Politics, second home for military officers

Dense traffi c between the armyand politics has become commonin Botswana with manyretired soldiers joining politics. PresidentIan Khama is a former Commanderof the Botswana Defence Force. Hegot into politics in 1998 when he wasappointed vice president by the thenPresident, Festus Mogae and servedas a Member of Parliament for SeroweNorth.His predecessor in the army, Lieu-tenant General Mompati Merafhe served fora long time as Minister of Foreign Affairsand MP for Mahalapye and later MahalapyeWest. Merafhe was vice president of Botswanafrom 2008 until he retired from offi ce lastyear.


Other retired soldiers serving as electedMPs include Botswana Democratic Party’s(BDP) Major General Moeng Pheto of Lentsweletau,Brigadier Ramadeluka Seretse (SeroweEast) who is also the Minister of Defence,Justice and Security, and Borolong MPKitso Mokaila, currently serving as Ministerof Minerals, Energy and Water Resources.Mokaila had been previously appointed theMinister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourismwhile Pheto served as the Minister ofYouth, Sport and Culture.Why do many retired soldiers join politics?Whilst considered a guardian of constitutionaldemocracy, the military as an institutionis not itself democratic. Clear hierarchywith precise chain of command structure anddiscipline as well as unquestioning obedienceof orders are salient features of a military institution.


Voicing of opinions is not promotedwhilst one is in the employ of the armed forces.Is this perhaps why soldiers join politics,to vent out issues they have bottled for yearsor there are more reasons to this?There seems to be an inextricable linkagebetween the army and politics in Americaas the majority, 31, of former US Presidentsserved in the army as opposed to 12 who didnot serve in uniform. First US President wasa General of the Armies of the United States.Other Generals who became presidents includeDwight Eisenhower, Ulysses Grantand Andrew Johnson among others. Formerpresidents Harry S Truman, Theodore Rooseveltand Thomas Jefferson retired fromthe US army as Colonels. Others such asJohn Kennedy, Ronald Regan, Jimmy Carter,George H. W. Bush and George W. Bushserved in the army at lower ranks, albeit ascommissioned offi cers.


The famous AbrahamLincoln served at the lowest rank of Private.In Britain, former Prime Minister WinstonChurchill served in the armed forces as a SecondLieutenant.Retired soldiers who have made it in politicsseem to have inspired the other retiringsoldiers to join the erstwhile comrades inarms. Francistown Mayor and BDP councillorfor Satellite North, James Kgalajweretired from the army into politics. TonotaSouth Parliamentary hopeful and Khama’sclose friend, Thapelo Olopeng, is another formersoldier active in the ruling party. RetiredLieutenant Colonel Duke Masilo is reportedlyseeking to snatch Kweneng South Eastconstituency from the incumbent, MmolokiRaletobana. Other former army offi cers in theruling party include retired Brigadier BathoengMaseko, who is a councillor for Mandunyaneand BDP Secretary for Publicity andCulture sub-committee, Macdonald Peloetletseamong others.


The opposition seems to have also scoreda little from the pool of retired army men.Brigadier Iphemele Kgokgothwane is a BotswanaMovement for Democracy (BMD)activist. Former BDF Commander of GroundForces, Major General Pius Mokgware isa new entrant into politics; he is serving inthe National Executive Committee of theBMD as an additional member. Other formermilitary men in the opposition include DukeMolelekedi of the Botswana Congress Party.However, there are retired offi cers whoare not in politics such as Lieutenant GeneralTebogo Masire, former commander ofthe Force, who retired last year.


He is animportant member of the community who ismostly invited in important functions withincommunities. He assumed the post to leadthe BDF on November 1st, 2006, succeedingLieutenant General Louis MatshwenyegoFisher who has been recently appointed HighCommissioner of Botswana in Nigeria.In an interview with The Gazette, Olopengsaid it only depends on what people want todo next. “I wouldn’t say when military offi -cers retire they join politics. I never saw retiredmilitary offi cers that I can call rally politicians,all that I saw in politics I saw thoseones with that great element of leadership. Atthe military we are taught good leadership.Because politics are the foundation of leadershipthat could be the reason as to why militaryoffi cers join politics,” he said.He said when military offi cers retire theygo back to their respective homes and theywant to participate in the community.


“It iseither they fi eld themselves in Village DevelopmentCommittee (VDC) or politics. It isall about wanting to contribute in their community.”Narrating his story, Olopeng saidat fi rst he was afraid to get into politics becauseof the language that is being used in it.“Even now I cannot insult anyone at freedomsquares because I still have that disciplinefrom the army,” he said.However, Professor Zibani Maundeni ofthe University of Botswana said according tohis observation everyone who retires in theirrespective jobs tend to join politics. He saidit is much easier to join political parties thanstarting a business; therefore they tend to fi ndtheir second home in politics.