Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has advised its soldiers to apply for passports, in a development largely seen as preparation for deployment in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, a spokesperson of the army, Major Fana Maswabi said this week that soldiers have always been encouraged to apply for passports “at their volition,” because of the nature of their duty, but emphasised that it is not mandatory for them to have passports.
“It is highly encouraged,” Major Maswabi said. He was responding to questions from Botswana Guardian on whether BDF top brass has discussed with government the possibility of deployment in DRC as part of an intervention Brigade under the auspices of SADC. He said foreign deployments are the prerogative of the president as per Section 6 of the BDF Act.
However sources in the army said its recent advice to its troops to apply for passports signals plans that the army was ready to fulfill its obligations of peacekeeping. “Soldiers have been made aware of this passport thing (sic). Never before has the BDF been so keen on encouraging us to apply for passports,” an officer who did not want to be identified said.
Most officers welcome deployment, which is under MONUSCO operation. Despite emphatic denials, diplomatic sources maintain that Botswana is less inclined to deploy in DRC but is under pressure. Fighting between the government of President Joseph Kabila and M23 rebels has been raging for the past few months, with government forces making concessions on key M23 territories as negotiations (Peace Framework for DRC) continue.
Both Kabila and the United Nations blame neighbouring Rwanda for the conflict. British Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds told Botswana Guardian in an exclusive interview that while Britain will not deploy in DRC, it is interested in a peaceful Great Lakes region and said the signed stability and peace framework provides a fertile ground for peaceful negotiations in the region.
“I think it is up to individual SADC member states (to deploy in DRC),” said Simmonds. Currently five countries: Malawi, Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique have committed to deploying troops to the conflict region even before the UN gives the mission the go ahead.