The recurring news of unhappiness within the ranks of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), especially among the non-commissioned cadres, is quite disturbing. A headline in a local newspaper screams of an “unhappy army” with the disgruntled soldiers kick starting a legal process to recover millions of Pula they are owed.
We must all as responsible citizens be concerned at such developments as they have the potential to upset our national peace, security and tranquility.
The report states that the unhappiness stems from deduction of the soldiers’ 50 percent commuted allowance which is channeled to cater for their food, accommodation and other costs.
As we have argued before, the issue of unhappiness in the country’s barracks must be attended to with urgency. This is especially so given the importance of the work done by the soldiers in the maintenance of peace and security for this country.
It is irrefutable that the BDF has since inception in 1977 been doing a sterling job in the maintenance of peace and security in this country. Established to protect our country from foreign invasion during southern Africa’s liberation struggle, it has undoubtedly developed into one of the world’s most disciplined forces. It has over the years diligently executed its functions nationally, regionally and internationally. The army has displayed selfless commitment and dedication in the┬áexecution of its assignments.
The BDF is currently engaged at the forefront of the country’s anti-poaching campaign. Had it not been for the sterling work of the BDF in this area, our wildlife tourism could have by now suffered irreparable damage as some endangered species faced extinction in the face of poaching.
Government has identified tourism as an alternative engine┬áof economic growth and diversification away from our mineral led economy especially diamond mining. The deployment of the soldiers to supplement the work of the Wildlife Officers has gone a long way in the protection of our endangered and rare wildlife species which faced extinction. There is no doubt that the BDF has been extremely helpful in the fight against poaching.
In times of natural disasters like floods and veldt fires, we also turn to the BDF for assistance. This on its own demonstrates the importance we attach to the BDF in the protection of our national sovereignty as well as the economy.
As crime takes its toll on our under-resourced Botswana Police Service, we look to the BDF to supplement the inherent manpower shortage.
When the country is hit by outbreaks of animal diseases like Foot and Mouth Disease, we quickly deploy the armed forces at designated points to enforce compliance with control measures. The Department of Veterinary Services would not on its own win the battle against the control of the spread of FMD and other animal diseases without the assistance of the army.
The above are just a few examples of the meticulous work that the BDF has done for this country and its economy. It is needless for us to buttress the marvelous work the BDF did in its international assignments in countries like Mozambique and Somalia.
Having regard for the work done by the BDF over the years, we are apprehensive that if the concerns and unhappiness expressed by the soldiers┬áespecially the non-commissioned officers are not expeditiously addressed, they have the potential to cause national instability.
While the BDF has in the past been the major beneficiary of the budget allocation for the Ministry of State President until it was overtaken by HIV/AIDS, not much of the budget has gone into its recurrent expenditure as the bulk has been allocated to its development budget for the acquisition of military hardware and equipment. The bias has in effect prejudiced the soldiers’ welfare issues.
It is equally disappointing that the huge development budget has not gone into the construction of adequate housing units for army personnel as most of the junior soldiers currently live in tents and rented unsubsidized accommodation outside the barracks.
We cannot as responsible citizens afford to look away, remain aloof and fold our arms when the soldiers continuously express their unhappiness.
It is this vein that we urge the relevant authorities especially the Commander-in-Chief and State President Ian Khama, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security as well as the BDF commander to expeditiously address the concerns of the soldiers.
We should not lull ourselves into a false sense of security that if the soldiers vent their anger, we will invoke the BDF Act and charge them with acts of mutiny that attract the death penalty.
We sense a big simmering problem which needs urgent attention and it is only appropriate that we call on the relevant authorities to address the issues and broker an amicable solution.
A mutiny by the soldiers is the last thing that we as a country desire. While we applaud the soldiers for acting cool headedly by kick starting a legal battle in recourse to their plight, we implore government to meaningfully play its part to ensure that the current impasse is amicably resolved.