Overview: Saturday June 3, 2017 marks the most pivotal day in recent Lesotho political history. It is a day almost similar to the Freedom Day in South Africa, when the oppressive apartheid years were swept away through a popular vote amidst the tension.
In Lesotho, the elections have the symbolism of a freedom run. It will mark a day when the people decide to wrest their sovereignty from the militia which has terrorised them for almost five years. The June 2017 election in Lesotho is not about sorting out differing economic and/or social policies; it is largely an election to sweep away the militia and renew Lesotho’s damaged international image.
This is why there has been a dearth of critical contestations about the economy, education and other fields. In this election there have not been any big debates about political and economic policies. The only questions which these elections will resolve revolve around security and accountability. Ultimately the implementation of SADC decisions following the report of the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry is what will unlock the country’s prospects to formulate and implement other policies. Security is the foundation of human survival. Where people are not safe, they cannot adequately decide whether to invest in any field since they are insecure. This is why security issues predominates the debate about the future of Lesotho in this election. Lest we forget the main issues which could have been clouded by the noise from political rallies of the past week, let us remind all about what these elections are about. What has propelled us to hold these elections in 2017?
Overriding security challenges
Shortly after the 2015 elections, Mosisili became Prime Minister again and immediately re-instated Kamoli as Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). Almost immediately a crackdown in the LDF was launched against all those soldiers who were perceived to have celebrated when Kamoli was removed from office by the then Prime Minister Thabane. Under an operation which was said to be a suppression of a mutiny, more than sixty soldiers were detained, tortured severely and later some of them were charged of mutiny. They remained in the Maximum Security Prison for almost two years and their cases have not yet begun in the Court Marshal. Pressure from the United States finally paid off as all of them were released from the Maximum Security Prison into what is called open arrest.
The second batch of about twenty three soldiers fled the country and continues to live in South Africa. Their salaries were stopped and their families were booted from the barracks. They continue to live in South Africa with no means of livelihood. Their status in South Africa is ambiguous since they are not classified as refugees. It is a totally miserable existence.
But more serious was the cold blooded murder of the former Commander of the LDF Lt. General Mahao by a special team which had been set up to suppress the mutiny. Not satisfied with killing him and blocking investigations on his murder, LDF has withheld his personal belongings and refused to pay his benefits to his family. It is a case of vindictiveness and sadistic behaviour incomparable!
At the same time all the leaders of the opposition parties which had been represented in Parliament fled to exile for fear of their life, only to return two years later. Other than the fact that Kamoli has officially left the LDF, nothing had changed when they returned to Lesotho in March 2017. Thee ironic thing is that, Cyril Ramaphosa, the SADC Facilitator who had been charged with facilitating their return did not do anything tangible for their return. The only thing he did was to fly in on the day of their return ostensible to welcome them back in Lesotho.
It is as a result of these developments that SADC formed and later accepted the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Phumaphi from Botswana. Despite several Communiqués and letters to the Lesotho government, the decisions have not been implemented except to release Kamoli from the Command of the LDF; and to talk reform in order block reform. Talking reform was a stratagem to put wool on the eyes of SADC that reforms are on the way while the government was determined to prevent key processes leading to reform. But even with that charade of reform, it was clear to all that reforms could only be implemented with the concurrence of the opposition parties. They would not have given in without the return of their leaders from exile.
The question of impunity by those with guns looms high in these elections. Impunity for those with guns and those who provide them with political cover has led us into a situation where the law does not operate when you are in either the military or hold political office. Paragraph 138 of the Phumaphi Report makes the following damning observation, “… the LDF became a law unto itself, this is corroborated by warrants of arrest issued on the 17th April 2014 for High Treason against Brig. Mokaloba, Major Lekhoa, Major Ntoi, Captain Hashatsi, second Lieutenant Nyakane, second Lieutenant Hlehlisi, Corporal Mokhesuoe, and Lance Corporal Mpolokeng Moleleki, and another warrant of arrest issued on the on the September 29, 2014 for Treason against Kamoli, Captain Hashatsi, Brigadier Mokaloba, Lt. Colonel Phaila, second Lt. Nyakane, second Lt. Hlehlisi, second Lt. Moeletsi, Major Ntoi.” It is not surprising that most of those alleged to have committed these serious crimes have now been promoted twice within eighteen months and of those several have skipped ranks.
The issue was to ensure that the junior officers who have now been elevated above those of their seniors whom they had detained and tortured and/or exiled can legitimately be able to work with their former seniors in the event that those are reinstated into the army.
Another issue was to ensure that the suspects are now part of the Command holding all the strategic positions in order to entrench impunity. This means that most of the suspects in serious crimes are now in total control of the LDF. This is a situation whereby the army has now been turned into a militia, completely lacking professionalism. Like in the mafia, what is dominant is the politics of survival of the mob particularly those who head it.
I have argued above that the dominant issue about these elections revolves around ending impunity by smashing the criminal gang which has now completely captured all security structures. The army, police and national security structures are now dominated by the suspects in serious crimes. The establishment of the Special Support Unit, a joint police and army unit, has
On corruption and patronage
While the security nightmare has been the major reason why we are where we are, corruption has triggered the present rejection of the government by a considerable number of people. One of the sources of anger of people about corruption revolves around the Bidvest Bank vehicle scheme. The corrupt procedures for the engagement into the security agencies and; the deployment of Mosisili’s children, relatives and allies in all key sectors in the public service provide other source grievances
l The Bidvest Bank fleet management deal has proved to be one of the most corrupt deals Lesotho has been faced with for some time. Not only did the deal break all procumbent guidelines, but Bidvest did not bid for the job but was awarded the contract at exorbitant rates which were not affordable. But more importantly the terms of the contract were so lopsided that they could have only been signed by a person who at best was naive and at worst had vested interests in the deal. First the rates were almost two times of what the previous vehicle supplier charged. But more importantly, the government was barred from cancelling the contract unless it bought all the vehicles which were under the contract. The catch is that most of the vehicles which Bidvest Bank provided were the 2006 to 2008 models. They were too old for the purposes they were meant to achieve. The government ultimately conceded that the contract was unaffordable.
l Another corrupt scheme which has angered a lot of young people is the employment into the security services. A conspiracy was hatched to employ recruits into all the security agencies on the basis of their membership of the parties in the ruling coalition. While thousands of young people applied for jobs in those, only those who were preselected from the supporters of the parties in the ruling coalition on a proportional basis succeeded. In an affidavit submitted to the High Court one Makhalemele testified how he was dispatched to Mokhotlong to identify potential employees in the police and army. They were offered the jobs. Similarly the former Minister of Police, Monyane Moleleki who left the Democratic Congress revealed how the scheme was devised and implemented. This reveals the extent of the rot in the government.
l As part of Mosisili’s attempts to rule from the grave a raft of appointments of his relatives and allies have recently been appointed to key positions in the public service and the government entities. Prominent is the appointment of Mosisili’s son a Chief Delegate in the Lesotho Highland Water Commission. He had earlier appointed his son-in- law as Ambassador in Switzerland. Several other people were also posted in other positions including the appointment of a South African judge as President of the Court of Appeal a month before the elections. All these appointments had only one objective, to ensure that the successor government would have considerable difficulty to run the government because of the planted people in all sectors of the public sector.
The above are just reminders that the elections will not immediately deal with the bread and butter issues but will have to untangle the web which Mosisili has woven in the security sector, the public service. Unwinding corruption which has become institutionalised will be another major task. No wonder why the focus of the political parties has been less on policies and more on removing the existing regime. Similarly, Mosisili and his allies too focused on how to retain power, rather than how to deal with the bread and butter issues. The nearest he came to talking about anything other than power was his promise to build a railway network in Lesotho!
Lesotho has been going through a crisis which has brought about a lot of international concern over a long period. It is now at the crossroads where it can continue with the old ways which have led us into a cul-de-sac. On the other hand the country has a rare opportunity to wriggle out of the crisis which has tarnished the image of the country.
As people go to the polls two days from now they will certainly remember that those countries like Botswana which have been nurturing our self-made crisis are now threatening to abandon us. It could be that other countries are equally fed up even though they may have not yet expressed it. The tone of the discussions during the SADC Summit in Swaziland is a clear indicator that we are now regarded as akin to wayward kids.
For Basotho therefore the following reminders are appropriate and they have to take appropriate action on Election Day:
l We have in the Command structures of our military who have avoided prison by threatening anybody who dares investigate their crimes;
l We have a militia which has emerged from the LDF which by threats, bombings and other destabilisation methods have ensured that a government collapses. The rebellion leading to an attempted coup has not been dealt with;
l We have twenty three soldiers who are still in exile, while others are still facing a Court Marshal for a non-existing mutiny;
l We have known suspects in the military who have murdered Lt. General Mahao, Sub-Inspector Ramahloko and several others continuing to avoid prosecution.The above is what this election is about. It is about normalising the rule of law and ensuring that people are accountable for their actions.
We wish all our compatriots who have not yet voted a thoughtful and decisive vote on Saturday June 3, 2017. For me my vote will bring freedom to Lesotho!
*Sejanamane is a political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho. He is also a political commentator. This article is reproduced with his explicit authority