By Richard Moleofe
Since we have little or nothing to show for our military spending over the years, what is the next step we need to follow going forward? This question arises from the litany of failures regarding our spending as opposed to what we have in the Botswana Defence Force arsenal.
Let me acknowledge that BDF has excelled in a few areas even though it is nothing to be excited about when taking into consideration the fact that we could be far ahead of such achievements if we had not allowed corruption to entrench itself into our military procurement system.
I am proud to mention that BDF has been rated to have the best Special Forces troops in the continent. That is a plus for us. Our Special Forces troops have proven their mantle by winning Airborne Africa more frequently than any other team. This is the world’s toughest physically demanding completion which includes navigation.
Interestingly they are based at Africa’s biggest airbase. We have spent handsomely as a country on the Thebephatshwa Airbase. When it was handed over to the BDF by the French company that built it, it was a state of the art facility to marvel over.
Get to TAB now and you will not recognize it if you had seen it at the time of the handing over. The green lawns are gone and have been replaced by light yellow desert sand. The tennis courts that were a marvel to watch are now unrecognizable with overgrown vegetation.
Maintenance is failing at all BDF facilities because of the issue of corruption. Most of the budget goes to procurement because that is where it’s easy to divert it into other things.
Corruption is not new at BDF. Rooting it out would require a determined president who will institute a strong and effective commission of enquiry that will unearth all the organization’s ugly past.
As far back as 1994, BDF bought four of the BAC Strikemasters from the Kenyan Air Force. The intention was to increase the existing fleet that BDF already had. This was never to be as the four barely managed to make it to Botswana flying.
The Kenyans refused to deliver them and because BDF already had qualified pilots for the aircraft, they were sent to bring them over. The Kenyans knew well that the planes were not airworthy, hence did not want to risk the lives of their pilots.
By the time the planes reached Zimbabwe, decompression was already taking effect on them. This limited them to flying at very low altitude and by doing so expending too much fuel. They landed at Francistown Airport and never took off again. The next time they left the country, they were parcelled into boxes for museums in Europe.
When you visit Glen Valley Barracks in Gaborone, you will come across a monument of corruption right at the main gate. There seats a bulky piece of anti-aircraft artillery weapon that was retired right after it was bought from Asia.
No one knows the real intensions of the procuring authority as the weapon was as old as forty-two years at the time it was purchased in 2007. The main reason it was decommissioned, it was causing serious health problems to the operators.
The unit responsible for using this weapon had advised against the purchase of the same. But the sale went ahead anyway. That’s how determined corrupt people can be.
When BDF bought their latest set of PC9 Turbo trainers, the Swiss company selling them to us offered very relaxed terms of payment. Those doing the deal refused to pay in instalments because that would have interfered with the 10% fat cut for the middleman. The P200 m was paid in cash.
Corrupt procurement officers have always had their fingers in the jar, whether we were buying bad or good military hardware. The PC9 Turbo is a wonderful piece of flying technology, but the tail-end of the deal was not clean.
The noise about the Gripen has died down. The previous president was hell bent on seeing this deal go through. It began with T50s of South Korea which were equally surrounded by controversy. It will be wise for the current president to cancel the deal with the Swedish aircraft company if there was any deal signed already. There is always an exit clause for every contract.
The speed at which Gen Khama was moving towards the last days of his presidency was causing suspicion when it came to the Gripen deal. The purchase of the aircraft was going ahead under the previous president regardless of all the technical advice against it issued by the operators at BDF.
After Gen Khama failed this country and his soldiers when he was still Commander at BDF, he yet again wanted to push for a senseless purchase of military hardware when he was politician.
The reason Botswana does not have any tanks can be traced to his decisions when he was still at the leadership of the military in Botswana. Imagine that in this day and era we do not have tanks when land warfare is still key to any battle in our times.
We see how corruption in the military can leave a country open to all vices. Nigeria is a typical example in Africa. Corruption in that particular country is so pervasive.
The reason why the almighty Nigerian military cannot defeat Boko Haram is because of corruption. The soldiers in the field have very old sub-serviced equipment. Some of the tanks delivered to their frontline are said to have arrived without engines. Therefore they have been turned into seating ducks for the insurgents.
We are not any better when looking at the endless list of our unserviceable equipment. Our military has that penchant for buying second hand weapons and military hardware. Most of these only help to endanger the lives of our young men and women in the military.
*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst