Mmegi Blogs :: Enemy within or without?
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Last Updated
Monday 17 December 2018, 16:18 pm.
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Enemy within or without?

At Independence, Botswana was encircled by hostile regimes: the apartheid government of Hendrik Verwoerd to the East and South, and to the West, South West Africa (Namibia) colonised by the same apartheid administration in defiance of the UN world body; to the North was Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) ruled by Ian Smith who had arrogantly declared ‘unilateral Independence’ from Britain to rule the country for the next 1000 years as colony of white settlers.
By Michael Dingake Tue 21 Feb 2017, 15:35 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Enemy within or without?








The two states were hostile to the fledgling sovereign Botswana. All Batswana knew it, the entire world knew it. Botswana had no army to defend herself against the impending hostility across her borders; nevertheless, she believed her foremost priority was to consolidate her Independence in priority areas: education, health and general social welfare. It wasn’t until 11 years into Independence that the ruling BDP succumbed to the nagging by the opposition Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) leader, the late Hon PG Matante to form  the Botswana Defence Force  (BDF), at least to show intent to  resist, if shove came to push.

The army wasn’t priority but symbolic, in the resistance to external aggression and bully politics. There were bigger and more urgent priorities; moreover it was unaffordable. The budget there was insufficient even for recurrent expenditures, primarily civil servants’ salaries - understandable. The opposition wasn’t wrong either; faced with the imminent hostile environment, the opposition feared the Independence project was in jeopardy and could be snuffed out in its infancy without a whimper in  theory or  in action. The formation of the BDF in 1977 was a good strategy to draw attention to the vulnerability of the newly-independent Botswana to the rogue states encircling her; Lesoma massacre of 15 new recruits ambushed by Ian Smith forces was a wake-up call to the community of nations, that the apartheid duo of South Africa and white Rhodesia required close monitoring, lest it imperilled the UN de-colonisation project.

Immediate reaction of the international community to the Lesoma incident will be conjecture, I’ve no records; but there can be no doubt that the traumatic attack against Botswana by the Rhodesian army pricked the conscience of the international community and revolted peace-lovers around the globe. The threat posed by the racist states to UN decolonisation programme was a new challenge demanding new sacrifices. Following the Independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, the advent of the democratic RSA, 1994 and the solidarity and activities of Southern African Development Community (SADC), the potential guarantor of the regional peace dividend, who needs hangers-on?

 Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security (MDJS) got the third largest share of 2.7 billion pula in the current budget, inordinate share of the vote being for the BDF. Surprisingly Hon Minister Shaw Kgathi’s grumblings and mumblings grow in volume. Like Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens character, the Minister wants more: “I hear a very naïve outlook where people are saying, we are not at war. You pay insurance not because you are likely to cause an accident but just to ensure your life…” Profound Hon

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Kgathi philosophy!! Of course we are not at war, but our lives can’t be ensured by an army that has killed more Batswana than the imaginary enemy outside! “Acts of terrorism - we never know, they have no appointments…” continues our Minister philosopher! Implicit in the philosophy: since Batswana know we have pig farmers around, they can buy pigs in pokes? No, Sir! Batswana reject your archaic, decadent and reckless philosophy. Kindly save Batswana from speculative planning! Let’s deal with facts and nothing but facts. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Finance Minister tells us, we have a deficit budget, for goodness sake! Ga gona madi!

I’d agree we need a skeleton army to patrol borders, monitor game poachers and other foreign criminal elements. Threats of external invasion exist in minds that seek the false prestigious status of the North Korean, Kim Jung Un’s nuclear arsenal! Kim has a gripe with South Korea and the US. What’s our gripe and against whom? Our enemy is within, not without. He/she lurks in many disguises and numerous forms of poverty: Poverty in incomes, poverty in employment opportunities, poverty in personal security(Batswana are exposed to assorted crimes), poverty in quality education, poverty in women empowerment, poverty in uncorrupt leadership, poverty in crime prevention. These challenges are the real enemy, the enemy within!  

Costa Rica a small Latin American country, abolished its army in 1948. Reports show that it’s flourishing in other spheres, particularly education, health, employment and poverty reduction. At the Botswana Society symposium whose theme was ‘Quality of life,’ 1996, the keynote speaker, Dr Richard Jolly, was full of praise for Botswana in a few respects, but noted in shock that her military budget increased from 1.1 percent of the GDP in 1985 to 4.6 percent in 1994. Richard Jolly will be utterly devastated to learn the military budget vote has shot up to 16.7 percent in 2017-2018 and Minister wants more!!

Dr Jolly told his former student, Dr Festus Mogae, then Vice President, that development economics he taught him at Oxford was outdated and needed revision. Priorities needed reviewing in the context of today’s enlightenment. What Botswana needs is drastic cuts on military hardware; since we have the size of the army we have, it would be unwise to disband it due to the unemployment crisis, we face. Instead, the army should be equipped and retrained in new skills, to play a new role in mufti, when the economy revives. Meantime, accommodation shortage should be addressed, it’s good investment. Police department should be refurbished. Its work hasn’t started!

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