Botswana forges ahead with arms race despite outcry
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone – President Ian Khama this week said that Botswana is going ahead with procurement of Gripen fighter jets dismissing calls to halt multi procurement that is likely to spark an arms race within the region.
The arms deal is expected to cost more than P14 billion according to local media.
Khama, who was in Sweden on a three-day official visit at the invitation of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfve, made the revelation while fielding questions from Swedish journalists during a live broadcast.
His visit followed a strongly worded petition by leader of the opposition Duma Boko to Swedish parliament protecting the planned arms deal between the two countries.
During the live broadcast, a Swedish journalist wanted to know what could have necessitated Botswana’s decision to show interest in procuring the Gripens. Replying, Khama said every country has the responsibility to police its skies.
“Why do we need…why does any country need fighter jets… we need fighter jets. The idea is that every country has the responsibility to police its skies. We have responsibility to provide rapid reaction to the four corners of the country in the event that they are threatened,” Khama said without elaborating who could pose threat to the country’s “four corners”.
He added: “And we’ve had fighter jets before. These are not the first time that we have engaged. We own fighter jets. We are in the process of assessing what Sweden has to offer alongside other countries. So we have been invited, as I have been invited to come in a state visit because of the nature of the aircraft. We are also keen to see, to be given more information about the performance and abilities of the aircraft,” he said.
The journalist informed President Khama that critics “in your country argue that the money could be better used than spent on military aircraft”.
President Khama said: “You could say that not even about aircraft. You could say that not even a single rifle that you buy even for a soldier that could that money be used for anything. At the end of the day, everything we lock in our budget is passed through our parliament.”
According to Khama, “these critics are in parliament so that is the opportunity that they have in a democracy to raise their concerns and try to reverse any of our procurement plans.”
President Khama said at the end of the day Botswana has to use equipment that it believes is suitable as a deterrent and for the defence of its territory.
“There is no doubt that military expenditure is very high. In every country, if you look at equipment like rifles, if you talk about military type of communications, artillery, if you talk about aircraft, it’s all expensive, we cannot get away from it, but we need to have the insurance of being able to keep our country and what we have been able to achieve in the infrastructure development safe and secure,” he said.
He also pointed out that “these are things that I am aware apply to countries across the world, but if you look at what is happening in the world today, if you look at what happened in the world in the past, we cannot take a chance by letting our guard down. So these are the kinds of decisions, these are the balances we have to look at in doing a budget. We look at issues of education, health, road infrastructure and we look at defence.”
Another journalist suggested to Khama that a number of military aircrafts in South Africa were not being used and whether Botswana could afford to use the Gripens in the long run.
Replying, Khama said “I’m afraid I cannot speak for South Africa. I don’t know what is going on with their aircrafts; I’m hearing that from you that they are not using them. I don’t know in what way what you mean they don’t use them. Do they not train on them or employ them in combat missions.”
He added: “But I would like to say that, does that apply to Gripen aircraft or did it apply to any aircraft? Had they not chosen Gripen and they have chosen some other aircraft if they are not using them they wouldn’t be using them. They wouldn’t be using them under any circumstances whether Gripens or something else.”
Asked how the envisaged arms deal was to Sweden and how his country was involved, the Swedish PM Löfve said Botswana was a democratic country which made its own decisions.
“It is not up to us to tell another country that they shouldn’t make those decisions, they are a democratic elected government with a democratic elected Parliament they must make their own decision.”
He added: “I dislike this patronising attitude that we hear from different other actors towards other countries. We have in Sweden right now discussions on how we should strengthen our military capacity… and we are purchasing ourselves equipment and we are telling other countries that it is wrong. It is up to them to choose whether to purchase one of the best aircraft in the world or not.”
A coalition of opposition parties – the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) — has written a letter to the Swedish parliament protesting Botswana government’s planned military spending.
The petition is titled “Botswana arms race in the midst of poverty, massive unemployment and social inequality”.
In the petition signed by UDC president Duma Boko, the parties together with civil society pleaded for the Swedish parliament not to approve the sale of these fighter jets to the government of Botswana as it was not in the national interest to do so.
“Our position is that military spending must be kept to the barest minimum, and Botswana’s meagre resources should be used to build better infrastructure, such as water and electricity supply, in order attract foreign investment, reduce poverty, unemployment, social inequality and reward labour productivity, especially in the public sector,” wrote Boko.