Does Botswana need a standing army? (Part 1)

The debate over the need for military institutions has raged around the world in the past with pacifists voting for a no while pecimists accept the idea of growing a military. Each individual country has its own security needs and that is dependent on several factors existing in their environment.

This raises the question of whether Botswana needs a standing army. I spend a good 20 years as an officer in Botswana’s military and for the number of years I spent there, I am completely convinced that Botswana does not need a standing army.

In Part 2, I will argue for the need for a standing army and for me that is being a devil’s advocate. In the following episodes subsequent to that, I will bring a discussion on how we could trim and equip a lean defence force. Botswana government took a decision to establish Botswana Defence Force (BDF) in 1976 and implemented through an act of parliament the following year.

Tshireletso Motlogelwa of The Business Weekly and Review has brought in a very interesting perspective on the establishment of Botswana’s military. Through the perusal of certain declassified documents of the British government, he has been able to establish that BDF was established to fulfil the wants of the ruling family as opposed to meeting the needs of our nation.


Those recent revelations have come to reinforce the argument I have been pushing for weeks, and that is, BDF needs to operate with a sound military doctrine.

From the feature on The Business Weekly and Review, it has become very clear that in the absence of a military doctrine for our defence force, the ruling family has helped to establish our military kit with a clear philosophy. The idea is for the family to have an unfettered continuous beneficiation on the existence of the military. The establishment of BDF was a foregone conclusion the moment Ian Khama graduated from Sandhurst Military Academy. The argument here is; why did he have to be equipped with such skills when he did not have a place to put them into practice?

The Khama brothers have enjoyed access to lucrative military contracts in the supply of several pieces of equipment. They absolutely have no background or reasonable knowledge in military issues and regardless of this, they have been crowned as premier middlemen in the supply of a lot of military equipment.

In the following weeks we will take a long look at the equipment that BDF has in possession and how useful it has become to the organisation. It is interesting that Masire was opposed to the establishment of the army and yet records show that military spending was at its highest during his stay at the State House.

I would want to believe that for Masire it was just a matter of accepting an illegitimate child in the home and giving the child the best. Botswana’s military spending has for 15 years been above three percentage point as a share of the GDP. According to the African Military Index, Botswana has for many years been among Africa’s highest defence spenders in real terms and in relation to the GDP.

I will never support military spending,  particularly when it comes at the cost of more pressing needs of the nation.Any country will budget and plan for its military according to the existing levels of threat. Levels of threat keep changing from time to time because security environments are not stagnant. Like the example I gave with the US Army, they have reviewed their strategies from time to time and the timing seems to be marked by the end of a war. After the Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War and the recent Iraq war.

This is necessary because maintaining a military machine is expensive. Therefore it is important to keep gauging the usefulness of the strategies that are in place.

Truth be told, BDF was not created for the purpose it is serving now. It is time that BDF introspects and makes itself relevant in the current security environment. That beside the point, we cannot continue to justify defence spending at an extreme cost of ignoring critical human services.Have you recently visited Botswana’s public hospitals?

Our health system is almost collapsing. There is an acute shortage of staff. Critical patients have their operations postponed to about a year. Most of them succumb to death before they can meet a specialist. Scanning machines are out of order in most public hospitals and the unavailability has really turned referral hospitals into a joke. I was never good in mathematics at school and in fact I had phobia for anything to do with figures.

But we have lost a lot of billions in military spending which would have advanced us in more fruitful areas of our economy. If we had spent cautiously on our military and given our health sector priority, most of our departed loved ones would still be with us. A few weeks ago, I travelled with a distraught family which had lost a loved one whilst still in the queue to see a heart specialist. In our silence, I passed time reading about Botswana’s plans to purchase fighter jets from South Korea.

It is totally insane that a third world country like Botswana can have its priorities upside-down and inside-out in purchasing military hardware while most of its youth population is educated and unemployed. If the government in power had the will, we would have built the Kazungula Bridge 20 years ago.

Because of its economic significance, by now we would have recouped all expenses and we would be reaping the financial benefits of the project.

If those in government had the will and the country’s interests at heart, we would have gotten the leather industry running even before they could think of fighter jets and other men’s toys.

Editor's Comment
Escalating fuel prices cause panic

Nowadays it is not uncommon to purchase an item for a certain commodity and return to the shops in a week, to find the same item has gone up by a significant amount of money.Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) last week announced yet another fuel price increase, which follows yet another increase that came into effect on March 29. Hardly two months later on May 12 boom, BERA announced yet another increase, which came into effect at a...

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