the 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane, ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane and the Ha Abia residence of Mr Tšooana.
Lt-Gen Kamoli’s actions-according to the ‘mutiny’ soldiers- contributed to the breakdown of relations between the army and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).
The soldiers’ allegations against Lt-Gen Kamoli are contained in their document titled ‘Report on victimisation of members of the Lesotho Defence Force in the Period 2014 to 2017’.
In that same document, the soldiers also make demands for compensation for the physical, material and emotional suffering they endured when they were hounded out of the army on allegations of working to topple Lt-Gen Kamoli.
At least 22 soldiers were arrested, detained and tortured between May and July 2015 on charges of plotting to topple the command of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli.
Fourteen of the soldiers were also tortured in detention and forced to become state witnesses against 22 of their colleagues who were subsequently placed on open arrest during the tenure of the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led government.
Another 23 soldiers fled the country and only returned towards the end of last year. This followed the advent of the Thomas Thabane-led four parties’ coalition government in the wake of the 3 June 2017 national elections.
The soldiers were accused of working in cahoots with former army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, who was later shot dead by fellow soldiers in June 2015 while allegedly resisting arrest in Mokema.
A Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry was established in the aftermath of Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder and it found that there was no mutiny plot and recommended an amnesty for the suspected mutineers. It also recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.
The suspected mutineers were however, not granted an amnesty and the-then government led by Pakalitha Mosisili opted to place 22 of the soldiers on open arrest.
The 45 former mutiny suspects returned to the LDF and they were reintegrated into the army in February this year.
Some of the former suspects like Major General Matela Matobakele and Major General Poqa Motoa now serve as Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff for Administration and Human Resources Affairs respectively.
The soldiers’ document was compiled by three soldiers only identified as Captain Ramotšo, Second Lieutenant Mohasi and Second Lieutenant Talasi. They were assisted by five other soldiers and the document was “approved” by one Colonel Kolisang.
The soldiers state that issues relating to their persecution under the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli must be handled with caution “to restore the respect to the LDF and confidence in Lesotho as a nation state”.
They accused the former government of Pakalitha Mosisili of giving Lt-Gen Kamoli a free hand in the army which the latter used to make dubious promotions to create a group of sycophants who helped cement his grip on the army.
“In the time preceding the 2012 general elections in Lesotho (which were won by current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane), the defence force parted ways with the senior generals…and Kamoli was elevated through the ranks from Colonel to Lieutenant General and appointed commander in a space of twelve months.
“The LDF was not only handed over to Lt-Gen Kamoli by the government in 2012, he in turn instigated promotions and appointments to form a high command of officers accelerated through the ranks and that left the bulk of members of the LDF and other observers in state of shock.
“In January 2014 after the bombings at two households at Moshoeshoe II and one at Ha Abia, some eight members of the LDF were identified as suspects by the LMPS and summoned to appear at the police station to aid in the investigations,” the soldiers state in their document, adding that Lt-Gen Kamoli resisted the police’s request for the handover of the suspects.
“Further to this, the commissioner of police was insulted and openly discredited at morning parades at the LDF. Lt-Gen Kamoli often stated in clear terms that he would do everything in his power to protect his soldiers and as a result these soldiers were gaining confidence and started behaving in an unusual manner.
“Consequently, it came as no surprise that they (the army suspects) were said to be loyal to General Kamoli and identified themselves as such, bearing true allegiance to his person.”
The soldiers said that even after Lt-Gen Kamoli was relieved of his duties by Dr Thabane on 29 August 2014, he still resisted and clung on to the top army post because of the support of those soldiers he had promoted and protected from prosecution.
“On (30 August 2014), Lt-Gen Kamoli convened a meeting of officers and told them that he was still the commander and that they shall not listen to anyone other than him. Some soldiers mostly with criminal cases or suspects in various criminal activities appeared to rally behind him. On the other hand, those who seemed to believe that the removal of Gen Kamoli was correct and indeed in accordance with the statutes became enemies and were given death threats.
“Other developments that occurred in the LDF were that during meetings with junior officers, Lt-Gen Kamoli would ask those who supported him to raise up their hands and those who did not were noted.
“He would also go to the extent of asking officers to volunteer to engage themselves in what some perceived to be covert, unconventional and perhaps illegal operations,” the report further states.
Lt-Gen Kamoli eventually bowed to international pressure and retired on 1 December 2016.
He was arrested in 2017 on murder and attempted murder charges and remains in remand prison awaiting trial.
In their report, the soldiers also make compensation demands. They have even indicated their determination to sue the army if they are not compensated.