I am Worried About the BDF – Khama

  • Says the BDF seems to be in the grip of serious problems because it cannot fight mere poachers
  • Says government’s response on fighter jets/air assets was laughable


The second commander of Botswana Defence Force and former president (BDF), General Ian Khama, says the current state of affairs at the BDF is perturbing and should be attended to as a matter of urgency.

In an interview with this publication, Khama said he wished he was as free to speak about the BDF as another of his successors, General Gaolathe Galebotswe, “GG raised some points in your article last week,” he said. “I wish I was like him, free to re-discuss. But I am not.”

Even so, General Khama shared hints of his views about the BDF. “Look, you have an entire army failing to deal with the mere criminal poachers,” he said. “What does that tell you about them. Mind you, we are not talking about any organised militia or armies coming in but criminals running around in the bush. And we can’t deal with them? I may not be with the BDF on the ground, but what is going on there points to a serious problem which needs to be attended to as a matter of urgency.”

The former president said it is true that for many years they postponed army priorities such as upgrading for the benefit of other equally important national priorities across different sectors.

Air assets, fighter jets and radars. Who is fooling who?

Amidst political pressure, the government seems to be shifting from the much-talked about Gripen fighter jets to what they call air assets. According to General Khama, this points to a defence minister is swimming in a pool of confusion. “I read the defence minister (Kagiso) Mmusi’s response on the fighter jets issue and I could only laugh. Clearly he doesn’t even know what he is talking about,” he said.

Mmusi recently said the funds allocated to the BDF would not be used for the purchase of aircraft or jet fighters. “The term ‘air assets’ in the 2020/21 Budget Speech appears to be misunderstood, perhaps for political reasons,” Minister Mmusi said when responding to the budget speech as delivered by Minister of Finance, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka. “Let me set the record straight that the amount allocated for air assets will not be used for purchasing any aircraft but will instead go towards radar operation systems upgrades, integrated landing systems, etc which are also air assets.”

But Khama, who is also a pilot, observed in his interview with The Gazette: “Radars are not air assets. Even if they are used to detect aircraft, they are based on the ground.”

Aircraft also have radars to detect other aircraft such as commercial flights so that aircraft do not fly into others, he explained. Khama said Mmusi was talking about ground-based radars which are not air assets. “Anti-aircraft weapons used to bring down enemy aircraft are based on the ground and they are not air but ground assets. I don’t know what he is talking about and I don’t think he knows what he is talking about either.”

Asked for his views about what was currently happening regarding the fighter jets that he went to Sweden for with former defense minister Shaw Kgathi and a BDF deputy commander, Khama responded: “I can’t say because I am not in the loop any more. Some of these aircraft are not bought off the shelf but need a year or more to be manufactured and there is a lead time. They may have ordered that then or they may have cancelled, I do not know.”

Khama said Batswana can only wait to hear from the defence ministry budget proposal when it is presented. “But then again, he may choose to reveal their plans on the issue or may choose not to reveal them for security reasons,” he added. “I will know by then that they have continued with what was agreed during my time or they have hit a U-turn.”

But do we still need fighter jets? “Yes, we do,” came the answer. “But it’s based on the threat. Militaries are also insurance policies. Even if there is no threat, there is that strong factor of deterrence. If you are weak and don’t have a strong credible defence for your country, people may take advantage.”

According to General Khama, militaries of today have to assess if jets as a deterrence are necessary, saying they were considered necessary during his time. “I can’t say the same is necessary today because I am not privy to intelligence which could shed more light on our current situations,” he concluded.