Sir Seretse Khama’s then Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) viewed opposition political parties and trade union activities as presenting security threat to the then new nation-state.
These are the same views held by current President Ian Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party and organisations such as the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) were formed to guard against such threats- a paper penned by a University of Botswana Professor has suggested. Professor Monageng Mogalakwe argues in the paper titled, “Deconstructing National Security: The case of Botswana” published in the Sacha Journal of Policy and Strategic Studies states that Botswana’s approach to national security can be gleaned from the national security threat analysis briefing prepared by the Botswana Special Branch on the eve of Botswana’s independence.
The briefing, which was prepared for the incoming Prime Minister Seretse Khama listed among others as security threats: communism or communist inspired activities, subversive or potentially subversive activities by opposition parties or groups, opposition by chiefs arising from their discontent over the erosion of their traditional powers and activities by labour unions, endangering the vital services of the state and national economy. Mogalakwe states that the advent of modern intelligence and security in Botswana came at the height of the Cold War, and that it was the Western, Cold War anti-communist notion of national security of the British Special Branch that shaped the meaning of ‘national security threat’ in the then Bechuanaland.
He quotes Neil Parsons (1999) who posited that the remit of the British intelligence at this time was to suppress the spread of communism and to de-radicalise African nationalism and channel it along pro-Western or even pro-British direction, and to ‘turn’ the most radical nationalist leader, bring them out of jail and make them government ministers if necessary. Seretse Khama, who had previously been persecuted by the British government because of his marriage, later became the first president of independent Botswana and a darling of the British government and was even given a knighthood, the Knight Commander of the
It is interesting to note, especially at that time of Botswana’s imminent independence from Britain, that communism, communist inspired activities and Pan-Africanist activities would be presented as national security threats to the soon to be born republic, and not the white minority regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia, reads the paper. “Of further interest is that domestic political opposition to Seretse Khama’s Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP), and even trade union activities, were also presented as constituting security threat to the new nation-state.” DIS commenced operations on 1st April 2008, succeeding the short-lived Security Intelligence Services (SIS), which had succeeded the Special Branch in April 1998 (Botswana Government 2008b). However what is more interesting is that Botswana’s national security threat assessment template is the one used more than four decades ago present to Seretse Khama. Complete with its anti- communist, anti-PanAfricanist and anti-nationalist bias.
“This template also identifies domestic opposition to the ruling party, whether emanating from other political parties or trade unions, as constituting national security threat,” notes Mogalakwe who also questions DIS’s political neutrality. Botswana does not have a national security policy (NSP), and the context that guides and informs DIS in the execution of its mandate remains unclear, Mogalakwe says adding that this is further aggravated by the inclusion of the ruling party apparatchiks in the Central Intelligence Committee (CIC). The 13-member CIC committee, which is at the heart of intelligence gathering include key Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politicians such as; Khama, Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Ramadeluka Seretse, Phandu Skelemani, Permanent Secretary to the President, Eric Molale and the Attorney General.
He says the involvement of BDP politicians in a one-party dominant system blurs party interests and national interests. “Instead of them being consumers of intelligence, these ruling party apparatchiks have a direct managerial responsibility for the DIS,” argued Professor Mogalakwe. He says DIS is facing a number of challenges which include how to ensure the political neutrality of the DIS in the absence of a national security policy to guide its activities, especially in a one-party dominant system, and, secondly, the lack of accountability to civilian authority. Another thorny issue with regard to DIS’s political neutrality concerns the composition of the CIC.
“The ruling party apparatchiks, with well-known vested party political interests, are directly involved in guiding the DIS on all matters relating to national intelligence and security interests” He argues that this gives them access to information in the hands of intelligence and security managers. This is likely to blur the line of demarcation between policy and operations, open the door for political abuse and manipulation and negatively affect the credibility of the DIS.