MASERU, Lesotho — On Wednesday, October 31, 2012, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), in partnership with U.S. Embassy Maseru, held a symposium titled “Legislative Oversight of the Security Sector.” The gathering of approximately 40 officials and community members was organized by the Lesotho Community Chapter of the Washington, D.C.–based ACSS and included discussions on civil-military relations. The symposium took place against a backdrop of the upcoming U.S. election and Lesotho’s May elections, which resulted in the country’s first peaceful electoral transition of power and first coalition government.
Dignitaries attending the opening ceremony of the October 31, 2012, symposium included The Honorable Sephiri Motanyane, Speaker of the National Assembly of Lesotho; Ambassador Michele Thoren Bond, the U.S. Ambassador to Lesotho; and Mr. Pitso Makosholo, acting Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Lesotho.
In his opening remarks, Motanyane noted that the nation’s increased stability and security directly support economic development initiatives. Motanyane, who has been connected to parliament since the nation of 2 million people gained independence in 1966, has lived through election annulments in 1970, a 1986 coup, and the 1994 military-supported government takeover before democracy was restored with free elections in 1998. Motanyane was selected in 1999 to attend the first-ever Africa Center for Strategic Studies event, the inaugural Senior Leaders Seminar in Senegal, shortly after ACSS was established to promote security dialogue across Africa. Motanyane spoke of the dramatic increase in the professionalism of the Lesotho Defence Force over the past two decades.
“I say today, the military we have today is very different from the military of yesterday because of the interaction that we have with other military establishments of the world, particularly that of the United States of America,” Motanyane told the government and civil officials at the symposium.
“The May 2012 elections were universally acknowledged to be free and fair,” Motanyane told the gathering, which included Lieutenant General K.T. Kamoli, commander of the Lesotho Defence Force. “The only military involvement,” he said, “was to use helicopters to deliver ballots to remote mountain locations.”
“You did your job, and the outcome of that free and fair election is that it produced a credible government,” Motanyane said, adding, “… it is credible because the instrument that brought it to power was credible.”
Ambassador Bond said “the Africa Center symposium was well-timed, in light of the U.S. election scheduled for November 6 and of the recent Lesotho national election. Only five months ago, Lesotho held free and fair elections that resulted in a peaceful transfer of power and the first coalition government in Lesotho’s history.”
“All political parties involved deserve credit for competing vigorously in the election, and accepting the results as the legitimate will of the people,” Ambassador Bond said. “I would also like to highlight the responsible role that the Lesotho Defence Force played in this election. Soldiers remained in their barracks all day, except to deliver ballots. This historic election and peaceful transition is a vivid demonstration of the continued maturation of Lesotho’s democratic institutions. It will stand as a powerful example to future generations of Basotho, and to the rest of the world, of democracy in action.”
Ambassador Bond stressed that, no matter which candidate wins the U.S. presidential election, the United States would continue to have a strong partnership with Lesotho. Under the U.S. Constitution, she said, the elected president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, embodying civilian control of the military.
Over the past two years, Bond said, the U.S. Embassy in Maseru has sponsored 11 officers from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) for training in U.S. military schools and institutions for courses that include leadership and transnational threats. The United States would be interested in Lesotho one day using its hard-earned military professionalism to contribute to peacekeeping missions, she said.
“The LDF has long played a critical role in providing humanitarian assistance to the farthest reaches of the Mountain Kingdom,” Ambassador Bond said. “I hope that, given its experience and demonstrated commitment to excellence, the LDF will develop its capacity to contribute to humanitarian efforts and possibly even peacekeeping operations on the African continent.”
In his remarks, Mr. Makosholo, the acting Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Defence, recognized the importance of previous ACSS visits, which included a May 2011 symposium on the appropriate role of the military in elections.
The theme of democratic control and civil-military relations is particularly resonant following Lesotho’s successful 2012 elections, Makosholo said.
“The key word in civil-military relations is civil control,” he said.
“Civil control means the obedience and respect which the military owes to the state,” Makosholo said. “Like other Institutions, the military has a duty of loyalty to the state which employs them on behalf of the citizenry. What is important to note is that, in that arrangement, the military advises on the formulation of defense policy and assist on its implementation. It does not make the defense policy. The legitimate political authority makes the defense policy with the advice and assistance from the military.”
Makosholo added that “Civilian control is an essential aspect of a democratic government. This is a condition, which ensures that the military operates in accordance with the constitution and the wishes of Parliament.” However, he added, “The control measures are not aimed at interfering in operational matters and the military chain of command.”
In addition to the October 31 symposium, ACSS faculty and U.S. Embassy staff took part in an October 30 roundtable discussion with approximately 75 officers of all ranks from the Lesotho Defence Force, discussing civil-military relations. The discussions were led by Dr. Mathurin Houngnikpo, the ACSS Academic Chair for Civil Military Relations. Also taking part in the events were: Mr. Vince Crawley, ACSS Deputy Director for Communications and Community Affairs; Mr. Kareem Oweiss, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations; and Ms.Amelia Carvalho, Community Affairs Specialist.
The visit to Lesotho was part of the ACSS Topical Outreach Program Series (TOPS). TOPS are short duration academic outreach visits conducted in partnership with U.S. Embassies to maintain and deepen collaborative relationships with security professionals who have participated in past ACSS programs.
ACSS is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and conducts seminars, symposiums, and conferences across Africa and in the United States to encourage dialogue and seek African-led security policies that promote civil-military cooperation, respect for democratic values, and the safeguarding of human rights. More than 6,000 security professionals and experts in related fields have taken part in ACSS programs.