By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone – Female service members from the US Africa Command (Africom) will visit Sir Seretse Khama Barracks in the capital Gaborone to engage with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) about matters pertaining to female service members from 2 to 6 October.
The visit comes at a time when many African countries are against the idea of Africa hosting Africom.
Both SADC and the African Union have made it clear that they do not want a permanent US military base on the continent.
But there have long been suspicions that Botswana and Liberia are amenable to hosting the unit.
Spokesperson for the US embassy in Gaborone, Ephraim Keoreng, said that topics to be covered during the visit by the female US soldiers will include family care plans, career progression, health care, and sexual harassment.
“These discussions will serve to strengthen the military relationship between Botswana and the United States and will assist the BDF in their continued efforts to address the needs of female service members,” he said.
The meeting will also discuss and recognise the many valuable contributions made by women in the military service. Botswana started to recruit the first batch of female soldiers in 2008. Immediate comment from BDF on the scheduled visit by US female officers was not available.
There are, however, fears that the plan by the US to establish Africom on the continent are fraying relations with some African countries, including South Africa. Some analysts believe that South Africa is leading moves to prevent an Africom’s presence in Southern Africa and others believe wider moves are afoot to keep it out of the whole continent.
There are also fears that helping Africans improve security on their continent would indirectly serve US national interests, making it less likely that the continent could be used as a launching pad for terror against the US.
When the US officials started briefing African states about intentions of setting up of Africom, they received a stiff resistance as most felt that the US wanted to control of the continent. Many African leaders were upset that they had not been consulted before the February 2007 announcement and regarded the move as a sign of arrogance and condescension by the world super power.
According to media reports in Botswana, the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) and Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) were the only two of the SADC region’s military institutions that did not attend the Africa Command (Africom) exercise, Africa Endeavour, which was hosted by the Botswana Defence Forces (BDF) and sponsored by US Africa Command in Gaborone in 2015. The week-long exercise attracted military leaders from 35 African nations, the African Union, the United Nations and others from European countries.
The absence of the two militaries raised speculation that they might have boycotted the exercise, which focused on communications based on interoperability and information sharing.
Former commander of Africom, General Carter Ham, once raised his concern about the attitude of the SADC region towards the combatant organ, labeling the regional bloc as hostile, especially South Africa.
Another reason that was forwarded for rejecting hosting Africom was that the US action in establishing the command had little to do with altruistic reasons and more to do with selfish motives of establishing access to oil and natural resources; enabling the US to fight terrorism; and countering China‘s growing influence on the African continent.
The US government was forced to shelve the idea of hosting the combatant organ in Africa and instead opted to establish satellite offices through some countries like Liberia, Mali, Rwanda and Botswana who were said to be ready to host these.
Africa is the only continent in the world that remains without a permanent US military presence, though several bases with American troops are dotted across various regions.
Botswana’s hosting of Africom would directly suck in SADC into the orbit of the Pentagon and NATO military adventures, while indirectly affecting the rest of Africa.