Long perceived to be one of Africa’s most professional armies, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is beginning to lose that status.
In the latest Economic Freedom Index which measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries are supportive of economic freedom, Botswana’s “military in politics” score has dropped. Going as far back as 2000 and alongside First World nations like the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia, Botswana scored a perfect 10, which represented non-involvement of the military in politics. That changed in 2013 when for the first time ever, the score dropped to 8.33 which has been replicated for 2014.
The index doesn’t give precise reasons for why the score dropped but notes that it based its calculations on information from the subscription-service International Country Risk Guide which uses quantifiable and back-tested methodologies to rate political risk. “Military in politics” is one of the noteworthy conditions affecting the political risk profiles of specific countries.
The irony of Botswana’s score is that it has gone down when army generals are less brazen about their political affiliation than in the past. The current president, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, as well as the former and now deceased vice president, Lt. Gen. Mompati Merafhe, became senior ruling party members a few hours after leaving the army ÔÇô the former in 1989 and the latter in 1998. This can be reasonably interpreted to mean that around this time the army high command was to all intents and purposes, an extension of the Botswana Democratic Party leadership.
The BDF embroiled itself in political scandal in 2012 when the BDP turned 50 years. At the grand finale of the golden jubilee celebrations, the army van that Khama and then Tanzanian president Jikaya Kikwete rode in was decorated in party colours. The opposition expressed shock but in answer to a parliamentary question, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi said that there was nothing wrong with decorating a government vehicle with BDP colours because it was transporting the head of state.
When he studied the BDF, Dan Henk, a security studies scholar, found it to have performed sterling service in regional peace operations.
“The BDF emphasises professionalism and service, and enjoys a high level of respect in the nation as a whole. Given the generally poor reputation of armies in Africa, this is a notable achievement,” he said.
On the downside, he found that “control of the military is concentrated in the Office of the President, while the legislature plays little role in military oversight.” He further noted that “Observers believe that essential security-related decisions are made by a small group of senior officials close to the president, with limited outside consultation. This inner circle includes the past and present commanders of the BDF.”