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Army, police must work in harmony



MAJOR General Matela Matobakele stirred a hornet’s nest when he launched a blistering attack on the police two weeks ago. He accused the police of gross incompetence which he said had now forced the army to do policing duties. Maj Gen Matobakele has since been asked by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to withdraw the offending comments and apologise to the police. However, we would not be surprised if there is a large section of Basotho society that privately shares Maj Gen Matobakele’s views on the Lesotho police.

In fact, we would be hard-pressed to find anyone who might not agree with the General’s sentiments given the police’s well-documented history of bungling, torture and incompetence. The only problem, in our opinion, was the man who was saying it. As deputy army commander, Maj Gen Matobakele occupies an extremely critical post in the security sector. The thinking, therefore, is that Maj Gen Matobakele should not be seen to be openly criticising another key arm of law enforcement. There is a section of society that thinks that as a military man, the General should be aware that some things are best left unsaid or at the very least are only whispered in the corridors.

If he has an opinion about the competence or otherwise of a key security agency, Maj Gen Matobakele should have used the appropriate channels to convey his opinions, doing so in a measured manner. That is critical if Lesotho is to avoid falling back into those dark days before 2017 when the army and the police had an extremely hostile relationship. Over the last four years SADC and our international developmental partners have worked their soaks off to mend relations between the army and our police.

Maj Gen Matobakele must not be seen to be undoing that whole work by antagonising a key ally in the security sector. Perhaps that is why Prime Minister Majoro has now asked Maj Gen Matobakele to apologise. That is not intended to humiliate the General. Instead, an apology to the police would go a long way in mending relations between the two entities. Maj Gen Matobakele appeared to speak as a frustrated man. Frustrated by what he saw as new demands being placed on the army as a direct result of the “incompetence” of the police.

We can therefore understand why Maj Gen Matobakele appeared so unguarded in his remarks. Generally speaking, it is not within the army’s expertise to do policing duties. Mistakes are therefore likely to be committed. The latest case in which the army commander Lieutenant General Letsoela is being sued for M24.5 million is a classic case of what we are talking about.

The army has had a terrible history of human rights violations over the decades. We have had soldiers dabbling in politics. Others have been implicated in serious crimes such as murder. By venturing into policing territory, excesses were likely to happen. The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) has not been clean either. We have expressed our concerns about the police’s interrogation tactics before.

To improve the LMPS’ efficiency, there is need for refresher courses for the police perhaps with a strong component on human rights law. We need a new, better trained police recruit who understands the nuances of modern policing. Once we have empowered the police we must quickly take the soldiers back to the barracks, away from handling any policing duties. The army cannot play the role of the police; it should only come in as a supporting act.


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