In 2008, Botswana reached a historic milestone by enlisting women into the army with the view of training them for active duty, something that has never happened since the inception of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) in 1977. According to statistics, after the military was opened to women at cadet level, 1 238 applications were received for only 30 positions to be filled and out of these 856 were university graduates. The BDF selected a batch of female cadets who left for Tanzania to undergo military training with the assistance of the Tanzania Military Academy in Monduli for a twelve month period. Captain Atamelang Vivian Koboyankwe was amongst the first batch of women to travel to Tanzania and seven years after enlistment she shares her journey as a pioneer.
Captain Koboyankwe joined the army when she was 23 years after she graduated with an honours degree in Computer Systems Engineering from Botswana Accountancy College (BAC). Upon meeting her, her petite frame belies the tough job she does and without her uniform her identity as a soldier is not in the least bit evident. She is soft spoken but exudes a strong personality as she explains her journey to becoming the highest military position (Captain) a female had ever reached at the BDF.
“Prior to the first recruitment there were no women soldiers and I never thought it was something that would ever happen. Growing up every child dreams of what they want to be professionally and being a soldier never crossed my mind. But when the opportunity availed itself I took it like any other job opportunity and joined. It is something that I initially saw as an opportunity and I eventually fell in love with it,” said the 31 year old Kanye native.
She went on to reveal that after recruitment she was fortunate enough to be selected for training in Tanzania, alongside 29 other trainees from Lesotho and Tanzania. She admits that she had no problem changing certain things in her life, like shaving off her hair and forgoing those things she thought made her feminine. “Every profession comes with rules and I was just doing what I had to do plus I knew my hair will grow back. You have to be a soldier to understand the training we went through and all I can tell you is that we were trained mentally and physically. It was like a classroom setup, at least that’s how it felt to me because we were just mixed with men but we slept in separated flats.”
She was very careful with her words and hesitated to detail her daily routine at training camp, a subject she dismissed and said she did not feel comfortable talking about. She instead said there was no special treatment when it came to their work load. “We were all treated equally even though we are not the same physically. Even if we were running you wouldn’t find women lagging behind; we mixed together, performing to our level best. There was no special treatment because you were a woman,” she said.
When she spoke of her fears in her profession Koboyankwe said she joined the military knowing what it meant and went through training to prepare herself, “It meant protecting my country and the training we went through prepared me for anything. I am guided by the love for my country and nation and if I were to be sent to a war torn area it is something I am willing to do.”
When she was asked about the ratio of men to women in high positions within the military, Koboyankwe said , “We haven’t reached high ranks because we did not start this profession with men. But we are moving at the correct pace, the same pace men went through when they started, so one day we will be up there. I am also particularly impressed with the number of women who turn up for this profession and I highly recommend other women to join. I am now a stronger person, not just physically but also emotionally and the way I handle every day life challenges is different since I became a soldier,” she explained.
Koboyankwe also concluded that since she joined the military, men and her family members have not treated her any different. “It’s the same because I am still the very same person; they don’t see Koboyankwe the Captain, they just see their daughter, an aunt, sister and a woman.”