Four inter-related news items caught my eye last week. Working chronologically backwards, came Mmegi (September 27) with its report on the attack of Dutch tourists, all in their 70s, who had left Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg on their way to their hotel.
The next (same issue) had the headline, ‘More Billions beckon for BDF’. Then came Monitor’s article on September 25, ‘Mbulawa, Divisional Police Commander, wants a Helicopter for North Central Division’. And then, finally, the Guardian’s comment, ‘Botswana Will Definitely Lose Sedudu Island to Namibia’.
Three of these articles concerned personal security whilst one revolved around territorial integrity. But first things first – the comparative costs involved. The government’s budget for the new financial year will provide for a revenue of PP58.8 billion and for expenditure of P66.9 billion with an unstated part of the increased chunk going to security, the BDF, police and prisons with the BDF apparently getting the lion’s share.
Economic and Policy Secretary, Taufila Nyamadzabo variously explained that these items are included as part of good governance and strengthening of national security designed to safeguard territorial integrity and sovereignty and ensure public safety and protection.
As a country, he explained, you must feel protected, spending money on defence is a form of security. The implication, it seems, is that national security is deemed by the government to be of far greater concern than personal security.
But how would increased military spending ensure the country’s territorial integrity in respect of, say, a Sedudu, an uninhabited island in the middle of the Chobe River? Will the fighter jets and tanks bring Namibia to its knees? Similarly, how will increased military expenditure with weapons and equipment upgrading help in dealing with a situation akin to those elderly Dutch tourists? The question is neither fanciful nor absurd. If the government is planning for every possible eventuality it must factor in an ability to cope with a situation of this kind.
To think that it cannot happen here would be foolish. Indeed, something of the kind must have been in the minds of the DISS when, a few years back. It held a mock exercise at the SSK airport terminal using live rounds.
But were it to happen here, the impact on tourism would be disastrous, as it is likely be for South Africa. And then there was Mbulawa’s plaintive plea that the government should spare him a helicopter for crucial policing needs in the Palapye area. Just a helicopter. Nothing more. Can this really be so difficult to provide? Seemingly it is, if we take account of the reaction of distinguished economist,
Jefferis commented that the message of prudent allocation of resources appears to have fallen on deaf ears. He continued, ‘I still see spending decisions that don’t make much sense. Decisions about spending must be about rational allocation.’ In other words, he is clearly stating that in his opinion, they are irrational.
But you and I now need to try and work out why the rational for the one is irrational for the other? This seems to come down to a choice between national and personal security with the one being much more favoured than the other, clearly a highly skewed preference. But given the choice, which of those two would all of us prefer? I think that it’s obvious.
The problem, I believe, stems from an absence of information about national security not least because, it is maintained, providing us with such information would automatically lead to national insecurity.
Therefore, the voter and taxpayer cannot, in his /her own interests be given information about military and security expenditure.
This kind of argument, however, does come at a very real cost because it demonstrates that the government adjudges the ordinary man, the taxpayer and the voter as being incapable of understanding the apparently complex issues that are involved and to know what might be best for him.
The BDP is desperate to win the next election, but when it comes to national security it makes no pretence that it is other than dismissive of the voter.
It simply does not care. What kind of concerns might be involved which ensure that the government can afford to risk so much? They must be enormous.
And whatever they are, they are not shared by either the police nor the prisons. Too little, therefore, has changed from the pre-Independence days when the Dikgosi, on our behalf, decided everything, they being so much better informed, so much better equipped to decide and so much more mature than ourselves.
In sum, as far as national security is concerned, we are, after 50 years, back where we started.
The several millions of us are still led by a very few, as in the pre-Independence days, who decide whatever they want and are without obligation to explain anything to the supposedly ignorant masses. None of this makes much sense, does it?