“The King was, notwithstanding, always on his legs examining everything of consequence with his own eyes, and indeed we were astonished at the precautions, foresight, and military skill used by this intrepid Chief, which indicated a practical knowledge of his profession that would not have disgraced any European general.”
Sebego as described by Bain, August 27, 1826.
Notwithstanding Botswana’s post-independence status as one of the world’s most peaceful jurisdictions, our previous installment asserted that armed struggles have played a significant role in shaping this country’s historical evolution. As the diverse communities in the region survived over the centuries in the shadow of wars large and small, they inevitably developed their own indigenous military traditions; a simple fact that has, however, been largely ignored if not denied.
Beyond the perennial presence of armed conflicts in the past, especially throughout the 19th century, this author’s attention on the dynamic role of militarism as an important component of indigenous culture became more focused through occasional engagements with the Botswana Defence Force’s Defence Command and Staff College. It is in this professional context that one was further exposed to military history as a specialised field whose lessons may be adapted in civilian as well as military strategy and training.
In recent year’s Sun Tzu classic 5th century Chinese military treatise “The Art of War” has remained on bestsellers’ lists and in the public consciousness through the popular embrace of its text as a guide for business tactics, human resource management, legal strategy, and even lifestyle choices as well as strictly military thinking.
The enduring influence of Sun Tzu has further inspired some to look for civilian lessons that can be drawn from other military sources.
A notable example from our region has been a popular upsurge of interest in the potential business lessons to be drawn from Nkosi Shaka kaSenzangakhona, as reflected in such offerings as General M Ntshalintshali and Teresa Carmichael’s 2011 text “Applicability of Shaka Zulu’s Leadership and Strategies to Business.” At the same time, the first AmaZulu King has also continued to be a focus of military scholarship from both within and outside of our region. In April 2015, the United States Army Command and General Staff College thus released as one of its new texts: “Shaka Zulu’s Linkage of Strategy and Tactics: An Early Form of Operational Art?” According to the book, Shaka’s innovations remain relevant to modern students of military leadership insofar as:
“His employment of tactics to achieve strategic objectives is reminiscent of operational art as it relates to the arrangement of military forces in time, space, and purpose. To achieve his political objectives, Shaka reorganised his clan, developed an intelligence network, and employed new
One could at this point ask why the historic focus on Shaka to the exclusion of some of his notable peers, such as the great Bangwaketse warrior Kgosi Sebego aMakaba, whose military strategies, tactics, and organisational methods have been better documented? Beyond simple explanations of ignorance and neglect, this is a question we shall return to.
What is clear is that in leadership circles around the world, military history continues to be valued for its present-day utility as well as past insights.
Here it may be noted that within the broader scholarly field of history the study of past armed conflicts has evolved as a distinct sub-discipline.
What then is military history? Amongst other things, it may be simply defined as a record of activities of armed forces in war and peace and the study of armed conflict and its impact on society. As with all forms of history it can also be understood as a continuous dialogue between the past and present about future possibilities.
Military training institutions around the world commonly employ history to broaden their cadets’ knowledge of past command experience, doctrinal evolution, strategy, and tactics, while instilling an overall appreciation of longstanding military concepts.
In the process, students should gain a greater understanding of the factors that underpin quality leadership. In addition to leadership, focus areas of learning commonly include battles and campaigns, strategy, tactics, doctrine and training, the importance of organisation, logistics, and weapons, and technology, along with the role of the military in society.
Each of these factors is better understood with reference to what may be framed as an appreciation of continuity within the military concept of the “Principles of War”, which incorporates issues of Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Surprise, Security, and Simplicity. Cascading from these are the five core “Dynamics of Combat Power”, i.e.: Maneuver, Firepower, Protection, Leadership, and Information/ Communications.
An understanding of continuity within the principles of war can be further integrated into “ten threads” that weave together a holistic understanding of military experience across time, namely: Military Theory and Doctrine, Professionalism, Generalship, Strategy, Tactics, Logistics, and Technology along with Social, Political and Economic Factors.