Initial forward steps toward a National Security Strategy

The genesis of a good approach toward achieving a National Security Strategy (NSS) for our country is to get full public participation in the whole affair. In a republic, the public plays a critical role in such major decision making processes.

In the case of Botswana which is a democratically governed state (at least as far as the constitution says at the moment), it is imperative that all stakeholders including grassroots communities are engaged in the development of any such policy creation like the NSS.

The NSS’s development is very broad in nature and will have to address all other security aspects beyond the military. Its scope will encompass the police, prisons, intelligence and of course the military. Among the four security institutions mentioned above, only the intelligence has enjoyed being a result of a process of planning. Regardless of the fact that the creation of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services was bundled up in a cowboy style, it is what Parliament approved and we have an end product as a result of that.

The military was formed under haste. The police came as part of a colonial package of handover notes at the time of the departure of the British masters. So did the prisons department. Serious consideration is needed to account for all these security institutions. The big question is if we still need to keep them and if so in what fashion.

In all these considerations, we must admit that there are certain institutions that we cannot abolish. Rather, we can only fashion them in the best ways they can meet our security needs. For instance, we cannot abolish our prison system because there is no country without such.

Security institutions need to be staffed, accommodated and equipped. Taking the military as an example, after thorough consultation with all stakeholders, the Generals will know when and where to recruit and house their troops.

Taking Sir Seretse Khama Barracks as an example, the camp has for many years now failed to provide sufficient accommodation for its inhabitants. There is an unsystematic way in which soldiers rent private accommodation for themselves in the village of Mogoditshane. Before recruitment takes place, the commanders should know where their troops are going to be housed and tenting should not be in a list of options anymore. This provision of accommodation should occur in government and private housing.

One of the good examples here is the arrangement that Botswana Defence Force (BDF)made with Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) a few years ago. Because the core mandate of the BHC is to provide residential accommodation, BDF asked them to deal with what they do best in line with providing decent and affordable accommodation for the troops.

This has become a flagship project for the corporation and a long-lasting legacy for Retired Lieutenant General Masire. This model was very good because it allowed the military to concentrate on its core business while BHC was also doing what they know best.

Members of Mogoditshane community will need to have access to the economic benefits of having a military headquarters in their village. The community, through the different forums, should be consulted in order to take them on board regarding where they can financially benefit by way of providing services. The presence of the barracks in this locality has had intended and unintended consequences. With proper planning, the good benefits will outweigh the bad ones.

With an NSS in place, our training institutions will be directed to produce the right skilled manpower for our security organisations to absorb. At the moment, our security organs combined form a key sector of government which absorbs the highest number of job-seekers in the entire country.  

The problem with our old and new security institutions is that commanders, commissioners and directors have always driven these institutions in the direction they would feel more comfortable with. Some decisions have come back to haunt us with dire financial consequences. This has happened mostly in the area of procurement. In the case of BDF, the current leadership is still grappling with old ghosts, which are a result of mistakes of past commanders.

Current and future commanders may find themselves with more than they can handle because of decisions made many years past. Some of the mistakes may have been done in the course of serving the needs of these security institutions while others were clearly self serving and personal interests.

Currently, we have had questions on the floor of parliament where MPs wanted answers on how procurement was done at BDF more than a decade ago. Out of the answers given, we can tell that it was a free range system and the Commander was central to making decisions that required a much higher authority. In short, the lack of an NSS in place became a reason why the institution was left as an open hunting ground in as far as the procurement of military hardware is concerned.

The presence of an NSS and clearly defined policies will help to close all the existing gaps in the way our security organs are run. For instance, when a military commander takes over from the other, they will not need to crack their heads trying to map the way forward for the men and women they lead. The existing blueprint will provide guidelines in the new leadership role.

It is with much sorrow that some officers in these security institutions feel personally offended when we bring such issues to the public square for open debate. However, this is not surprising. Even in the midst of war there are those who benefit and would want to see it perpetuate. Similarly, in a situation where guidelines are either non-existent or blurred, there will be those who will want to thrive and exploit the situation.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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