By Richard Moleofe
The military in Botswana was established through an Act of Parliament in 1977 and the views expressed at the time were that this is a male only establishment. Over the past four decades of its existence, the military has experienced tremendous change and its form and shape are certainly no longer recognizable from what we have known it to be at its genesis.
One of the extreme changes experienced at Botswana Defence Force has been the employment of women. This did not come easy as this was delayed by a little over a decade as there was so much resistance from the macho man. The male ego was being threatened to the very core by the introduction of women into a male only institution.
It has now been more than ten years since the first female Officer Cadets were drafted into the defence force and yet they have not been given any desirable treatment either than to be viewed as objects of sexual gratification by their senior officers. By now Botswana Defence Force should be having a female lieutenant colonel in the drive and effort of getting them to decision making leadership positions.
BDF senior officers have been adamantly opposed to the accelerated promotion of women for reasons best known to them. In many military establishments it is not strange to get some group of people or individuals on a track of accelerated promotion and we have seen it happen in Botswana with the likes of special entrants with special skills.
The main issue I want to raise in this debate is really about the resistance that institutions with established traditions such as the military will always exhibit when certain changes threaten their culture. But knowing that culture is dynamic, BDF should introspect and accept changes where the security of the country is not threatened by such changes. In this regard we should begin to interrogate the issue of the enlistment of homosexuals in the military. The fact that they have won a case against government in the High Court and the judges have ruled that same sex intercourse is no longer a criminal act leaves the door open to further complicated developments.
If same sex intercourse is permissibly as according to the court judgement, it does in a way infer that same sex marriages can occur in this country. That is coming very soon because there are many examples of such cases around the world. What this ruling implies is that the homosexual community have crossed the first and major huddle and the easier ones are to follow.
And what are the operational challenges to be faced if homosexual persons are to be enlisted into the military establishment? The first thing that will happen is that the traditional set up of the military as we know it will change. But that is not a problem because these are citizen who need to be given access to employment like anyone else in this country. It is not right to discriminate in as far as employment is concerned in a public institution and the constitution clearly spells it.
But the deployment of homosexual individuals will come to harm the security of our country and will certain affect the developmental trajectory of the military establishment in Botswana. It will affect the way the budget is done because their presence in the military will affect a lot of areas.
Over the years BDF has provided accommodation for single and married men and often this accommodation was shared. There has been a big issue around shared accommodation because of the problems manifesting in that area. What it will mean is this; BDF would have to create accommodation for gays and lesbians separately and that comes at a huge cost.
The cost of bringing homosexuals into a military establishment of a third world country like ours will be crippling economically and would also have dire security consequences. At the moment the budgetary constraints of the military would not even accommodate that change.
Going further to real issues; the introduction of homosexuals into Botswana Defence Force would cripple its operations and compromise the security of the country in a great way. It all starts with training of the individual turning them from a civilian into being soldiers. Usually BDF has two intakes per year, one for Officer Cadets and another for Recruit Privates. This will mean that there should be an additional four intakes, one for gay Officer Cadets and another for lesbians. There would be one intake for gay Recruit Privates and another for lesbians.
Once training is done then come the deployment phase. It has happened before that people have engaged in sexual activities when they are on duty as police, security guards and soldiers. In the current BDF setup where two are deployed to a sentry box in operational areas, it will be too risky to deploy “boyfriend and girlfriend” while taking for granted that it is just two male soldiers.
The employment of homosexuals is totally not practical in our current setting. But will this be discrimination and a violation of their human rights? Many do not have the knowledge that once an individual is drafted into the BDF, they immediately shed some of their constitutional rights the moment they take that oath with a bible and with their right hand raised.
Soldiers have no right to freedom of speech and equally they have no right to freedom of association. Their right to life is somewhat diminished by the fact that they cannot refuse lawful orders that endanger their lives. So far BDF has operated on an unwritten code of “don’t tell and don’t ask” and that is how things should continue going forward.
In the past BDF soldiers have turned down a recommendation by IDM in 1998 to introduce masturbation in the barracks as a way of reducing the incidents of HIV infections. This practice would clearly be in conflict with security in operations as soldiers would be concentrating in giving themselves pleasure as opposed to manning a security point.
*Moleofe is a Security Analyst