TRADING WELFARE FOR WARFARE: Khama Swedish Gripen shopping spree
- Swedish govt defends Khama’s purchase of P15 billion war planes
- Kgathi visits Swedish Air Force
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has defended President Ian Khama’s decision to spend P15 billion on Gripen military aircraft in Stockholm yesterday, revealing his eagerness to have Khama sign Saab the deal.
Löfven blasted critics of the multi billion pula arms deal stating that Sweden cannot dictate Botswana’s defence needs. He expressed his dislike for what he terms a “patronizing attitude “by those who argue about the prioritization of Botswana’s education and health needs as opposed to the colossal arms deal. “It is up to each country to decide for itself,” he said, adding that he hopes Botswana buys the Swedish Gripen should it arrive at a decision.
Before Khama’s meeting with the prime minister yesterday, Botswana’s Defense Minister Shaw Kgathi landed in Karlberg Castle- Stockholm where he met Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and representatives of the Swedish Defense Materiel Administration, FMV, to inform himself about the Gripen fighter jet. Saab set up an office in Botswana, in 2013, in anticipation of successful Gripen negotiations.
Kgathi also visited the Swedish Air Force Wing- F 21 Luleå, or simply “F 21”. F 7 is a school where pilots begin their training in the JAS 39 Gripen and after that the pilot’s training is moved out to the two operational wings, one being F21, where they learn their final skills. He is said to have stayed until this past Saturday.
On Monday Khama engaged in talks with PM Löfven to discuss amongst other bilateral trade related issues, the purchase of 8 Gripen war planes at the cost of P15 billion and that was followed by a highly publicized web press conference.
KHAMA VISITS GRIPEN FACTORY
Today (Tuesday) Khama will be received by the Linköping Castle County Governor Elisabeth Nilsson for a tour at Saab in the Swedish military industry district Linkonping to further appreciate the military technology of the Scandinavian country, Swedish media has reported.
Interestingly, one of the biggest employers in Linköping is Saab which among other products manufactures the SAAB Gripen fighter jet and where the SAAB 340 twin-engine commuter turboprop was produced, this publication’s research reveals. The Swedish Air Force Museum is also located near the town.
Apparently in its communication ahead of the trip to Sweden, Botswana’s government did not mention in a single word that any military issues will be discussed – despite a scheduled visit to Linköping and the factory where Gripen is manufactured, as well as a meet and greet with Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist, Swedish Dagens Nyheter reported on Sunday.
In the press conference addressed by Khama and the Swedish Prime Minister, no details of their talks on energy and health sectors was discussed to the media, only the arms deal.
“Instead, they are talking about strengthening friendships and cooperation on poverty reduction, health and environmental protection. But behind “trade and investment”, there’s a hidden potential Gripen business deal worth up to 15 billion pula, equivalent to 14 billion krona. The dialogue is ongoing between the Swedish Defense Materials Supply Agency FMV and the Government of Botswana. Botswana’s defense force is currently implementing a so-called market analysis, according to the Swedish Ministry of Defense,” Swedish Dagens Nyheter reported this past Sunday.
WHY KHAMA WANTS THE WAR PLANES
Even though his response to questions by Swedish reporters lacked the much desired elocution and rationale, Khama said that government took a decision to purchase the war aircraft so Botswana does not get caught off guard in the event that threats arise. He did not explain the nature of the threats and whether the country has conducted any expert security analysis to inform the decision to spend P15 billion on the jets.
“Why does any country need fighter jets? The idea is that every country has a responsibility to police its skies and provide rapid response in its four corners of the airspace in the event of a threat. We have had fighter jets before and we are going in the process of accessing what Sweden has to offer alongside other countries,” Khama said at the press conference.
A reporter quizzed Khama that critics say that there could be better use for the money than buying fighter jets and his response was;“You can say that, not even about aircrafts, you could say that for a single rifle that you buy for a soldier; the money can be better used for anything and everything we look at in our budget passes through our parliament and if those critics are in parliament that’s an opportunity that they have in a democracy to raise their concerns and try to reverse any of our procurement plans.”
Contrary to this, the secretive Gripen fighter jet deal was first reported by the private media and it was only after repeated media exposés on the acquisition that the government confirmed it. Opposition Members of Parliament have come on record complaining that parliament whose majority is the ruling party mostly rubberstamps decisions of the executive and that it cannot provide oversight because of lack of resources, experts and capacity to scrutinize large scale arms procurements.
Khama who has been criticized by Survival International over the government’s treatment of Basarwa made condescending remarks when asked if drones would not make a better alternative for Botswana because buying aircrafts is a huge cost. “Maybe we should look at bows and arrows as they are cheaper than drones,” he said, adding that Botswana cannot avoid the fact that military equipment is expensive and that the country needs the insurance of having to keep its infrastructure and development safe and secured.
He said that he cannot take a chance by letting the guard down considering what is happening in the world today and in the past but did not elaborate further on the point while avoiding to comment on the challenges that South Africa is currently experiencing with half of it 26 Gripen fighter jet fleet which have been conditionally grounded.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR SWEDEN?
While public reports are that the yet unidentified middleman in the deal may make about P55 million in commissions from the deal, the Swedish state-owned Saab seeks to make profit from its manufactured Gripens. In its aggressive campaign against competitors- South Korean T50 fighter jet, Saab has set up an office in Gaborone and has been inviting Botswana government and military representatives to Sweden to lobby for the acquisition in their advantage. Their recent marketing stunt has elevated to high political offices where President Khama got invited to the Gripen factory with Swedish Prime Minister this week.
Saab Defense was created in 1937 specifically to build aircraft for the Swedish Air Force towards World War II, and reports are that in recent times the market for fighter planes seems to have weakened and the company has begun looking for new markets in which to diversify. The Swedish economy reportedly took a slight knock in its first quarter of 2017 compared to 2016; at a 2.25% growth compared to its neighbour Finland which was at 2.7% at the same period. It is in the same interest that the Prime Minister of Sweden defends the military “trade deal”.
SWEDEN ACTING IRRESPONSIBLY?
Opposition Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse has not spared any emotions when commenting on the matter. He said that Sweden has acted very irresponsibly by pushing the Gripen jet deal.
“BDF is under siege from vultures masquerading as military hardware suppliers. Procurement is forced into BDF by the well connected middle men who want to offload from their shelves, in many cases against the advice of defence experts. What is procured by the BDF sometimes is unneeded. There is a need for a forensic audit and corruption investigations into all BDF major arms acquisitions,” Keorapetse told The Botswana Gazette yesterday.
He said that despite the BDF’s history of buying obsolete military hardware in deals that were veiled in secrecy and corruption, the country still does not have adequate ground force equipment that is much needed than the airforce in the region.
“Why not invest in radar systems and other technologies to guard our airspace rather than spending on luxury? These fighter jets will only be used during BDF day celebrations, apart from training BDF needs multipurpose helicopters which can be configured according to situational needs. It also needs ordinary military vehicles for transporting soldiers in operations, “he added.
Keorapetse says that by pushing through this deal, Sweden as a developed country is acting very irresponsibly. Sweden shouldn’t be selling luxury fighter jets to a country still struggling with poverty, huge wealth and income disparities and high levels of unemployment and underemployment (now estimated at 20% but unofficial estimates are much higher).
“It is abdication of responsibility by Sweden to sell arms of war like jet fighters when the country is not faced with any conventional security threat, the region enjoys relative peace and stability and there’s no threat from any external adversaries. Threats requiring jet fighters are imagined, they can’t be pointed. Our suspicion is that the President will personally benefit from this deal…our suspicions are not without basis; his twin brothers own a company called Seleka Springs which has been winning contracts as “middlemen” between arms suppliers and the BDF.