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Lesotho - Military Doctrine

Lesotho's growth as an emerging regional military partner is significant. Senior military leaders have publicly embraced AFRICOM and its objectives; the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) participates fully in all USG training opportunities, encourages professionalism within its ranks and respect for rule of law and human rights, and serves as the logistical backbone of the nation's domestic crisis response; Lesotho supports regional peacekeeping operations (including Sudan and the SADC standby brigade); Lesotho signed an Article 98 Agreement in 2006; and the nation plays a helpful military/security leadership role within regional organizations (including the Southern African Development Community).

The Ministry of Defence and National Security upholds the Vision that by the year 2020 Lesotho shall be a stable democracy, a united and prosperous nation at peace with itself and its neighbors. The Defence Force Act, enacted by the Lesotho Parliament in 1996, provides for the structure, organization, and administration as well as discipline of the armed forces and matters related thereto. Establishment of the Ministry of Defence in 1995 institutionalized civilian control of the forces by an elected civil authority as well as the enhancement of accountability of the forces to the executive and legislative branches. The removal of the armed forces from partisan politics made the military more professional in its execution of national duties.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane once told a Maseru newspaper, “Political stability requires the army to release its grip on politics and take a back seat. The army’s interference in the running of the country is at the root of the Lesotho security crisis.” Politicians’ meddling with the security forces is not something to ignore, as it has been the elephant in the Lesotho political room since the 1970s.

Since independence in 1966, Lesotho has undergone a number of military coups. The history of military involvement in Lesotho politics dates back to 1970 when Chief Jonathan, then Prime Minister of Lesotho and leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), lost the general elections to the opposition Basutoland Congress Party (BCP). Instead of handing over power, Jonathan declared a state of emergency, arrested and detained leaders of the opposition and established a mono-party state. That action set in motion an authoritarian agenda characterised by brute force, naked oppression and de facto one-party rule that lasted sixteen years.

Both internal and external factors led to the establishment of a modern defence force in Lesotho. Internal factors were primarily the power struggles between the then ruling BNP and opposition parties. The former believed that it had to beef up the security machinery in order to enhance its political edge over the opposition. External factors were the deteriorating relations between the Basotho National Party (BNP) government and the apartheid regime in South Africa, which presented a serious external security threat. Pretoria had assisted the opposition Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) to establish the Lesotho Liberation Army to mount a proxy war. Lesotho was seen as being too sympathetic to the African National Congress, whihc eventuated in the the South African Defence Force military incursion into Lesotho in 1982 that killed 42 people.

The division and tension among the armed forces which persist even today, is the by-product of politicised control over national security and the root cause of the country’s security crisis which surfaced during the general election in May 1998. The Lesotho Congress for Democracy won the election, however, the opposition party claimed that the election procedures were fraudulent. This led to armed conflict between opposition supporters and the police forces, and the armed forces from the Southern African Development Community intervened.

A force of 600-800 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops, led by white officers, stormed into their country's tiny independent neighbor, to prop up a tottering and discredited government. By one count, at least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died and large parts of Maseru were damaged during the political stand-off and subsequent fighting.

By another account at least 113 people — unconfirmed figures put the death toll as high as 134 — were killed in the first three days of the assault, at least 50 on the first day. Most of the dead were members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). At least 47 civilians were killed.

Despite notable development of an independent election comrmssion, peaceful participation by a high percentage of voters, and near unammous observer praise for the election, a pattern of post-election opposition-led unrest severely challenged the country's democratic progress. The post-election vlolence that culmnated in an overturned coup attempt exposed lingering problems with Lesotho's military. As the country's political parties negotiated a new electoral model, the government undertook an effort to demoblllze, de-politicize, and establish democratic civilian control of its armed forces.

The 2014 coup was caused by a rift between the All Basotho Convention, the ruling party of Lesotho led by Prime Minister Thabane and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, the opposition party led by Deputy Prime Minister Metsing, and the Commander of the Defense Forces, Mr. Kamoli. In July, Prime Minister Thabane shuttered the parliament as he looked poised to lose a non-confidence vote. Consequently, the Lesotho armed forces occupied the police stations and the prime minister fled the country.

Military units in Lesotho surrounded government and police buildings and gunfire was heard . Prime Minister Tom Thabane said 30 August 2014 that the army had taken over government buildings and he planned to try to return to the country. The military seized control of the tiny police headquarters and jammed radio stations and phones in the early hours.

The attempted assassination of the top military commander plunged Lesotho into further turmoil, following an apparent coup that forced the prime minister to flee to South Africa. Gunmen attacked the Maseru home of Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, district police commissioner Mofokeng Kolo confirmed, deepening a seeming battle for control of the military. The pre-dawn attack was reportedly unsuccessful, killing only a dog.

"The armed forces, the special forces of Lesotho, have taken the headquarters of the police," Thesele Maseribane, sports minister and leader of the Basotho National Party, said. "The [military] commander said he was looking for me, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister to take us to the king. "In our country, that means a coup," he said.

Lesotho's former military commander took control of the country's Elite Special Forces Unit 07 September 2014, apparently in preparation for a possible stand-off. The unit includes around 40 highly-trained troops and the military's intelligence division. Lieutenant general Tlali Kamoli has refused to step down as the commander of the Lesotho defence force after he was fired for alleged corruption involving millions of rand. Kamoli had been accused of destabilising the mountain kingdom last week after he apparently plotted a coup.

The serious human rights violations were denounced in a joint statement of the Episcopal Commission of Lesotho and the "Lesotho Law Society and Transformation Resource Centre". The document, published on June 24, denounced torture, arbitrary arrests and intimidation of family members of soldiers arrested in connection with the failed coup in late August 2014.

In order to overcome the crisis, the statement proposes the creation of a Commission of Inquiry, composed of personalities from within and outside Lesotho, who will have to determine the responsibility of the situation in the Country. "What is certain - states the document - is that the causes of the crisis are within the armed forces".

The intervention of South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa brokered a settlement after Kamoli’s coup attempt last year. The deal brought forward elections, which had been scheduled for 2017, to February 2016. Under the deal, the feuding security chiefs, Mahao, Kamoli and Tsooana were all removed from their posts to try to restore stability. But Mosisili immediately re-appointed Kamoli to his former position as head of the army and the violence began soon after.

In early July, the South African leadership called the situation in Lesotho "explosive", after the killing of the former Chief of Staff, General Maaparankoe Mahao, who according family members was murdered 25 June 2015 by men wearing military uniforms, who drove army vehicles. Mahao – whom Thabane appointed as army commander last August after firing Kamoli – was stopped by three Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) trucks as he left his farm on the outskirts of Maseru and shot in front of his two children.

Lesotho’s Defence Force (LDF) chief should not be allowed to continue to disobey a court order, Amnesty International said 20 January 2016 ahead of his court appearance for failure to comply with a High Court order to release 18 soldiers from military detention. Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli was charged with contempt of court after failing to honor a court order requiring the release of soldiers on “open arrest”, a form of military bail. The soldiers were detained between May and June 2015 for their alleged participation in a mutiny.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2017 19:52:26 ZULU