Which country has influenced BDF growth?

The establishment of BDF in 1977 used a British template in drawing up an Act of parliament that set it up. This was just 11 years after independence and Botswana knew little or nothing outside of the British way of life. After more than a century under British rule, even our cognitive senses were biased towards the British way of doing things.

It is undeniably true that Batswana at the time of independence were cultured in the way their former masters did things. At the time BDF was established, the “Made in England” label was still highly sought after.

It was not only the statutes, but rather, the way BDF was equipped that was very much British. Remember that BDF transitioned from a police paramilitary unit. Botswana Police Force at the time was using British-made vehicles, mainly the Bedford and the Land Rover. In 1975 there was that famous two tonne Bedford which the locals affectionately called “sekete le bolausu” (skirt and blouse). There was a huge gap between the cab and the load body and this was created to accommodate a spare wheel.  

So BDF went on to use the Land Rover and the Bedford. To this day, the Land Rover is still the army’s preferred light utility vehicle. It has been over 15 years now since the last new Bedford was brought into BDF’s inventory. It was instantly replaced by the Dutch-made DAF and this was due to shifting global politics.


Most officers were receiving their training at Sandhurst Military Academy. This is a premium British military school that produces the military’s crème de la crème. Since 1977, the corridors and the halls of Sandhurst have always been graced by a BDF Officer Cadet every year without fail.

It seems the use of British military hardware at BDF had its days numbered from the very establishment of this military organisation. Every military article that is British has always been paid for.

Even when the British were pushed to a corner, they remained mean in their spending and giving. The first piece of armour that came into use by BDF in the 1970s was the Shorland. Initially, these were factory produced to be shipped to Northern Ireland to deal with riots.

By the time they came out of the assembly line, the political situation in Ireland dictated differently. So they were shipped to two different addresses, and that was Botswana and Lesotho.Because the establishment of BDF came at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union played a critical role in training and equipping this young ragtag army.

The Soviets trained several officers in Moscow and after this training they donated several armoured vehicles that BDF was badly in need of. These were the BDM and the eight-wheeled BTR. The latter was very much ideal for conditions in this country and could also be deployed in an amphibious role.

Enter the Americans! After the 1978 Soviet donation, the US sent in a fleet of V150 four wheeled vehicles. Compared to those of the Soviets, they had thicker armour and were more manoeuvrable because of their short wheel-base.

The Americans opened up a torrent of military aid opportunities in the form of training through IMET (International Military Education and Training). This arrangement has run to today. The Americans have been extremely cautious about what they give out even if it’s for sale. Congress always has to approve all arms sales and their measuring stick is to avoid the proliferation of arms in certain parts of the world.

The number of officers trained in the US since the establishment of BDF surpasses all other countries combined. The US has invested heavily in BDF’s human resource. Even though this arrangement still continues, it has reached its lowest ebb. Only a handful BDF officers are now able to find admission into US military academies.

The way that BDF Command and Staff College operates is indicative of the American influence in our military. Military hardware wears out and becomes obsolete, but ideas last into almost eternity. So the Americans have preferred to trade in ideas rather than weapon systems. In the early 80s we saw the arrival of the Indian Army Training Team (IATT) in Botswana.

They served as military advisors until 2012. Members of this team served in all areas including medical, field artillery, armour, air defence, infantry and the air wing. For all these years they informed the way BDF conducted training and operations. The team leader was placed at BDF HQ and served to advise the Commander in all aspects of the military. 

It was a good move for BDF to contract the Indians because they are affordable and good at the military subject. Their constant skirmishes with their eternal enemy, Pakistan makes them battle ready and practical in a true sense.

Though the Indians have not sold us any equipment, they have had paramount influence in the conduct of our military’s operations and training. The Indian Army is a true resemblance of the British Army. In other words, BDF managed to get British trainers at a discounted cost.So my argument here is that once BDF publishes its doctrine, it will be a myriad of military cultures. But this is a good omen. In this case BDF can become very creative in making a good selection of the good and discarding the not-so-good.

BDF has a good chance to create an outstanding document in their doctrine becauseof  the interactions they have had with all the militaries I have listed above. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it already exists. In view of this, I will in the coming instalments review the doctrines of the British, the Indian and the US armies.

Editor's Comment
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