Picture: Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. (Africa Centre, Flickr)
Speculation has reached fever-pitch in Lesotho that Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli is to be offered the post of ambassador to China in exchange for stepping down as head of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
Earlier reports alleged that Kamoli was to be offered a generous financial settlement to step down. However, this was strenuously denied by the government amid suggestions that LDF soldiers were unhappy about the alleged offer.
An SADC commission of inquiry recommended early this year that Kamoli be removed as defence force commander as one of the conditions for healing divisions in the military and restoring peace and stability to Lesotho.
A highly controversial figure, Kamoli was widely seen as the instigator of an attempted coup in 2014 after then-premier Tom Thabane ousted him as defence force head and replaced him with Maaparankoe Mahao.
After last year’s elections the new coalition government of Pakalitha Mosisili reinstated him. A month later Mahau was shot dead at his farm while being arrested by soldiers for allegedly leading a mutiny.
“Immediate” removal not implented
The SADC’s call for Kamoli’s “immediate” removal has not been implemented, while other conditions set by the region – including the return of exiled opposition leaders to Lesotho – have also not been acted on.
At last week’s “Double Troika” SADC summit in Swaziland, regional leaders noted that a technical workshop was staged in July this year for Lesotho’s security forces on constitutional and other reforms.
They also noted the creation of a Lesotho Security Reform Committee to design, drive, manage, and draw roadmap for reform. However, it urged the Lesotho government to expedite its other recommendations.
AmaBhungane understands Kamoli’s removal has been complicated by divisions in Lesotho’s coalition government.
A week ago, Prime Minister Mosisili’s spokesperson, Motumi Ralejoe, confirmed there were difficulties over the issue, saying that “this is one of the most challenging conditions”.
A well-placed source said that in their meeting before last week’s SADC summit, Mosisili told SADC facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa that “he needs more time to sort out differences between his coalition allies”.
Ramaphosa allegedly disclosed during his working visit to Lesotho that there are two factions in the coalition government, one of which “insists that he [Kamoli] has done nothing wrong, and the other that the SADC recommendation must be implemented as soon as possible”.
The source said that coalition government leaders, including Democratic Congress leader Mosisili and Lesotho Congress for Democracy chief Mothetjoa, approached Lesotho’s attorney-general, Tsokolo Makhethe who advised them there are no legal grounds for dismissing the general.
AmaBhungane learnt this week that the option now being considered is to redeploy Kamoli as Lesotho’s ambassador to China.
The source said that the government has identified China as the only country that can accommodate Kamoli. Five other ambassadorial posts are vacant – in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, India and Switzerland – but none are seen as suitable for such a controversial figure.
Lesotho’s current ambassador to China, Lebohang Nts’inyi, is likely to be moved to one of the other vacant posts, the source said.
In an interview this week, Mosisili’s political adviser, Fako Likoti, refused to comment on speculation that the LDF head would be offered a senior diplomatic posting.
But he indirectly confirmed the sensitivities around the issue, saying that Kamoli is a “reliable, credible and disciplined soldier”, and that the report of the SADC commission charged with stabilising Lesotho had not implicated him in wrongdoing.
“Nowhere in the report does it say what he is guilty of, except where it claims that he forced opposition leaders to flee – and he was not even defence force chief at the time,” Likoti said.
He said that Mosisili, who “wants to satisfy everyone”, is seeking “an amicable solution” and continues to engage Kamoli.
“It’s a process”
Asked to comment on perceptions that the SADC process has become bogged down, Likoti said these were inaccurate. “It is a process. Some of the recommendations require legislation, some require policy, others discussions with the SADC.”
Likoti said the settlement process centred on constitutional, security, public sector and judicial reforms, and that Lesotho was about to launch a widely representative consultation with political parties, parliamentarians and civil society actors on the government roadmap for change.
Between 50 and 100 representatives would be invited to participate in the consultation, which would begin either this month or in October. “We want feedback on how the government’s plans can be modified,” he said.
Questioned on the inclusion of exiled opposition leaders, including former prime minister Tom Thabane, he said: “The government met them on five occasions to ask them to come back, sometimes together with the Christian Council of Lesotho. We could not make any headway.”
“Then the matter was turned over to Cyril Ramaphosa. I understand that he also ran into a brick wall.”
He said the oppositionists’ current demand for Kamoli’s removal as a condition for their return was new, and had not featured among their initial reasons for fleeing.
“In fact, when they went into exile Kamoli had not even been appointed LDF commander,” he said. He declined to say what he thought their real motive was, saying “this cannot come from me, it must come from them”.
Likoti said that a further process that had to be undertaken before the SADC recommendations were implemented was the passing of legislation granting amnesty to soldiers held in prison over an alleged mutiny.
Finding that there was no evidence that a mutiny had occurred, the SADC commission called for their release.
Likoti said the alleged mutineers had not been jailed by the government or the military. “The High Court of Lesotho found there was a case to answer, and when their lawyers appealed, the Appeal Court found the same.”
“If some or all of them are to be released, that will require legislation granting amnesty. Parliament must decide the terms of the amnesty and pass a law.”
At its previous summit in Gaborone, Botswana, in January this year, the SADC asked what progress had been made in investigating last year’s killing of former military chief Mahao.
Likoti said this was “a legitimate operation to arrest someone. But when arrests take place, sometimes mistakes happen. The investigation must be meticulous. The government has established a unit that combines the police and the army to get to the bottom of this thing.”
The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism produced this story. Like it? Be an amaB supporter and help us do more. Know more? Send us a tip-off.