Halt the army, save the money and democracy

Staff Writer
There should be heightened vigilance on the part of the constituency among the Batswana which seeks to uphold the ideal on which the country's democracy was founded following the deliberate and calculated incursion of soldiers into civilian politics.

There has been adequate warning that a drift towards entrenchment of the military and royalty upon the arena of democratic governance, which must, by definition, be led by civil society, spells danger for the very future of the foundations of that system of government.

It is noteworthy, as might have been noted in other contributions by this writer, that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), under no real threat to its hegemony over parliamentary domination, opted, perhaps in panic, canvassed the support of the soldiers and the kings in order to keep political supremacy.

The practice was subtle in the early years under first President Seretse Khama becoming abrasively pervasive in the mid 1990s.

In every instance when that has happened it spelt disaster for democracy. The examples of Emperor Hirohito of Japan and that of Chief Leabua Jonathan nearer home (in Lesotho), should offer a glimpse of things to come.

'Bogosi' is not decided on the basis of competence, but rather, on the basis of descent, usually through the father. Generally, the institution is inherently sexist and undemocratic.

Leadership of armies in Africa is associated largely with the desire of the earliest post independence rulers to protect their regimes against civil rebellion, by placing one of the president's blood at the helm of the army, or somewhere comfortably near the top.

That was the case in Zambia under Kenneth David Kaunda, as it was in Seretse Khama's Botswana.  In every other situation, a youth brigade of one sort or the other was put in place, with cousins and relatives of the ruler in the leadership, to ensure enforcement of acceptance of the ruler of the day, especially where there were signs of a thriving opposition.

In addition, there would be a vigorous women's brigade that would sing songs, ululate after the words of the praise poets, feed the dignitaries and assure them of the necessary comforts at celebrations of the leader of the day. This was good custom in Malawi, Zaire and all the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa, which created the likes of General Bantu Holomisa and Lucas Mangope.

The military and 'bogosi' will be the most conservative of institutions that hold back the forward march of democracy as it is designed by modern civilisation. Needless to say, the third of the institutions, which exhibits many, if not most, of the characteristics of the army and bogosi, is the church.

The leaders that combine soldiering with political leadership invariably seek the blessing of a god of one sort or the other.

So, there shall be obedience to God, respect for the chief and allegiance to the leader of the republic.

The three legs of conservatism stampede the rural constituencies where the church and the chiefs will prey upon the superstitions of the ill informed communities to foster deference to the 'tautona' who shall reside in a far off capital not easily accessible to the average citizens of the republic. The population will be kept busy with prayer and bickering over matters of bogosi such that they will only have reverence for the 'Big Lion' when he should decide to visit.

There shall be stupendous celebration and slaughtering of the last of the beasts that the ordinary tribes people will be compelled to donate to the 'big chief's' festivals, organised under the guard of the police forces and the parliamentary and council representatives.

In what the Zambians would have called 'the third republic', that of President Festus Mogae, really a man of the modern age of borderless capitalism - more appropriately named 'imperialism' by the earliest political scientists of the socialist ilk - the role of 'tautoana' would be thrust upon his vice president, himself a warrior even if he never fought a war, King and politician of the feudal type.

Little attention would be given to the fact that the history of democracy from Greek society to contemporary times, is the story of how the democratic state worked to rid itself of royalty, the army and the church in day to day matters of governance.

Over centuries, democracy found a way to subject soldiering to civilian authority, and to free governance from priestly intervention and interference from kings and queens.

That is precisely because each one of those institutions - at their most perilous when they act together - detracts from the necessity and right of the greater population which works to pay tax and finance the state to play a role in political decision making.

Where royalty is allowed to play a part in contemporary society, it is with the purpose of enriching national pride, tradition and the social rituals that keep the collective psychology of the people focused on the greater social purpose of development.

Freedom of worship is made accessible to every member of society so that there should not be wars arising from parochial allegiances to one God or the other, but more importantly, because matters of the conscience do not easily translate into practical instruments of governance.

The conservative leaders of Botswana society, particularly the type that attended the missionary schools, make the brave claim that the African societies that they lead are 'Christian' societies, mainly seeking to disown their own African forms of worship.

The most popular denominations now attempt to fit their traditional religions into the gospel of the Christian bibles resulting in cacophonious noise at the places of worship, and rampant looting and fraud by the church leadership, mostly West Africans.

The 'spiritual churches' in ways as varied as their numbers also, conform to, and help to preserve the institutions that foster deference to authority, God and tautona, against the democratic principle that seeks to expand popular participation in every facet of governance as an unconditional right of all good citizens.

The Americans revere war heroes, the most notable being General Ike Eisenhower, who directed the US army through World War II. The Americans believe him when he says he joined the army 'in order to protect democracy' because he did that out on the battle field.  He did not crawl into army fatigues that were already decorated with a general's stars. And after the American generals earned their stars, they were exposed to the rigours of the democratic process, the party primaries followed by the campaigns for election to the presidency or congress. There, they submit to civilian scrutiny of both their performance in the army and their potential to lead a


That system is qualitatively distinct from the one practised in Botswana where constitutional manipulation, tantamount to the highest political mischief, deliberately denies the civilian population the right to decide on the discipline and competence of the people who want to be president.

Far more importantly, a good argument can be made that the three pillars of conservatism - church, army and royalty - tend to arrest growth of the productive forces of society, even those of capitalism.

The Nazi generals and soldiers who served under Hitler will all claim that they took the whole world to a devastating war because of the compelling need for professional deference to the commander of the armed forces. "We were following orders," they all say. World War II and the other imperialist wars - there is one going on in Iraq - all destroyed the economic gains that were made over centuries, for the sake of a religious fanaticism based on racial purity, and a system of governance based on usurpation by the army of the sovereignty of free citizens to choose their leaders and mode of governance.

The same can be said of apartheid under General Smuts and the others who practised exclusion of the black population from the mainstream of development of the South African economy. In both these instances, there was something of a symbiotic convergence of the military, church and manipulation of royalty, which all conspired against economic development. As previously alluded to, the African kings were used not just to lead the apartheid instruments of Bantustans, but even in the neighbouring labour reserves such as the Bechuanaland Protectorate, the kings were employed to follow the 'homelands system' of South Africa.

The convergence of these conservative institutions of society has become strong enough in Botswana, that they overwhelmn the 'concerns' of tribal dominance of the Bangwato and regional prejudice in the appointment of leaders of government.

Mogae set aside Seretse's concerns with regional balance when he appointed Ketumile Masire his deputy at independence. Masire also appointed Lenyeletse Seretse his Vice President in order to avert accusations of regional prejudice and to placate the northerners after Seretse died.

But even Mogae's regime cast aside considerations of regional balance - he and Ian Khama are from Serowe - and insecurity about erosion of democracy spirit by chiking the system of governance with the military method.

Ian Khama's cabinet and appointments to key positions in the civil service further consolidate Ngwato hegemony at the head of the state and they strengthen the hand of the army in the running of the civil service.

There is no reason why the likes of Margaret Nasha, a woman of the south, or Daniel Kwelagobe, should not have been appointed to the position of vice president. Mogae's initiative in placing women in positions of leadership would have been continued. Nasha in a diplomat, a journalist, an artist and she has as credible a record of civil service experience as any other. And she is from gaNgwaketse.

Kwelagobe, from Molepolole, is a child of Domkrag and the most recognisable architect of the organisation who holds a wealth of knowledge about the traditions of the organisation and government.

The strengthening of the army in matters of governance preempts any prospect of debate about the parasitic nature of that institution.

Unguarded and frivolous military spending is hidden under a bible of security and intelligence laws which will not permit proper oversight of army spending.

There will be no debate about the viability of the army in a country with a population of less than two million, and an economy struggling under the weight of unfriendly environmental conditions that inhibit self sufficiency in food.

There will be abolition of discussion of army spending in a period when the middle classes and the poor and unemployed are now burdened with the responsibility of 'cost sharing' with the government in education and health without any guarantee of housing and electricity in the era of the knowledge-based societies where Internet connectivity should be a right or entitlement.

In civilised countries, one of the judgements of the efficacy of democracy will be the extent to which government spending on the military compares with expenditure on health and education. The information is deliberately hidden in Botswana so that even that attempt cannot be made. 

It will be even more difficult to propose gradual assimilation of the army into the police forces which should in any case be responsible for preventing poaching and promoting disaster preparedness.

The police may be afforded limited powers, supervised by parliament, to carry arms in restricted circumstances such as border patrols and protection of life and property to the extent that this will be possible.

The history of the army inspires no confidence that it has any capacity whatsoever, to act against a military threat to national sovereignty, or to act as a deterrent against armies of nations with populations over four times the size of Botswana. The 1985 South African Defence Force raid on Gaborone is a case in point.

Botswana is not enjoying the peace dividend to which it is entitled on account of the passing of the liberation struggles of southern Africa which invited the Rhodesians and the South Africans to Botswana and the other small independent countries of the region.

Japan has proved to be a good example of how a small country can forefeit the conventional fighting army in favour of refurbishment of the economic resources of the country which have now earned that country a leading space among the prospering economies of the globe.

Botswana has long served as an outpost of the American and British imperialism in southern Africa, and everything suggests that it has not lost that status.

The extent of military dealings and intelligence cooperation between the western countries and Botswana demonstrates that the country still remains the blue-eyed boy of capitalist expansion in the southern region, even as South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe hold out greater prospects on account of their populations, extensive infrastructure and other economic assets. Botswana can rely on British and American protection, as it already does.

Militarisation of the state and governance, does not only threaten the position of civil society which should be at the centre of the democratic process, it also diminishes prospects of a thoroughgoing debate on how best to shift budgetary emphasis away from that big hole at the army, to legitimate civilian interests.



The wars of poultry industry

Latest Frontpages

Todays Paper Todays Paper Todays Paper Todays Paper Todays Paper Todays Paper