Peaceful Botswana has never fought a conventional war

Points made in The Botswana Defence Force and public trust: The military dilemma in a democracy, by Lekoko Kenosi

Botswana is the oldest democracy in Africa and has never fought a conventional war, whereas all her neighbours have been involved in some form of war.

The concept of democracy in simple terms, Kenosi writes, means a political government that has been freely elected by the people and is accountable to them.

The formation of the Botswana Defence Force [BDF] was a direct result of several factors, one of which was pressure from civil society. After independence in 1966 the Botswana government was reluctant to form a standing army. Former military archivist, Bonolo Ditirwa, says the philosophy of the government at the time was that ‘in Botswana’s military weakness lay its strength as no country was likely to attack a defenceless neighbour’.

However, as armed conflict escalated in neighbouring Southern Rhodesia, it became necessary for Botswana to form an army. The growing violence between the African Nationalists in Southern Rhodesia led to the kidnappings of people in Botswana and the Smith regime’s incursions into Botswana destroyed the village of Mapoka and affected the smaller settlements of Ramokgwebana, Moroka, and Nlakhwane. A lot of pressure was mounted on the BDF to put a stop to these deliberate acts of aggression by South Africa but the BDF never fired a shot at the enemy instead increasing vigilance, mounting road-blocks and imposing curfews.

The South African attacks taught the BDF that nations still require the capacity to apply force, if challenged, to defend the interests of their citizens.

Kenosi notes that the image of a protector as opposed to an aggressor is being marketed.

The BDF has now participated in several humanitarian missions and peacekeeping operations. Very good reports of its operations in Somalia and in Mozambique were given by the international community.

Botswana herders care deeply for their animals and, when game scouts were overstretched, they welcomed the deployment of their army into a traditionally civilian area. The understanding is that once the Department of Wildlife has developed the capacity to handle highly sophisticated poachers, the army will withdraw.

Much work has been devoted to peacekeeping, humanitarian missions, and the promotion of a healthy civil–military environment. The future challenge to the BDF is to sustain a balance: pleasing the citizens while maintaining the operational readiness necessary to respond to external threats.

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