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Home » News » Politics »  UDC Urges Swedish MPs to block Gripen deal

UDC Urges Swedish MPs to block Gripen deal

Publishing Date : 12 June, 2017

Author : AUBREY LUTE

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) president, Duma Boko has written a petition to the Swedish Government titled Botswana Arms race in the midst of poverty, massive unemployment and social inequality. The petition protests Botswana government’s ongoing and planned military spending.


Boko states that their plea as representatives of Botswana's political parties and civil society is for the Swedish Parliament not to approve the sale of these fighter jets to the government of the Republic of Botswana as it is not in the national interest to do so.


“Our position is that military spending must be kept to the barest minimum, and Botswana's meagre resources should be used to build better infrastructure, such as water and electricity supply, in order attract foreign investment, reduce poverty, unemployment, social inequality and reword labour productivity, especially in the public sector,” he writes.


The UDC leaders observes that since 2008, with the arrival of General lan Khama as Botswana's president, the country's national security' expenditure has been on the increase. He cites the Stockholm International Peace Research (SlPRl), which records that Botswana's military expenditure jumped from US$ 292 million in 1998 to US$ 377 in 2OO8 to US$ 436 in 2015 (at constant 2014 prices and exchanges rates).


“According to the more recent National Development Plan (April 2017-March 2023), Botswana is planning to spend about fifteen (15) percent of its GDP on what is labeled 'Territorial integrity'. lt is estimated thot about half of this will go towards the acquisition of the ultra-modern Swedish mode Gripen JAS 39 fighter aircraft, manufactured by SAAB.”  


Boko informs the Swedish Parliament that Botswana intends to acquire between eight and 12 of these aircraft. He explains that the Gripen JAS 39 aircraft is on ultra-modern and very advanced fighter, even by European standards that military aviation experts say the BDF neither needs nor can afford.


He shares that critics have questioned the wisdom of this intended military aircraft, especially fighter jets such as the Gripen, pointing to the BDF's immediate needs in anti-poaching, border security patrols and peace keeping operations on the continent. While nobody's is against BDF modernization, various experts argue for o multi-role lighter aircraft rather than the Gripen or even the T-50.


“But it is also important to note thot not only the BDF in general, but the soldiers in particular, have much more relevant and even desperate needs. lt is common cause that in many cases BDF men and women lock such basic supplies as new boots and socks, let alone decent accommodation, and live permanently in tents,” observes Boko.

ECONOMY LOOKS REALLY GLOOMY

In the petition, Boko observes that Botswana's economic situation now looks really gloomy. Whilst in 2009 foreign debt stood at 6.3% of the GDP, ii hos now increased to about 16% of GDP, fueled partly by lan Khama military spending spree, official figures pu1 unemployment at 19%, but the accelerating closure of mines and factories is likely to push the figure higher. Youth unemployment now exceeds 4O7", and a fifth of the country's two million people live on less than $2 a day; across the country the ranks of young and embittered are swelling.


According to the UDC leader the impending revision of the SACU revenue-sharing formula will see Botswana's shore-its second largest revenue source after diamonds - decline significantly. Boko says diamond sales – which contribute o third of the country's GDP - have lost their sparkle, declining by up to 30% in market value over two years, according to S&P report published in December 20,l5. Last year, he says, Debswana, a 50/50 venture between Botswana government and De Beers, closed its Damtshaa diamond mine, adding woes to on industry thot hos shed up to 30,000 jobs.


“The Australian copper junior miner Discovery Metals Limited filed for bankruptcy lost year, leaving 450 workers near the Okavango Delta out in the cold, while African Copper closed its operations at Mowana and Thakadu in central Botswana. On August 31 2016, the state-owned BCL - Botswana's biggest copper and nickel mine -collapsed into bankruptcy after enduring three decodes of losses, throwing about 6,000 miners out of work and dealing o heavy blow to the Francistown/Selibe-Phikwe regional economy.


ln a society where the average size of the family is four, the 6000 lob losses mean about 24,000 people have been impacted directly or indirectly by the mine closures. The commercial banking sector, considered more resilient thon others, is seen by the country's central bank as "weakening" because of the general decline of the economy. The financial services sector contributes I 1% of GDP. Ln December 2015, when commodity prices slump began to bite.”  


Boko further blasts Khama for withdrawing P3.5 billion from the Pula Fund, a stabllization reserve created with diamond revenues, to finance a populist Economic Stimulus Package (ESP). He directs the Swedish Parliament to the international rating agency, S&P, which warned in January of this year that Botswana faces a "deteriorating outlook" in 2O17, suggesting a downgrade from A-/A-2 sovereign credit rating could be on the horizon.


Meanwhile, Boko adds that since 2011 lan Khama has tried by all means to emasculate, marginalize and sideline a legally established Public Sector Bargaining Council, throwing the country's industrial relations, especially in the public sector, into disarray. Using the old and discredited tactics of divide and rule.


The UDC president says Khama has abused his executive powers to award salary increment outside the bargaining council. “We believe that lan Khama is doing this in order to a the questions thot might be raised at the PSBC concerning unjustified military spending in view of the claim thot the government has no money to pay public sector employees decent wages and salaries.

The foregoing account of Botswana's economic and fiscal position puts into stork relief the flowed spending priorities by the current government, specifically its military spending spree. Botswana is not in a position to engage in this misplaced defense spending.”

WAY FORWARD

Boko says it is clear that Botswana as a country cannot afford this kind of military spending because; Botswana faces serious challenges of unemployment, poverty and extremely poor social and physical infrastructure and poor services delivery. There is an urgent need to address the issue of ever rising unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment, which will go a long way towards reducing Botswana notorious high levels of poverty and social inequality, says Boko. He cites that none of these challenges can be solved by the current military shopping spree.


According to Boko, Botswana is not facing any direct external threat and the cost of purchasing and maintaining a fleet of high tech and advanced jet fighters is prohibitive as evidenced by the experience of South African Defence Force. He points out that this will be on ill-advised spending in the face of more compelling national priorities. What is more, this is not even o priority for the Botswana Defence Force, but something driven by the selfish interest of the current Botswana president, who stands to reap a handsome commission through his family company, Seleka Springs, he reasons.


The UDC leader is of the view that this purchase is also unjustified in the sense that it starts on arms race in the region, which is the delight of Khama family; will create o vicious circle of arms race, as some countries want to outperform others, and still, Khama family will be the winner.


KHAMA FAMILY AND THE WEAPONS TRADE

Boko further writes that it is also important to note that Ian Khama's military spending spree is not even indicative of his 'patriotic' or even 'altruistic' credentials. He says it is all about his unbridled selfishness and policy of self-aggrandizement. The President's family has deep roots in the weapons trade.

“President lan Khama and his brothers have, through their military supplier company, Seleka Springs, dominated BDF tenders for decodes, especially during the time when he was Commander of the BDF,” he writes. Boko shares the Minisier of Defence, Justice and Security once revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question, thot Seleka Springs, has acted as agents for several European companies for the supply of specialized military equipment, ammunition and spares.

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