Thursday, October 28, 2021

Kgathi can’t go toe to toe with Mokgware on security issues

You can well imagine what the result would be if a former member of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) high command has to debate security issues with a former schoolteacher. When parliament learnt that there are no police scuba divers in Kasane, the Gabane-Mankgodi MP, Pius Mokgware, wanted the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi, to explain why the Botswana Police Service has not built such capability after 133 years of existence. Of concern, the MP said, was not just the possibility of people drowning but of cross-border drug trafficking between Botswana and Zambia.

At first Kgathi wanted to blow off such concern but stating that he and Mokgware were not talking about the same thing. Earlier, when answering a question from Chobe MP, Ronald Shamukuni, he had understandably restricted himself to drowning because that is what the question was about. However, Mokgware wanted to introduce a big-picture perspective that Kgathi was not prepared for. With no written response in front of him, the minister could not tackle the issue off the top of his head. First resorting to “the answer is one that I gave”, the minister would admit that what the MP was saying was “a bit complex” for him.  What the latter said was that drug couriers could swim submerged in the water either way and that it was important to have scuba divers to patrol the Chobe River.

There really was not any complexity in that issue but once before, Mokgware has raised security-related arguments that Kgathi was helpless against. One was about the planned purchase of fighter jets which Kgathi has continually sought to justify. Mokgware, who was a major general at the time of his retirement in the BDF and knows what 21st century warfare requires, expressed opposition to such purchase. He argued that rather than buy fighter jets, BDF should be investing in attack helicopters which are cheaper and much more effective. Kgathi didn’t push back but even if any BDF officer sitting in the officials’ box had passed a note with a counter-argument via a security guard, it would have been absurd to have a secondary schoolteacher argue with a major general (one who was within a heartbeat of becoming army commander) about how a war should be conducted. The Opposition Bench of the Eleventh Parliament has and often mobilises formidable intellectual firepower on some issues.

Thus far, no Botswana Democratic Party MP has shown any appetite of going toe to toe with the Leader of the Opposition and Botswana National Front president, Duma Boko, on matters related to law. Likewise, the Gaborone Bonnington South MP and Botswana Movement for Democracy president, Ndaba Gaolathe, rules the roost in matters related to finance, investment and policy. However, the dissension in the Umbrella for Democratic Change ranks bodes ill for the opposition fighting the BDP as a united force.

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