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By Richard Moleofe
A few weeks back I penned an opinion piece published in this newspaper in this particular column. Interestingly this attracted a lot of attention as measured by the amount of responses to the newspaper and over the social media platform of Facebook. That opinion piece was focused on bringing my perspective into the homosexuality debate and I confined myself to the environment of the military in Botswana.
In the process of articulating my opinion on the matter which is of public interest, I used an example of women at BDF as reference because they came in under the special group category. The subject matter was homosexuality in the military within the BDF setting and reference to women was meant to show that special groups have unusual demands.
A certain Thabo Nlebgwa responded fixing his attention on homosexuality in Botswana’s military context and that was the subject matter. He argued that I did not bring forth empirical evidence to support my argument. When I wrote my opinion, I knew I was going into shark infested territory and I have earned constructive criticism from people like Nlegwa. On certain instances I was being subjected to insults by some uncultured Facebookers.
This is always expected in a society that enjoys so much freedom of speech like we do in Botswana. Professor Jean de le Ponte who addressed us as Botswana Defence Force Retired Members Association said last week that he marvels at the level of tolerance in our society never seen anywhere in Africa. He says we need to harness that unique characteristic of our society.
But we can never be regarded as a perfect society. There are still rogue elements that never want peace with anyone else but themselves. I regard such rubble rousers with the disdain they deserve because they never want to admit that free speech pivots on variant opinions in our society.
I have regularly received what I consider to be personal jabs from one Colonel Dikole who acts as the Public Relations Officer for BDF. The regularity of the rebuttals that come from his office appear in the frequency of every two years and he has followed me to every publication I have worked for.
I do not want to appear to be getting into a personal cat fight with this officer, but for sure I cannot just allow personal attacks to thrive feeding from untruths. First before all, Dikole has no right to address me in his capacity as the head of public relations in Botswana’s military. He owes me and my readers a rebuttal on a stream of derogatory letters aimed at me by someone from the BDF using a pseudo name of Lt Godfrey Letsholo.
The Letsholo issue is still pending and that should be the colonel’s starting point. Until that is done, the officer has no right to address anything I pen in this paper. In any case, I did not have the appetite to engage him until many of the officers serving at BDF persuaded me to respond on the rebuttal. Dikole discussed the topic I had written on last week at the Defence Staff College with students in my absence. But I always tell people that; “kena le matlho le ditsebe gongwe le gongwe (I have eyes and ears all over) and this is how the classroom content reached me.
I wrote something “offensive” to BDF and my editor gave them a platform to rebut it. And so I equally call on the commander to afford me the opportunity to address the students on the fallacies said about my content. I hope I will not be given the usual excuse that access is denied because of security reasons. There is no such thing at the Defence and Staff College because they are accredited to the University of Botswana which is a civilian institution.
The issue of applying affirmative action (AA) for our female officers at BDF is still a crucial matter. I do not speak from ignorance but I am digging up from my wealth of experience with the US Army on this subject. During my stay at Fort Monmouth Chaplain Centre and School, New Jersey, a major extraction of our course emphasised on AA.
In later years when I trained with South African National Defence Force, I met up with officers that had arrived from the US on an observer mission on AA. Dikole has come out to rubbish the idea of setting the female officers on a course of accelerated promotion so that they can become part of the decision making cadre of officers.
Dikole has gone out to praise the first group of female officers as top achievers in as far as promotions are concerned claiming that they are the first batch to be promoted into the rank of captain as a whole serial. This is a fallacy and this approach does not help his argument.
These officers have been in the military for thirteen years now and you said in your response that their achievement at the rank of captain is something that one officer achieved in his career of twenty years. I know of such officers who became victims of corruption at BDF.
Please mention to this gallery that you benefited from accelerated promotion where you stayed only one year at the rank of lieutenant colonel before being catapulted to your current rank of colonel. And by the way, you were not alone. You belong to a group called the Cardinal Four whose members are the darlings of BDF.
This group has been expanded at one time to become the Cardinal Seven, and that includes one officer who spent his first three months of training in hospital. The next three he spent being trained alone at the BDF HQ parade squire. He was promoted to second lieutenant and sent to Canada for a platoon commander’s course raw as he was.
Please assist in getting the commander to select the Cardinal Ten female officers to be put on trajectory of accelerated promotion like they did with yourselves. Certainly BDF is still the home of the macho man and decisions on matters pertaining to women cannot always be right. We need a deserving woman to become a general.