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By Richard Moleofe
The Member of Parliament for Mogoditshane Sedirwa Kgoroba is currently circulating a petition for members of the community to sign. The petition is directed at raising awareness among members of the public about the growing levels of crime and as well as twisting the arm of government in implementing what the petition is calling for.
Kgoroba’s view is that since Botswana Defence Force soldiers were taken off our streets, crime has gone up. The surge in crime began right after soldiers were stopped from participating in helping police in their patrols.
There are very interesting arguments for and against regarding this matter of soldiers fighting crime. Professor Mpho Molomo writes this about civil military relations; “internal security should be left to the police, while the military serves as an instrument of foreign policy.”
In his article that seeks to discuss civil-military interactions in Botswana, Molomo contends that the involvement of the military in civilian operations is likely going to undermine its image and credibility.
Molomo is certainly an authority when it comes to issues of democracy and has had so much exposure to military issues through his interaction with the Botswana Defence Force Defence Command and Staff College. He has been teaching here for a considerable number of years and he has almost blended into the military.
Botswana society always comes out to be a kind of its own and sometimes that makes it rather difficult for a lot of academics to understand it like you would any other elsewhere in Africa or the world. We just seem to have our way of doing things and that sets us apart from the rest.
In most parts of the world, the involvement of the military into civil operations can certainly dent the image and credibility of this institution. In Botswana, history seems to point us into a different direction. In 1994, riots broke out in the village of Mochudi were students were venting out their frustration after they were refused permission to march and petition authorities against the killing of one of their own. Segametsi Mogomotsi, an intelligent young girl from Radikolo Community Junior Secondary School was murdered for ritual purposes. This action did not only enrage her schoolmates, but the whole village was up in arms seeking for answers.
Sooner than later the riots had spread to the capital city of Gaborone. Its environs of Mogoditshane could not escape being engulfed by this incendiary and explosive environment. The police were overstretched and seriously outnumbered by the increasing rioters. There was no shortage of trouble makers and this was given fuel by the huge numbers of unemployed youths.
At the time BDF soldiers had just completed their peacekeeping mission in Mozambique and had just arrived with their white vehicles painted “UN.” With the same sentiments of apprehension that Professor Molomo expresses, the commander of BDF sent in troops in white vehicles but they were dressed in their official battle dress uniform.
BDF was able to clear all the trouble makers in the town of Mogoditshane and in Gaborone. When they arrived at the scene in Mogoditshane one evening, their vehicles were mistaken for Special Support Group (Botswana Police paramilitary wing) ones and the rioters were ready to confront them. The resistance was broken in a matter of a few minutes. This was at a place where there were running battles with the police every night but the arrival of the military just broke the weeklong stalemate.
Kgoroba was there as this took place in his hometown and he probably participated in the skirmishes as a young person at the time. Regardless of his participation or none thereof, the man knows exactly what he is asking for. What he is suggesting in his petition is not just a hypothesis but rather he is saying it out of personal experience as a resident of this town.
This country has changed drastically since 1994. The patterns of crime have certainly changed but that does not mean we cannot apply the solutions of that decade. The fact of the matter is; the criminals still have high regard toward the military. They know that wherever the military gets involved, that means business.
The level of discipline of BDF soldiers is still very high. They have a good track record and they have never been accused of any human rights violations in the past. Taking Kgoroba’s approach to crime bursting, the deployment of the troops on the streets of Mogoditshane will bring more desired results than harm.
The level of crime in this country has generally gone up. Mogoditshane is a serious hotspot and even the off duty soldier has become a victim. So the BDF commander should not hesitate to releasing his soldiers.
Certain parts of Mogoditshane have become like a war zone. People living in those areas clearly understand the curfew operating hours set by the bandits. No sensible member of parliament can allow his constituents to live under such challenging circumstances. Botswana is known to be an icon of peace in Africa. We cannot have peace in one part and crime on the other. Surely someone needs to honour this petition.
We cannot afford to have a military that cannot deliver us from our enemies. Otherwise there will be no need to keep a military that cannot protect us. The dynamics of war have changed. Our military needs to go back to the drawing board and redefine its role. And that role should include patrolling the streets.
It is easy to theorise and say policing should be left to the police. The reality on the ground is totally different. The police are far under resourced and their numbers are very thin on the ground. The police can’t just cope with this challenge.
In fact when soldiers are sworn in at the time of their enlistment, they swear to protect the president and the constitution. But the constitution is rendered useless and of no value if it does not guarantee protection for the people.
*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst