Saturday, May 15, 2021

BDP politicization of army worries US government

A declassified US government report has revealed that the US government is worried by “an apparent trend” that has emerged connecting the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and the BDP. The report which was compiled in 2005 after Khama became Vice President, observed that “both of the BDF’s former commanders are now cabinet members — Minister of Foreign Affairs Merafhe and Vice President Khama. Another retired general oversees the national police service as Minister for Labour and Home Affairs, and two other cabinet members are also former BDF officers. By contrast, none of the thirteen opposition MPs is a military veteran.”

The report which is part of the WikiLeaks dossier further states that “in a departure from the BDF’s general practice of avoiding partisan remarks, Lt. Gen. Fisher demonstrated a clear bias in favour of the ruling party during his April 7 remarks cited above. Speaking to a seminar on civil-military relations, Fisher quoted from a recent BDP manifesto to outline that party’s perspective on defence and security. He then quoted from a dated manifesto of the Botswana National Front (the largest opposition party), which articulated policies that the BNF has long since abandoned.

Fisher then went on to read quotations from the parliamentary debate following the deployment to Lesotho in 1998 in which ruling party MPs mocked and castigated the opposition MPs for questioning the manner in which the deployment occurred. Given Fisher’s impending retirement in November, his comments might simply have reflected a desire to curry favour with the politicians in order to secure an ambassadorship or other appointment thereafter. Nonetheless, they suggested an official partisan preference.”

Fisher is currently Botswana’s Ambassador to Nigeria. ”Despite an apparent affinity for the BDP within the leadership of the BDF and the opposition parties’ advocacy for reduced military expenditure, the BNF has performed well in electoral constituencies heavily populated by soldiers. In 1994, for instance, the BNF won a parliamentary seat from Mogoditshane, where the largest BDF camp is located. (It lost in 1999 and 2004, however, due largely to splitting the opposition vote with the smaller Botswana Congress Party.) As is the case among rank-and-file government employees, many junior BDF personnel support the opposition.”

The opposition won Mogoditshane again in the last general elections. The US government also expressed concern over “excessive secrecy regarding the military, the contingent of retired army officers in the senior ranks of the ruling political party, and perceptions of corruption strain the BDF’s relationship with the public. Mission has sought to use the recent emergence of civil society institutions focused on security issues to support the evolution of a more effective interface between civilians and the military.” The report further highlighted the excessive control of the country’s president over the army despite the fact that he is not directly elected.

“The National Assembly exercises very little oversight of the military. The parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, trade and security, for example, does not have the power to hold hearings at which it can question military leaders on their policies and practices. Indeed, the President is not required to consult parliament at all regarding deployment of the BDF outside Botswana’s borders and, in fact, he did not do so prior to the 1998 mission to Lesotho. The President — who is chosen by the majority party in the National Assembly rather than by popular election — holds exceptional personal control over the military. The Constitution gives the President the power to determine the operational use of the military without reference to the National Assembly, and grants similarly unfettered authority to appoint, promote, assign or dismiss military personnel. The Constitution allows the President to delegate those powers, but only to members of the armed forces. There are also constitutional provisions for emergency rule by the President.

The report further observed that the “BDF is cloaked in excessive secrecy.” For example, although the BDF’s budget is vetted by the Ministry of Finance, the Cabinet and the Minister for Presidential Affairs, the National Assembly is presented with only a grand total and no details on how the money will be spent.

(The parliamentary accounts committee does get to question the commander of the BDF based on the auditor general’s annual report at the end of the fiscal year, but its role is limited to reviewing past spending as represented in that unclassified, public report.

“That lack of transparency, particularly concerning financial matters, has led to the proliferation of rumours concerning corruption in BDF procurement. When Vice President Ian Khama was still commander of the BDF, for example, companies owned by his brothers won contracts to supply meals and vehicles to the military. Aside from presenting a clear conflict of interest, civilian and military contacts alike have suggested that normal practices were subverted in these deals. A similar incident reportedly involved a contract awarded to the family of former Minister of Presidential Affairs Daniel Kwelagobe. Ken Good, the former University of Botswana Professor ejected from the country in May 2005, had highlighted these incidents his academic papers.

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