SADC Standby Force formally unveiled
- Regional body concerned by slow pace of reforms
- Decries tensions between government and opposition
THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) standby force to Lesotho was finally unveiled yesterday at a colourful ceremony at the Vodacom Park grounds in Maseru, amid calls by the regional body for Lesotho to expedite the implementation of the multi-sectoral reforms aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability in the country.
The formal unveiling of the standby force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL), marks the end of a long and anxious wait which was characterised by several postponements of the arrival of the troops.
The deployment of the standby force – made of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts- was endorsed by SADC leaders to assist the Lesotho Defence Force (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 subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
According to SADC, one of the main objectives of the SADC deployment is to “assist in isolating renegade elements within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)”.
The standby force will also support Lesotho in retraining its army personnel, especially in the area of civil-military relations while working towards security sector and other institutional reforms.
Furthermore, the SADC force will “monitor the investigation of the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, prioritise and expeditiously assist in the operationalisation of national unity and reconciliation dialogue with a clear approach, to be facilitated by SADC”.
In his address during yesterday’s ceremony, the SADC Director of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs, Jorge Cardoso, said the deployment of the standby force was necessitated by the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo which threatened the implementation of reforms in Lesotho.
“The SADC Double Troika Summit held on 18 August 2017, in Pretoria, South Africa noted a rapidly changing security and political environment in the Kingdom of Lesotho,” Mr Cardoso said yesterday.
“This was mainly exacerbated by the suspension from work and termination of contracts of some members of the Lesotho Defence Force. Anxiety levels rose and consequently, culminated in the assassination of the LDF Commander (Lt-Gen Motšomotšo) in September 2017.
“His demise posed a grave challenge to the implementation of the SADC recommendations, decisions and reform programme. This, therefore, prompted SADC to reassess the political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho,” leading to the “deployment of the Contingent Force to support the Government of Lesotho”.
He commended the government of Lesotho for working “tirelessly to ensure that security is restored and the country remains calm in these trying times despite the complexities”.
“However, despite the achievements made thus far, concerns have been expressed on the slow progress in the implementation of SADC Decisions and the continued misunderstanding between and among various political and security players in the country.”
The misunderstandings were also alluded to in a recent SADC report, which reported claims by the opposition that the Thomas Thabane-led government is on a mission to persecute its leaders, some of whom have since fled the country.
Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, his deputy Tšeliso Mokhosi, and Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, fled the country in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 elections.
Mr Metsing, who is also the Member of Parliament for Mahobong, fled the country in August this year, claiming that he had received a tip-off that the police were on their way to his Ha Lobiane home-town to arrest and kill him.
However, Prime Minister Thabane rejected Mosisili’s claims in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times two weeks back. The premier described Mr Metsing as a “fugitive from justice” who had run away to avoid being arrested and jailed over allegations that he took bribes from a company, Bravo Construction, in exchange of lucrative road construction tenders. The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) had investigated Mr Metsing’s accounts and unearthed substantial cash deposits which the former deputy prime minister was said to have failed to explain.
Mr Mokhosi, a former Minister of Defence and National Security, who is facing murder charges, fled the country in September immediately after he was released on bail, alleging that his life was in danger. Mr Mokhosi also accused police of brutally assaulting him, charges the LMPS vehemently denied.
Mr Mokhosi was charged, alongside four police officers, for the murder of Police Constable, Mokalekale Khetheng, who was last seen in March 2016 at a traditional feast in Sebothoane, Leribe, while being arrested by his colleagues. Constable Khetheng was killed after he had allegedly rejected pressure to falsely implicate Dr Thabane in violence and arson attacks.
Mr Mokhothu fled in September alleging that he had seen his name on an alleged hit-list. But Dr Thabane’s coalition has since dismissed all these claims as self-serving rhetoric from opposition leaders afraid to stand trial for an assortment of alleged crimes.
The same report also said that opposition parties, non-governmental organisations and some civil society organisations remained apprehensive that the SADC contingent force could be used by the government to persecute its opponents.
“In view of the negative perceptions by the opposition regarding the deployment of the SADC Force, it is recommended that a clear communication and public relations strategy be designed and implemented prior to and during the deployment.
“Elements of the strategy may include conducting an education campaign on the overall objectives of SADC, particularly with respect to politics, defence and security co-operation amongst member states and citizens,” reads the part of the report.
However, Mr Cardoso yesterday made a “humble plea” to Basotho not to regard the SADC force as “invaders or intruders”.
“We are brothers and sisters from the (SADC) region willing to share with Basotho the building of a new dawn of stability, peace and prosperity for all,” Mr Cardoso said.
For his part, Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, welcomed the SADC mission, saying it would galvanise Lesotho into implementing of the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Enquiry.
“Your presence here today bears witness to yet another historic and firm resolve by SADC to support the Kingdom of Lesotho in her quest to institute reforms aimed at achieving lasting political, security, stability necessary for economic development and general well-being of the Basotho.
“It is our strong conviction that the presence of this mission is necessary to establish a secure, stable, peaceful environment conducive for the implementation of the decisions, recommendations of the SADC Commission of Enquiry on constitutional, parliamentary, judicial, public service, and security sector reforms,” he said at the launch.
The SADC Commission of Inquiry was established in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of former LDF commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015 by his erstwhile colleagues.
The 10-member commission led by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015. Among its recommendations was the implementation of constitutional, parliamentary, judicial, public service, and security sector reforms in Lesotho.
Mr Moleleki reiterated the government’s commitment towards the implementation of the reforms, saying, “We are cognisant of the fact that this process will demand our firm leadership and strong conviction emboldened with necessary political will to rise to the occasion”.
“To this end and in consultation with other stakeholders, all necessary efforts are being made to bring back the leaders of some political parties that are in exile to come home and participate meaningfully in the reform process for the betterment of our country and our people,” Mr Moleleki said.
The ceremony was also attended by high ranking government officials including cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and heads of the country’s security agencies.