My week has been very interesting in many aspects and particularly on the feedback I received on last week’s opinion piece that I wrote to this publication.
I have had varied responses from serving and retired members of the BDF regarding the topic I discussed which was on the size of the leadership at the barracks. What is interesting is that serving members only confront me as and when we meet while those who are now separated from the institution have the liberty to phon and give me such feedback.
One of the serving members says he enjoys reading me but the only problem with what I write is that I lack the military flavour on certain topics because I am not staff trained. On one hand, one of the retired generals says he does not hold the same view because a large volume of my readers are not staff trained. In academic language, to be staff trained is an equivalence of a post graduate level.
I am challenged to continue with the discussion on the BDF leadership because of one of the retired officers who says I failed to pinpoint the root course of the BDF’s inverted pyramid. My argument still persists; there are too many generals at BDF and a majority of those are brigadiers and their number could be reduced to fit our fiscal constraints as a developing country.
There are at least more than three variables that have caused the problem at hand. The problem does as well manifests itself along the ranks of major, lieutenant colonel and that of colonel. The primary course here erupts from the issue of accelerated promotion which was done slightly twenty five years ago and followed through to recent years. When an organisation starts an exercise of accelerated promotion, it raises what can be referred to as legitimate expectation from its members.
After the formation of the defence force in 1977, vacancies were far too many while the force had serious constrains of manpower. The only option was to accelerate members through the ranks while driving recruitement. BDF got blinded by this and forgot to put a cap on it. Though this is no longer common, the practice still persists in certain quarters. It is absolutely abnormal to have an officer ascend to the rank of brigadier or colonel while a majority of his peers are still largely majors. That is the reason why some colonels are disgruntled and are even thinking of leaving. They had a legitimate expectation to be much senior than they are now because of the time they spent in one station. So in the current case, some officers had to be promoted in order to address the issue of morale. Clearly, no commander wants to work with a team of de-motivated officers.
The other problem it seems has been caused by the frequency of change of command at this military organisation. Because there are too many people with PHDs at BDF, every commander would want to surround himself with his own trusted officers. The Pull Him Down syndrome started to show its ugly teeth after the departure of Lieutenant General Khama. He was somewhat immune from this because he is royalty. Successive commanders have spent half their time doing what they have been promoted to do while they spent the rest trying to secure their positions and making alliances.
Partly the PHD syndrome arises from the issue of legitimate expectation even though some expectations are nowhere near legitimate. Security is one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and hence we have very little space to criticise someone for creating a secure environment for themselves. In the above case some officers are promoted without portfolio. Certain portfolios are created after the promotion. We all know that the portfolio should precede the promotion. The financial cost of such exercises has never come anywhere near the minds of commanders. And this is very unfortunate because here we are talking of public funds.
Backbiting has become a defined art in the workplace and no leader wants to fall victim to this practice. This is why it has happened in many cases at BDF that when an out-going commander leaves, there are several other officers and men that follow through resignations or retirements.
The other variable revolves around the issue of contract officers. These are officers who retire and are immediately taken in on contract. Internationally this is an acceptable practice. The US Army thrives because of contract officers. In the case of BDF, they bottleneck promotions. The practice is so rampant that out of the four past commanders, two have stayed on contract. That’s fifty percent and it is far too high for a developing country. Currently BDF is running with at least one general officer on contract, a position that could be held by serving colonel. This would allow him to be developed as he/she gains experience.
These variables are not exhaustive but allow me to discuss the last one of the many. The absence of National Defence and Security Strategy is the root cause of all these problems. The existence of such would act as a guideline to almost all command decisions. Allow me to have a go at this topic on another day. Americans do not struggle with defence and security issues because they have properly defined guidelines as to how commanders should conduct themselves. Policies on other things such as fraternization and promotions are informed by this National Strategy on Defence and Security. This includes how promotions are done and it helps to reduce the number of demoralised officers and other ranks.
This challenges our nation to rethink its position on issues of security and defence. Going forward we need to debate the entire security strategy for our country and that will include answering questions on whether we still are prepared to maintain a standing army.