No matter the resistance we put up and take my word when I say we did our best to hold the fort, the bottle of whisky we were having as ‘after-tears’ for the demise of BCL, ultimately took over.
By the time we realise it all, we were in the middle of a deep, candid, engaging and sincere conversation with this one friend of mine who is a retired army General. Whisky had taken all our fears and all these nonsensical ‘need-to-know’ red tapes were cut. By the time we parted with our last drop we had summarily concluded that BDF is a helpless victim of military political seduction. It is essentially a cash cow for the arms merchants who are also the political elites.
It is this peculiar position that the BDF is in, that has once often led me to dismiss Dan Henk’s essay, “BDF: Evolution of a professional African military” as too simplistic if not entirely patronising. In fact, the current position of BDF where the military and political elites are essentially one and the same thing, nullifies even popular theories of Civil-Military Relations (CMR) where the assumption is that the civilian authority ought to provide some sought of oversight to the military. In its current shape and form, there is no way we can expect the political leadership to provide effective oversight of the military without directly hurting their personal interests.
There is no way they would call for financial prudence in the defence and security sector without hurting their profits. I hope one day my friend would be too brave to stand before the public and narrate his personal encounter with these arms dealers and the power they have over BDF generals.
But I guess it is now all public knowledge that BDF’s procurement is not entirely driven by strategic and operational needs but by arms dealers. They dictate to BDF what to buy, where to buy and even the quantities. But not only that, they have even made the procurement process an exclusive affair, reserved only for the few. Effectively, this leaves no room for transparency, accountability and competitive bidding in our security sector. In Regina Spektor’s words, we are just “living in a den of thieves…and it’s contagious.” But hold on for a moment, there is nothing new here. By all accounts, it seems this has been the state of affairs since inception of the BDF.
According to now declassified British High Commission diplomatic telegram (DIPTEL) of 16 January 1981, the then British Commissioner Willy Turner reports about his private meeting with the then newly appointed Governor of Bank of Botswana, Mr Festus Mogae that the latter “confirmed what we have always believed, which was that the BDF was set up solely because of Ian Khama’s pressure, through his mother on the late President Khama.” The DIPTEL goes further to state, “When I asked him (Mogae) what was the political weight behind the BDF which enabled them to achieve this, he commented that in the final years before President Khama’s death, Ian had been able to get anything he wanted from his father who was then ailing and although Dr Masire had always opposed the heavy expenditure, he had been overruled by the President, who had imposed his will on the Cabinet.” Unfortunately, ever since, BDF has never been able to free itself from this shackle of political kidnapping. Any attempt to do so has always been met with cutthroat resistance by the arms merchants who are also political masters.
As things stand, BDF is on a spending spree that may run into billions of Pula. Their alleged contract with French company MBDA Missile System to acquire Vertical Launch MICA (VL MICA) air defence system which has an interception range of up to 20 kilometres and interception altitude of up to 30 000 feet is surely a bank-breaker. This, coupled with acquisition of over 40 sets of Piranha 8x8 3C variant Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), Puma attack helicopters, fighter jets and possibly tanks is likely to empty government coffers in a very bad state. By the time we wake up, as in the case of BCL, it would be too late and with nothing left to steal.