At the recent Airshow organised by the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, you could walk away with something handed out for free – the good people at Swedish arms manufacturer SAAB had come up with the genius idea that they could offer Batswana a token of appreciation for the billions the Batswana taxpayer will be giving them in return- they offered the throngs walking through the gates of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport cap’s embossed with red lettering on the front with the words – GRIPEN. And so the throngs of taxpayers milling around with their young ones, had something to show for their troubles – caps courtesy of a company that has been at the centre of debate in the country. Perhaps it was an expression self-confidence; that the controversial Gripen deal is all but done.
However information reaching this publication suggests the Swedes should not be too confident, least they jump the gun.
Sources indicate that the fighter jet is quickly losing altitude. Sources reveal, in what is an indication of an increasingly “lame duck” presidency of Ian Khama, the support for the Gripen deal has been slowly dissipating.
It is an open secret that a number of BDP MPs in hushed tones, have expressed their condemnation of the increased military expenditure. Last week dissenting MP Ignatius Moswaane on the floor of Parliament criticised, the Gripen deal in particular, and said the estimated P16billion could be utilised to create jobs. “The government of Botswana has suspended national projects which may have created jobs due to recession as well as suspension of poverty eradication programmes due to lack of funds,” he is quoted by the daily Mmegi this week.
Moswaane, however is always on the outside of the mainstream. It is when divisions manifest themselves at the highest level of the executive that things turn serious. The Business Weekly & Review has it on good authority that the president’s brother Tshekedi Khama has expressed his views to his brother that the country does not need the jet fighter deal. A source reveals that Tshekedi sought to mobilise a senior minister to help him put an end to the jet deal, but the minister reportedly asked TK to speak to his brother directly instead.
TK’s stance on the purchase of the Gripens is said to echo the majority view in the Khama family that the transaction, especially at the anticipated cost, is a terrible idea. Khama wants the fighter jet deal signed and sealed before end of the year and certainly before he vacates office in March 2018.
Office of the President insiders say part of Khama’s concern is that perhaps the jet deal would not survive a new Presidency, which commences 1st April 2018 when current Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi takes to the helm of the country. However Masisi is playing his cards close his chest, publicly he supports it. Masisi’s close associates are at most dispassionate in their public support for the purchase, seeing it as the current top man’s project.
The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi, a strong Masisi supporter as seen by the recent ruling party congress, is said to support the deal in public, although to his inner circle he is said to hold a less enthusiastic position.
There are no guarantees for Khama’s favourite projects, were Masisi to ascend while the contractual nuances are being negotiated, as opinions and priorities may shift very quickly, indicates the source. The new President would have his own priorities, warn insiders, for now Ministers publically stand with Khama especially in projects he has a keen interest in, while withholding their personal positions.
“Look you have to understand Ministers, once cabinet takes a position on any issue, they have to implement. Personal opinion views do not matter” said one insider.
The only truly remaining supporter of the Gripen transaction is BDF Commander Major General Placid Segokgo. Segokgo is seen as a much more pro-Khama Commander, compared to his predecessor Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe, who was critical of the way the President had a direct hand in the procurement.
At the time of Galebotswe’s retirement, media reports alleged that part of the reasons his contract was not extended, contrary to established norm, was because of his private condemnation of the jet fighter order. There are two main reasons that army sources say led to Galebotswe losing his job – his condemnation of the multi-billion Pula fighter jet deal, and secondly, his determination to remove the shadowy middlemen who were legendary in BDF procurement circles.
Officers in the top BDF management who served under Galebotswe are said to have a less than enthusiastic opinion of the deal. “There is consensus that the BDF needs a replacement for the F-5, the question is whether the fighter jets currently being considered are the right candidates” offers one BDF source. Those who subscribed to the fighter jet deal argued that the BDF’s F-5s were completely obsolete and had to be replaced with a new fighter fleet. Those opposed to the deal argued that it was too steep financially and out of step with the immediate needs of the BDF and the country generally.
One General, speaking to The Business Weekly & Review a year ago, gave the example of soldiers who struggled to get uniform on time, some having to use their old fatigues. At some point when the BDF engaged in exercises they had to borrow some simple items such as tents from the police and the wildlife department.
Another school of thought argued that the BDF had to transition to a more mobile and short-notice deployment for small isolated incidences rather than an army focused on conventional warfare. Therefore they have argued, the army has to prepare for the deployment of small, mobile units to deploy at short notice, in far-flung areas of the country.
While the Gripen caps may have been a nice memento, it was currently given at the expense of SAAB and their costs not yet carried over to the taxpayers of Botswana.
Efforts to reach Tshekedi Khama hit a blank.