Wednesday, May 22, 2024

President Khama should intervene to bring back sanity to BDF

When he became President in 2008, among other things Ian talked of discipline.
Those citizens who had not served in the army were worried that he wanted to bring a military-like regiment to civilian population.
Over the recent past there have been many warnings that Botswana Defence Force is losing its traction.
Discipline seems to be eluding the army ÔÇô the very institution where President Khama cut his teeth and ultimately mellowed his disciplinarian outlook.
Unfortunately those in charge of the army seem to be trapped in nostalgic sentiment of years gone by when BDF was lauded as among the most professional and disciplined armies in Africa.
We have no intention of blaming the soldiers of this country.
We are aware of the realities under which they serve which are in many ways totally different from those of the past. In fact we are very sympathetic to the BDF soldiers ÔÇô across all ranks, but more especially the junior ranks.
A few years ago salaries of a good number of soldiers were increased only to be cut again.
The explanation given was that it had been mistake to increase their salaries in the first place
At the time we gave Government the benefit of doubt because we are overly aware of the sensitivities surrounding armies, especially in Africa.
We do not want to be seen to be goading the army into a rebellion.
But it has not escaped our attention that by the time the cut was effected, a good number of soldiers had already committed themselves financially based on the recent salary increases.
Up to this day no plausible reason has been given as to why no other solution could have been devised to mitigate the inconveniences suffered by the affected officers.
Reducing salaries shortly after they had been raised was a slap in the face.
If anybody wants to trace the moment at which morale of the BDF started to take a knock, they have to go back to that very moment.
In every army, morale and discipline go hand in hand.
You cannot maintain disciple in an army that has low morale.
In the same way it is also impossible to maintain morale in an army that has no disciple.
Botswana Defence Force boasts some of the best trained soldiers anywhere in the world.
Yet many of those same soldiers insist that across the army morale is today a big issue.
Being a former General himself, President Khama, who by virtue of his position is the Commander in Chief should not have a hard time finding out what the source of trouble is at the army.
We have a few suggestions for him.
The first is for him to establish the relationship between his security agencies, most especially the BDF and the DIS (Intelligence Services.)
In trying to establish such a relationship, we call on the Commander in Chief to use advice other than from the conflicted and we dare say contaminated leaderships of those two agencies.
Our view from a distance is that there is a lot of bad blood between the army and DIS.
This stems from envy.
BDF officers often look at themselves as poor step cousins of the wealthy DIS. This manifests itself in many fronts, but mostly in the working conditions and also prestige with which Ian Khama’s government attaches to DIS vis-├á-vis the BDF.
Under Khama especially with the DIS existence, government does not come across as attaching a lot of premium to the BDF.
That is disappointing, but also shocking to say the least.
This is not to say all problems at BDF can be attributed to DIS.
The quality of leadership at BDF is clearly a big issue.It may well be true that the BDF does not get the kind of treatment accorded to say the DIS.
But our view is that the current leadership is petty, divisive and not concerned by organizational values that could strengthen the BDF.
The information that we have is that specialised aspects of the army, including Special Forces and intelligence units have almost been dismantled.
We are aware of small band of unaccountable Colonels who call themselves “The Cardinals.”
These are said to be the commander’s favourite who are literally terrorising everybody who for any reason finds themselves in their bad books.
This inevitably has polarized the army and scuttled the commander’s potential to effectively run the army.
We call on the Commander in Chief to assess the BDF’s overall combat readiness, overall capabilities and most importantly to react in a way that can reassure the nation and indeed our allies that the BDF remains as professional as it used to when it was sent to peace keeping missions in Somalia, Mozambique and Lesotho.
The Commander cannot stay detached and hope that the troubles bedeviling the army will sort themselves out. If need he be has to use the powers vested in him to appoint new leadership at BDF as a way of restoring confidence among staff but also proving to the increasingly jittery population that he is awake and indeed up to the task in as far as those problems are concerned.
President Ian Khama has a decision to make with regard to the BDF.
That decision is whether or not he wants to leave office with the BDF in a worse state than he found it when he became President.
Again of all the Commanders in Chief that the BDF has had, he is the one best placed to make not political leadership but also professional as well as operational judgments given that he served at the BDF rising all the way to become commander.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper