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Botswana Defence Force was Africa’s biggest spender on French military hardware last year, the French defence Ministry has revealed in a report. As part of its military shopping spree, the BDF bought €304.2 million (about P3.6 billion) worth of military hardware from France in 2016 alone. The report, submitted to the French Parliament in July, reveals that Botswana was not only the biggest customer of French military equipment, but its expenditure was five times the combined expenditure of Africa’s five biggest spenders on French military artillery. The report states that in 2016 sub-Saharan Africa ordered €379.9 million worth of military equipment from France in 2016, up from €89.6 million in 2015.
Botswana was the biggest customer, ordering €304.2 million worth of equipment, believed to primarily comprise of MICA Vertical Launch and Mistral surface-to-air missiles from MBDA. This was followed by Nigeria (€27.6 million), South Africa (€20.6 million), Cameroon (€8 million), Uganda (€5.2 million), Somalia (€4 million), and Ethiopia (€3.6 million).
The report comes on the heels of media reports that former BDF commander Lieutenant General Galebotswe accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Mokgadi and Lieutenant Colonel Motlaleng were in France in December 2015 for a demonstration of the missile systems. It is understood that most of the money is believed to be from a contract with European missile manufacturer MBDA for MICA-VL and Mistral missiles. The Vertical Launch MICA (VL MICA) is a short range, ground based air defence system deploying the MICA fire-and-forget missile, currently the only missile in the world capable of being fitted with either a heat seeking homing head (VL MICA IR) or with an active radar (VL MICA RF). Interception range is up to 20 km.
According to DefenceWeb, the Mistral/MICA agreement is not the first defence deal between Botswana and France, as the BDF is a user of ACMAT (Ateliers de Construction Mécanique de L’Atlantique) vehicles. Botswana has a potential contract for Gripens from Sweden - which the leader of the opposition Duma Boko petitioned Swedish Parliament against - expected to set Botswana back about P18 billion. In a previous interview, BDF’s Deputy Director, Protocol and Public Affairs Lieutenant Colonel Fikani Machola said that: “As stated in our previous response to enquiries on the above matter, we wish to reiterate that the Government of Botswana through the Botswana Defence Force has been in discussion with several governments and aircraft manufactures with view to evaluate the need of replacing some of its equipment to include aircraft.”
BDF was non-committal when asked to comment on allegations that a middleman could be brokering the possible Gripens deal with Sweden. “In all these engagements with various government and aircraft manufactures, the BDF has been dealing with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and therefore the BDF does not have any middleman. Moreover, BDF does not prescribe to the OEM whether or not to appoint any agents,” said Machola.