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By Richard Moleofe
This article is inspired by a speech made by John Kerry at the recent World Economic Forum meeting where he addressed issues relating to corruption and how it predisposes countries to security threats. Taking a synopsis of what the man said, he attributes corruption to any county’s security vulnerabilities.
I have critically looked at the issues of defence and security in our current budget to see how we are doing compared to the rest of Africa. This is an area which is highly prone to corruption due to the secrecy that surrounds its contracts.
Naturally, defence and security contracts always attract large sums of money as all arms and equipment in that field don’t come cheap. And this is the reason why most generals and ministers of defence have come out very rich during their time of service.
Botswana Defence Force and Botswana Police have not been an exception when it comes to this rule. The latter was embroiled in a tender to supply the new police uniforms as accusations were flying all over about the award of such to favourable Botswana Democratic Party faithful.
With BDF, issues of corruption surrounding the procurement of military equipment are so perennial and have become a culture. There is a history of skewed tendering at our military institution and the name of Seleka Springs has always been highlighted in almost every deal.
It shows from the budget that once again BDF has been given a lion’s share and as we know it has become a sub-culture for this institution to be spoilt in the manner it has been over the last five decades. BDF has become a bottomless pit.
Taking statistics from the rest of Africa, Botswana still stands out as a top-end spender in military hardware. According to World Bank and International Monetary Fund (and backed by SIPRI.org), Botswana has spent over $4.705 billion in military spending in the last twelve years.
Botswana military expenditure index has been rising over the years regardless of the state of the country’s economy. According to the report, military expenditure in Botswana was decreased for the very first time to $486.96m in 2017 from an all-time high of $514.46m in 2016.
These may just be figures, but it paints an ugly picture when you get to the ground to search for the equipment bought with all that money. Without any bias, I chose to look at the tank which is a piece of equipment that provides a soldier with basic protection in the battlefield.
I took a survey of all our neighbours to see what they have in their inventory as opposed to ours. Tanks vary in quality and the number of tanks just gives a certain indication before getting deeper into technicalities.
We almost went to war with Namibia over the Sedudu Island two decades ago. Namibia has 10 tanks. Angola 283, South Africa 195, Zambia 25, Zimbabwe 72. While our neighbours have so much to show for their defence spending, we have zero tanks and that is as a result of corruption at the highest level. We have 52 that are not working.
This is all happening in the background of a country which spends an average 3.05% of its GDP annually on arms procurement. Where is this money going? Most of it has left the country and some of it remains in the pockets of the middleman.
In 1997, BDF procured fifty-two of SK105 Kurassier tanks from Austria under very shady circumstances. This deal was reached after the Germans toppled a deal between Botswana and Holland to purchase the same number of Leopard 2 tanks. The deal with Austria was hasty and marred with corruption even before the signing of the agreement.
A list of officers from BDF was picked for the trip to Austria. And among them was a Seleka Springs representative who acted as the middleman and was travelling at the cost of government. One honest major in the group questioned the reasons why the gentleman was part of the entourage. Before they could reach shore in Africa, General Khama had already decided the fate of that officer.
The reason why we have a zero on the list of tanks for our military is because when the deal was made, it wasn’t country first but rather people were looking at their personal interests before that of our defence and security. And we remain vulnerable to attacks as a country. It is not that our neighbours don’t know all this.
The fact that we don’t have the basic equipment to protect our young men and women in the eventuality of war erodes any public confidence on our military. When reading a research paper by Lekoko Kenosi, “The Botswana Defence Force and public trust: The dilemma in a democracy”, it becomes very clear that our nation has increasingly had diminishing confidence in the entire system of our security.
Public confidence is very important for any military within a context of a democratic society. The law makers at parliament are civilians and they must begin to question where all this money is going. The public has to be given answers on the extent of this bottomless pit known as the BDF.
It is unfortunate that most MPs both ruling party and opposition will not give themselves time to read and interrogate the budget speech. It is a given that this current budget is going to pass without any amendments especially on our defence spending.
The Minister of Finance has been in pains trying to justify our unjustifiable military budget as he says most of the money is going into infrastructure development. For how long have we been told this same story by every finance minister and yet we don’t see any translation on our camps.
In the next five years, the government must plan to develop its military personnel. These men and women are living on the brink of poverty and yet their department gobbles more than three percent of our GDP annually.
Richard Moleofe is a security analyst