Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Lessons Learnt from the Zika Virus

In light of the current Corona Virus pandemic, there are lessons to be learnt on how each country could bring its military into effective use. Let us take a cue from how the Brazilian military dealt with the Zika virus to the very end. Certainly there are lessons to be learnt by Botswana Defence Force as they are busy setting up the National Strategic Office to combat the impending crisis.

What we saw then on international news bulletins was representative of an NBC attack on Brazil. Brazilian troops were deployed countrywide adorning yellow suits as opposed to their usual camouflage battle dress uniforms. But the troops there were battling mosquitoes with chemicals. The soldiers were followed by a trail of white cloud which was directed at killing this notorious insect. The country had mobilised over 220 000 troops.

Certainly soldiers are not immune from the ravages of the Zika virus and this is why they were part of the exercise to eradicate mosquitoes. This is how soldiers can become useful in times of national emergencies. The Zika virus was not only a threat to lives, it was a threat to world economies and particularly that of Brazil. The entire Olympic project was under threat and the political leadership was already trembling at the thought of a postponement.

NBC stands for Nuclear Biological and Chemical, and for any country this is an undesirable warfare. At this point, we have to answer the question of whether this country is vulnerable and if so, to what extent?  This question is raised on account of the fact that there are conspiracy theories that Covid-19 was lab created.

Botswana is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and in this regard the country has never entertained the thought of developing nuclear for purposes of power generation or weapons systems. However, this country is rich in uranium deposits, a mineral element for the production of nuclear.

I would like to argue that Botswana is very much vulnerable to an NBC attack particularly when you take into account the current world security. Botswana has always been a member of the world community that fights terrorism even though there is a lot that this country can still do to advance those efforts.

Every country in the whole wide world is vulnerable to an NBC attack but the threat levels differ. Until the arrival of ISIS on the world stage, Botswana’s ratings in terms of her vulnerability were very low. Now this network of terror is clearly hell bent to harm everyone who is not in agreement with them. ISIS has become a new symbol of terror and they have the capacity to reach any part of the world including Botswana.

The current could be a biological weapon gone right or wrong depending on who triggered it. At the same time it could be an innocent naturally occurring virus. In any case, epidemiologists have long predicted the coming of a virus that would decimate the world.

Several BDF officers have received training on NBC in the early 80s and 90s in the United States of America. NBC training is a part of the US military training curricular. Our troops will also need some form of training in that regard. The Americans will be more than willing to train BDF if approached.

When some of us were trained in NBC in the US, we never took those measures seriously because such threat was not eminent. The current state of international terrorism calls for all African militaries to rethink their training strategies. Out of the seven most notorious terror organizations, two of them are based in Africa and those are Al Shabab and Boko Haram.

Terror organizations do not fight according to any rules of engagement. Their modus operandi is to instill terror in the population.  They will use any kind of weapon within their reach and that includes NBCs and particularly ISIS which is more hi-tech than other groups. It is only a matter of time before ISIS lays its hands on one of the three weapons. God forbid!

There are two treaties that forbid or at least restrict the use of such weapons and their research. The first one was in 1925 and later followed by the 1972 treaty. However, countries have found ways of circumventing such restrictions and forged ahead with the development of NBC weapons and their modes of delivery. Terror groups do not abide by treaties and rules of engagement.

Botswana has a high capacity to develop biological weapons when taking into account the complexity of our vaccine industry. This country has a hi-tech capacity to develop foot and mouth disease vaccines and has successfully done so since 1976. It is this knowledge that can be used to develop other forms of pathogens that can be used in warfare.

This calls for government to strengthen bio-security elements at the FMD laboratories and the National Veterinary Laboratories. The development and advances made in the area of microbiology made by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch have opened a totally new avenue into biological sciences and that has made the design and production of biological pathogens much easier. Some of these dangerous micro biological elements can even be achieved in the laboratories of the University of Botswana.

Let me highlight that other forms of NBC elements have always existed in almost every country including Botswana and these are mostly used against individuals. Chemical weapons have become a weapon of choice for intelligence organs in the previous regime. Ricin which is a chemical component with untraceable properties is the most popular with intelligence operatives.

Our country is still living under God’s grace taking into account that Botswana has not registered any case of infection. The military will certainly show case its ability and shine in a time such as this in the middle of a crisis. But it is most challenging to deal with a disease attached so much to human behaviour. The Brazilian troops had to deal with mosquitos. But BDF has an uphill battle.

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