Sunday, June 16, 2024

Increased military expenditure should be explained clearly

Other than the Economic Stimulus Package, the one talking point in the Budget Speech that was recently presented by the Minister of Finance, Ken Matambo has the drastic increase in military expenditure.

That expenditure would be very easy to explain if it was directed at the appropriate priorities that are faced by Botswana Defence Force.

Instead of buying boots, proper uniform, and improving the welfare of soldiers, almost the entire of the more than P3 billion announced will go towards a purchase of fighter jets and also hi-tech air defence systems.

That is an unpardonable, reckless and irresponsible decision by our politicians.

Other than clear consequences of starting an arms race in the region, defence analysts and military strategists are united in pointing out that the purchase of the modern fighter jets that the BDF intends to buy will not provide our military with any strategic edge over our neighbours.

Additionally, not much strategic ground is going to be gained save to increase unwelcome scrutiny from our neighbours and also breed envy and suspicion.

There is no evidence to suggest that Botswana faces any military threat in the short to medium terms.

Politically, the southern African region has stabilised and democratic culture is fast entrenching itself.

It therefore does not make much economic sense to buy such expensive military hardware at a time when the economy is stagnating and all indications point to social discontent on account of rising unemployment and weakening social security valves.

If purchase of expensive jets the use of which is not immediately apparent is believed to be a way to enhance Botswana’s lost international prestige, it is important to remind our leaders that our prestige was never at any moment based on military might.

Quite conversely, such prestige was premised on our democratic values, our strong faith in diplomacy and our internationalist outlook which made us outward looking rather than our current isolationist disposition.

The costs of buying the proposed jets will with time grow, not decrease as other countries in the region will naturally have to behave in kind. The situation will spiral out of control resulting in a vicious cycle.

The race that we are starting is definitively not a race that we can win.

The economy of South Africa for example is many times that of Botswana.

To put it into perspective we are like two teams playing in different leagues.

Yet South Africa is unlikely to view the provocative behavior by Botswana as an innocuous one that does not warrant closer scrutiny and possibly a response from a bigger brother.

The announced military expenditure is inexorably driving the country into a bind from which we might be unable to untangle ourselves.

An even bigger tragedy is the fact that all data points to the fact that Botswana’s economy is fast sliding towards a hard landing.

And if that is true huge military expenditure to buy war toys that we shall never need is the last thing we should be doing.


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