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Key findings
  • Half (50%) of Basotho say they felt unsafe while walking in their neighbourhood at least once during the previous year. Close to six in 10 (58%) say they feared crime in their home.
  • Nearly nine in 10 Basotho (88%) believe that the homicide rate in the country has increased over the past five years.
  • About one in five citizens (21%) say they requested police assistance during the previous year. More than twice as many (55%) encountered the police in other situations, such as at checkpoints, during identity checks or traffic stops, or during an investigation.
  • More than half (52%) of citizens say that “most” or “all” police are corrupt – the third- worst rating among 13 institutions and leaders the survey asked about.
  • Only one-third (33%) of Basotho say they trust the police “somewhat” or “a lot.” The share of citizens who say they don’t trust the police “at all” has climbed by 20 percentage points since 2017.

On 16 June 2022, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service shot a National University of Lesotho student to death during a protest (Sunday Express, 2022) – another in a long line of alleged police abuses that include inhumane treatment of suspects, torture, and unlawful killings (U.S. State Department, 2021; Bertelsmann Foundation, 2022).

Calls for reform have highlighted police brutality as well as corruption and police performance (Post, 2022a). The security sector, including the police, form part of the national reforms agenda launched in 2017. Problems identified through the reforms process include the politicisation of the security agencies, whose leaders are appointed by the prime minister (National Reforms Authority, 2022a). The head of the police service is currently embroiled in court cases challenging his dismissal by the prime minister in 2020 and again in 2022 (Lesotho Times, 2020; Post, 2022b). The 10th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2022, passed by the National Assembly last month, removes the function of appointing the heads of these agencies from the office of the prime minister in order to address these challenges (National Reforms Authority, 2022b).

Basotho are also concerned about the country’s homicide rate, which at 44 per 100,000 population is the sixth-highest in the world and highest in Africa; the global homicide rate is six homicides per 100,000 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2019; World Population Review, 2022). It seems that there is no improvement on this issue, as the police recently reported that there were 144 murders during the two-month period of May-June 2022 (Public Eye, 2022), which would average to a homicide rate of 43 per 100,000.

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and assessments of police professionalism.

In Lesotho, citizens express strong reservations about the conduct and competence of the police. Amid a growing sense of insecurity in their neighbourhoods and homes, only one-third of Basotho say they trust the police, who rank high among the country’s institutions in perceived corruption.

A majority of Basotho say the police routinely torture or abuse people in their custody, use excessive force in dealing with criminals, and engage in criminal activities. Few think the police operate in a professional manner and respect citizens’ rights. And citizens overwhelmingly say the government is doing a bad job of reducing crime.

Libuseng Malephane

Libuseng Malephane is the national investigator for Lesotho.

Tosin Salau

Tosin Salau is a data analyst for Afrobarometer and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University.