Sunday, October 17, 2021

Big shopping spree on arms worrisome

Botswana is Africa’s largest military spender, a study has revealed.

A recent study by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) titled “Trends in military expenditure, 2016,” Botswana “had the highest percentage increase in military spending between 2015 and 2016 of any country in Africa.”

The study states that “despite it being in one of the least conflict-prone areas of sub-Saharan Africa and one of the few African countries to have never been involved in an armed conflict, Botswana’s spending grew by 40 percent or $152 million (about P1.5 billion)  in 2016.” 

Responding to Sunday Standard enquiries, a researcher at SIPRI, Dr Nan Tian, said in terms of regional threats, there are no new developments that would warrant an increase of military spending by Botswana. “The government has mentioned the reason behind the spending to be military modernisation, but the question remains for what purpose do Batswana need to modernise their military?” asked Tian.

“Is their equipment at a point where it needs to be modernised? Also, is there a potential threat which means Botswana need to modernise? In terms of evidence to back these two claims, from our data, it would suggest not to be the case.”

On observations that high military spending often raises questions about what else the money could have been spent on,  Tian said as with any developing country (Botswana a success story in Sub-Saharan Africa), money is probably much better spent on healthcare, education or infrastructure;  contributions that could directly impact economic development.

He said the spill-over from civilian investment has been shown in academic literature to be faster and greater than that from the military sector.

“The question that needs to be asked is why Botswana is raising its spending (why does it need military modernisation), where the funding will come from …” he said.

Minister of Defence Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi, has since defended the country’s high military expenditure, following accusations by the opposition that it could spark an arms race in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

Leader of Opposition, Duma Boko, said Botswana was creating an arms race within the region, as other southern African countries would feel threatened by the huge spending of a rather peaceful country.

A group of peace researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have also joined the chorus in condemning Botswana for acquiring a fleet of advanced fighter aircraft saying this may trigger a regional arms race, with other neighbouring countries likely to follow suit, with detrimental consequences for everyone but the arms dealers.

At present, the researchers observed, Botswana was not facing any direct external threat and it was unclear why huge sums of money must be invested in the acquisition of advanced fighter jets.

“Whereas the need to protect the country’s tourism industry, combat poaching and monitor the flow of refugees previously were indicated as reasons, none of these problems can be solved with advanced fighter jets,” the researchers said.

The Swedish researchers further observed that the arms deal with Botswana would worsen economic and democratic development in the country, undermine regional security and mar Sweden’ s reputation in southern Africa.

Last year Botswana entered into negotiations Saab Gripen multi-role fighters and has ordered General Dynamics Piranha armoured vehicles and MBDA air defence systems

A spokesperson for Sweden’s Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) confirmed on May 13, 2016 that it was in talks with Botswana on transferring about eight surplus JAS 39C/D Gripen aircraft.

Local media reports indicate that a deal had been agreed to buy 16 Gripens for P16 billion to P18 billion (USD1.4 billion to USD1.6 billion).

BDF is also planning to spend P2 billion on eight T-50s and was also expected to buy K2 Black Panther tanks from South Korea.

Botswana is also planning to spend nearly P2 billion on 45 Piranha 8×8 armoured vehicles made by General Dynamics Switzerland – presumably a reference to General Dynamics European Land Systems Mowag (GDELS-Mowag) – and turrets armed with 30mm guns.

Former BDF commander Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe confirmed that his organisation had interest in procuring   new fighter jets to replace an aging fleet of their F5s. 
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chaired by MP for Kanye South Abraham Kesupile, Galebotswe confirmed that his organisation was interested in acquiring a fleet of new jets to boost their air defence capability. 

“The Gripen should fit within this area and give us a certain edge. Fighter (planes) can be jet or turbo propelled. In capability definition we should be able to operate in contested and uncontested space,” said the former commander.

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