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21 Jul 2019

By Richard Moleofe

The recent High Court ruling on the decriminalization of homosexuality in Botswana will ultimately have an effect on the operations of the military in this country. When a legitimate court of law rules on a particular matter such as this one, it will usually reverberate across society and at certain instances it may have very undesirable consequences.

Originally the military was the preserve of male persons.

In the last half of the last century we have seen women joining the military and participating in war. The introduction of women itself was a serious challenge to the very existence of the institution in that its initial design was meant only for the male person. The US military was among the first to enlist women into service but it took a very long time to get that acceptance as is the case today.

Interestingly black male persons were admitted into the US military before women could and that was followed decades later by the arrival of a black man in the oval office before a white woman. I had a belief that America would have a white woman president before a black man. And further to this, it looked so obvious that Hillary Clinton would become the first female president of the United States of America until WikiLeaks and the Russians were running in favour of her opponent Donald Trump.

The US military has gone to the theatre of war using women in none combat roles. They were mostly found to be in logistics units such as food services and medics. But things changed in the past Iraq war as we saw women taking command roles and performing in such a magnificent manner. One of the commanders from the Iraq war was responsible for providing technical military assistance in the introduction of women in Botswana’s military establishment.

The other country that has made good use of women in the theatre of war is Israel. But Israel was forced into this situation because they were over stretched in terms of manpower demands during the 1973 war. These women performed in an immaculate manner and Israel won the war.

The US Army will be used in several instances in this article because they provide very good examples on issues of race, gender and as well as homosexuality. They had a particular problem providing accommodation for black people during WW1 and WWII. The problem of segregation in the military continued through WW2 and going right into the Vietnam conflict.

The military in the US was desperate for black labour and the racial restrictions were relaxed because keeping up the pressure on blacks would not be an incentive for getting them to join. In the meantime civil rights movements were ramping up the pressure for equal rights. There was so much resistance as whites did not want to lose their privilege.

Once the struggle for racial equality in the military and in civil society was won, then the homosexual struggle began. Homosexuals have never been in the forefront of fighting for their rights but rather they have always taken a ride on the struggles of other groups such as blacks and Jews.

Let’s take the issue closer to home. How many homosexuals participated in the struggle to free South Africa? We all know that South African refugees were in this country for many years and we never heard a word about homosexuals participating in the struggle. This is an issue for debate and no one needs to dag behind anything and making accusations of hate speech. In South Africa, homosexuality took prominence only after the attainment of freedom in 1994. Without putting this group on the spotlight, they have always come from behind and benefited the most.

In 1992 when Bill Clinton was campaigning for the White House, he made promises to the homosexual community that if elected he would make provisions for their entry into the military. Until then homosexuals were not allowed to serve in the US military. Ultimately Clinton made it and it was time to start rolling the promises he made during the campaign. Right after his inauguration in January 1993 he hit a wall.

Clinton tried his very best to try and enforce the admission of homosexuals into the military and the generals objected to it. This was like a mutiny and it left the president in a state of disbelieve. The president tried to use his weight to push through his promises but the generals were not relenting and Clinton was left with an egg on his face as the generals threatened to resign in mass.

It was only on 24 February 1994 that a compromise was reached. The disambiguation clause of the “Don’t tell, don’t ask” was the compromise reached between the generals and their commander-in-chief. The directive had an expiry date and that was in September 2011. The homosexuals were not allowed to disclose their “sexual orientation” in the military. At the same time people were prohibited to bring up probing questions around this subject matter.

The issue of homosexuals serving in the military has been the most controversial of all issues ever faced by the US military. The questions raised by the generals were around how the introduction of homosexuals would harm the readiness of troops and thereby compromising the security of the country.

The current issue regarding homosexuality in Botswana will certainly not escape the military in our country and we cannot just sweep this thorny issue under the carpet hoping that it will ultimately melt away. We need to face that reality ahead of time and discuss this pertinent issue that will certain come to haunt our security structures.

*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst

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