For many citizens not well versed with military and security nuances, understanding the ongoing shenanigans within the military and intelligence services agencies can prove as unwieldy as is intriguing. This is very much so because Batswana have over the years grown used to being served by a security apparatus that is both immensely professional in its operations and wholly apolitical in all its gestures, a military that obeys instructions from a civilian political leadership, and a political leadership that in return respects the army operational independence as well its professional detachment.
These relational patterns and postures have served Botswana pretty well. Crucially such attitudes have differentiated the Botswana Defence Force for example from many other national forces across the sub-continent many of who have their foundations easily traceable to civil wars and guerilla warfare that so much plagued Southern Africa in the recent past. Put more crudely, Batswana are wholly right in their inability to fully grasp reasons behind the intrigues and ongoing inter and intra security agencies infighting which have now mutated into little more than private wars with the anti-corruption agency, DCEC intermittently joining in as an and erratic and often directionless lapdog. Irrespective of political party affiliation, politicians across the spectrum have as a tradition always steadfastly held all security agencies in high regard. And this notwithstanding the fact that over the recent past we have seen the army morph into a kind of a political nursery school for training future leaders and activists for the ruling party .
We are as a nation skating on thin ice and it all has to do with playing politics with the army. If our political leadership does not resolve what is currently happening between our armed forces the upshot of it will be dissipating morale levels, ultimately becoming so thin, so fragile and so undependable as to literally guarantee mutiny of some kind. We cannot for example forever rely on such legal instruments like the Botswana Defence Force Act as deterrence against mutiny when politicians and their underlings are day in and day out behaving so irresponsibly as to treat soldiers like animated toys. With so indiscipline reported at the top ranks, citizens are wholly right to ask themselves the extent of preparedness by our security agencies in the event of an emergency that could require their intervention.
What is happening within our security infrastructure is not only unprecedented but also appalling. Never before (and there have been too many scandals besieging our security agencies) have we had top officers stealing expensive and security sensitive equipment like a multi-million Pula jammer and keeping it for private use without the express knowledge, much less authority of the commander. While this points to the extent of the rot within our security services, as the general public (or civilians, to use a popular military parlance) we should not be content with laughing this down as a clear-cut isolated case of indiscipline within our security infrastructure. Rather, what it all points to is not only the existence of badly polarized divisions within the different agencies but also the existence of increasingly powerful rogue elephants within them. From their behavior it is evident that coordination of the various agencies which is infinitely crucial for purposes of information and intelligence sharing is either lacking or worse, currently in limbo. This has given room not just for bickering, role duplication and irrational inter-agency competition but also to ugly prospects of empire building and headless turf wars. What for example is the operational relationship between DIS, MI and CID? Repeated calls for official clarification have been ominously ignored, inadvertently giving way to opportunistic and often deliberate blurring of lines by those in operational charge of these agencies.
In the absence of a strong leadership at the centre to provide strategic guidance, coordination and oversight based on good faith, this can be a recipe for disaster. And this is what we are seeing play right before our very eyes. Inter-agency wars as reported in the media and not denied by the authorities hint at the fact that we are now reaching a tipping point. It gets worse when one adds DCEC to this already poisonous mix, which was recently reported as planning to purchase an expensive spying equipment that is, not surprisingly already possessed by DIS. While inevitable under the circumstances, problems emanating from operational grey areas and mandate overlapping only provide half the story. We cannot for example ignore the fact that almost the entire set of promises made as at the creation of DIS that the agency would help deliver a more secure nation have in the main been scuppered and thrown off the trajectory by corrosive and immensely protracted public relations lapses that continue to eat into the agency’s public profile. It is an understatement to say DIS has lost traction.
A grim result of these public relations failures has been a much more entrenched public mistrust of the DIS that borders on contempt and even hatred. The situation is not helped by pervasive perceptions among other agencies (possibly true but also likely stemming from envy) that President Ian Khama has a personal soft spot for DIS which results in him favoring it over other agencies. It is a source of tragedy that those who at its inception had sought to shoot down DIS down as Khama’s institution and hardly anyone else’s have now been vindicated. Until the DIS image deficiencies are resolved, the public, now ably fortified and validated by leakages from other security agencies, including but not limited to DCEC will continue to hold an immensely believable narrative that the DIS was right from inception a cover for a much grander corruption concealing scheme that has all the under tones of a political-security-commercial complex. There is nothing wrong treating DIS differently from other agencies.
What is however inherently wrong and potentially counterproductive is for the supreme authority to treat the agency as if it’s greater than all the others. When all is done, Khama now finds himself in an all unenviable position of having to prove that he is above all the dust of corruption that is burying our security agencies.