BY THOBO MOTLHOKA
Botswana’s openness regarding military spending deteriorated incredibly under former president Ian Khama’s watch, reversing 30 years of historically impressive military spending transparency.
While the country has enjoyed good ratings in terms of good governance and transparency according to international institutions such as Transparency International and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the level of transparency in Botswana’s military sector has been deteriorating over the last few years under Khama’s leadership.
This is according to the latest Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Report on Military Expenditure Transparency in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report states that while information on military spending has been consistently available since 1977, more recently official budgetary reports have become increasingly difficult to obtain, and almost no government information or dialogue on issues such as arms procurement and the national defense policy has been published.
Recent political and military developments, the report says, provide early warning signs that Botswana might be moving away from the principles of good governance, with a growing perception that the state might have been heading towards authoritarianism.
“Information on the defense budget does exist, but it takes substantially greater effort to obtain. While these issues are worrying, the main cause for concern is the decreased public engagement on military-related matters,” the report says.
Media crackdowns and allegations of abuse of power by Khama, SIPRI says, were becoming common themes in Botswana.
The report makes reference to questions being raised in parliament regarding the allocation of resources to the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) .Botswana recorded the third highest percentage increase in military spending between 2014 and 2017 under Khama’s tenure. Military spending grew by 60 per cent (or $182 million) in the same period as part of several military procurement programmes involving France and Switzerland.
Botswana was Africa’s biggest spender on French military hardware in 2016 as revealed by the French defense Ministry. As part of its military shopping spree, Botswana bought Ôé¼304.2 million (about P3.6 billion) worth of military hardware from France alone in the same year. 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. In 2016 sub-Saharan Africa ordered Ôé¼379.9 million worth of military equipment from France, up from Ôé¼89.6 million in 2015. Botswana was the biggest client, ordering Ôé¼304.2 million (80% of total Sub-Saharan Africa expenditure) worth of military equipment. The country was followed by Nigeria and South Africa at a relatively measly Ôé¼27.6 million and Ôé¼20.6 million respectively. Then president, Khama was accused of ignoring recommendations by the BDF to rather upgrade its existing F-5 planes as opposed to buying new aircraft.
Khama, then Commander in Chief, engaged in talks with both Sweden and South Korea to purchase military aircraft. Sweden invited Khama to view their military facilities and inspect the Gripen C/D state of the art fourth generation fighter jet.
Khama’s decision to ignore the recommendations was seen by some in the BDF chain of Command as undermining the subservient role that the military ought to play in a democracy, especially for a country located in one of the least conflict-prone areas of Africa. A country that has always enjoyed peace and stability.
The SIPRI report says although Transparency International has ranked Botswana as one of the top-ranking African countries with regard to governance and transparency, it fairs far worse in the Government Defense Anti-corruption Index. “This assessment of corruption risk put Botswana in the second worst band (band E) in 2015. It categorized the state’s risk of corruption as ‘high’, with no public engagement on budgetary matters and very weak attempts to address corruption.”
The report attributes the lack of transparency to the absence of public participation in the budgeting process. The lack of a defense policy or mechanisms for scrutiny, SIPRI reports, means there is almost no accountability over the government’s military spending, increasing the risk of both resource mismanagement and corruption.
Part of criticism over the lack of transparency over BDF’s procurement processes has stemmed from former president Khama’s own business interests. Seleka Springs, a company owned by the President’s brothers and believed to have benefited immensely from BDF tenders, acted as the agent for the 1996 purchase of the F-5 “Freedom Fighters” for 28 Squadron. The company’s commission for the purchase remains a mystery.
According to SIPRI’s military expenditure transparency in sub-Saharan Africa archives, the level of transparency in Botswana’s military sector has, until Khama’s tenure, been historically very high.
“Some of Botswana’s neighbors, such as Namibia and South Africa, publish initial budgets, revised budgets and details of actual outlays. Botswana has only ever provided budget and revised budget documents. Sometimes the only reliable official source in recent times has been budget speeches.” No revised estimate for 2016 was provided in the 2017 budget documents .The budget speech combines the defense, security and justice sectors into a single ministry, making it almost impossible to disaggregate military functions from others such as the police and the judiciary. The SIPRI policy paper, released this month (November 2018) was compiled by Nan Tian, Pieter Wezeman and Youngju Yun.