Monday, May 27, 2024

General Masire risks undermining the sanctity of the BDF

The Botswana Defence Force has always been apolitical.

We need to keep it that way.

But in parting ways with that tradition, the BDF commander says there should be no regime change.
I had grown to believe that such capacity for outrage could never be a character of our military, the institution that had always prided itself with professionalism and political impartiality.

Just how different is that statement from the mantra by military generals in Zimbabwe who without fail always remind us that they shall never allow power to fall into the hands of Robert Mugabe’s opponents.

In a democracy, regime change is a matter way above military pronouncements.

It is a matter to be settled by their civilian principals ÔÇô who include those in power and their oppositions.

I recently watched on television, the British Prime Minister David Cameron tell his army chiefs to concentrate on fighting and leave the talking to him. The youthful Prime Minister had been annoyed by what he perceived to be an intrusion into the political space by the army chiefs.

Cameron’s statement kept crossing my mind this week as I read on various media the details of a press conference recently addressed by the BDF commander, General Carter Masire.

How I wish there was somebody in our shores who could tell General Masire to leave politics to politicians and allow himself more time upgrading the preparedness and professionalism of the BDF.
It may very well be that the line between the army and politics has now been blurred not least by the fact that we have a President and Vice President who are both former army generals.

But allowing serving generals to make explicit and loaded political statements, as General Masire so clearly did this past week, easily passes as a shocking historic novelty.

It marks one of the lowest ebbs in the history of the Botswana Defence Force.

It is not immediately clear why, as a soldier Masire, thinks there is anything inherently wrong with regime change.

What is, however, clear is that his motives are questionable, especially coming at a time when the entire Government apparatus is on a frantic frenzy to redeem itself following a bad showing during the just ended two months strike.

The issue is much bigger than what General Masire felt about the conduct of the media and opposition parties during the strike.

The issue is about the reputation, the integrity and credibility of the army.
The BDF has, up until now, behaved impeccably.

The senior command has always made it clear what it was and was not saying. Long before Masire became the commander, the army made it a point to limit itself to assuring the nation that the country’s borders were in safe hands, that every thebe of the billions of Pula loyally passed by parliament every year was used discreetly to purchase the hardware best needed for the country defences and that the army was always going to serve whatever civilian government that came into power.

This week’s press conference by the BDF commander seems to have shattered all those long standing traditions.

He may not realize it, but by casting aspersions on the integrity of opposition parties, General Masire has effectively put the army on the line of frontal attacks by politicians.
By joining the debate on the side of the ruling party, the Botswana Defence Force has effectively diminished its standing in the eyes of many Batswana who had always looked at this institution as one of the unifying forces.

This is a crime long committed by the head of DIS, which we had hoped the BDF, owing to its political detachment, maturity and vintage wisdom, would never commit.

Is it any wonder that some people are now increasingly suspicious that the much publicized stunt by President Ian Khama in Lobatse was a stage managed episode, itself a part of the momentum to get Government back on a pedestal?

The Egyptian army is one of the most powerful on the African continent.
It receives billions of dollars in unparalleled largesse from the United States.
The world over, the Egyptian army’s proximity to the United States is only dwarfed by the Israeli Defence Force.

One of Egyptian army’s most celebrated officers is a certain former pilot by the name of Hosni Mubarak, a retired four star general who made his name during the Israeli /Egypt war of 1973.
Mubarak is the same man who in February this year left the presidency because the army, which he served with honour for many years, refused to side with him against the Egyptian people who wanted regime change.

To his face, the army told Mubarak to leave and he did.

General Masire should take a leaf from the Egyptian army.

Instead of taking sides with the party in Government, the BDF should commit itself to always side with the people of Botswana.

Otherwise the army will fast lose the prestigious spot it occupies in the eyes of the nation.

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