Botswana: Southern Africa Being Drawn Into Pentagon, NATO Orbit
August 20, 2012
US Military Comes to SADC
Gaborone: There are fresh reports that Botswana is inching closer to hosting the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM).
This follows more than two weeks of joint military exercises by troops from the two countries in Botswana. A few months prior to this, another joint military exercise was held in Botswana.
AFRICOM Commander, General Carter F. Ham, was scheduled to visit Botswana on August 15 and 16 to close off the military exercises and hold talks with security chiefs in that country.
Despite both Botswana and the US denying an agreement on hosting of AFRICOM is nigh, analysts say Gaborone has not done enough to dispel these fears.
And in their denials, senior Botswana Defence Ministry officials said whether or not the country will host AFRICOM is a matter to talk about on “another day”.
Both SADC and the African Union have made it clear that they do not want a permanent US military base on the continent.
But there have long been suspicions that Botswana and Liberia are amenable to hosting the unit.
AFRICOM is presently domiciled in Stuttgart, Germany, but is actively seeking a base in Africa. A military advisor told the US Congress last year that AFRICOM would get its African home in 2012.
Africa is the only continent in the world that remains without permanent US military presence, though several bases with American troops are dotted across various regions.
Botswana’s hosting AFRICOM would directly suck SADC into the orbit of Pentagon and NATO military adventures, while indirectly affecting the rest of Africa.
According to AFRICOM’s website, “The Botswana Defence Force and the US Embassy announced that Botswana will host a joint military exercise known as Southern Accord 12, August 1-17, 2012.
“Joint exercise activities conducted during Southern Accord 12 will enhance the capabilities of military personnel for both countries in a variety of areas, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, anti-poaching, peacekeeping, and convoy operations, as well as aero-medical evacuation.”
AFRICOM’s website also features an article on another US-led military exercise, Eastern Piper 12.
In that exercise, elite Green Berets from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) trained with the Botswana Defence Forces Special Forces on “marksmanship, close quarter battle, medical and tracking training in an effort to strengthen US and BDFSF relationships and to promote and support Special Operations Capabilities”.
Eastern Piper 12 was conducted by AFRICOM and Special Operations Command, Africa for three weeks at Thebepatswa Air Base in Gaborone, Botswana.
This was the site of Exercise Southern Accord, which ran from August 1 to 17.
“With more than 187,000 soldiers based in nearly 160 countries, the US Army presence around the globe points to its commitment to strengthening relationships and assisting with building military capacity in partner nations,” AFRICOM said.
Major-Gen David Hogg of the US Army said afterwards that America would soon begin regular deployment of a brigade of 3,000 or more troops to Africa.
The unit is the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which “will be the main force provider for security co-operation and partnership-building missions in Africa”.
Fears are that this unit will form the core of AFRICOM and will be stationed in Botswana.
Gen Ham was expected in Botswana on August 16 to close Exercise Southern Accord and unconfirmed reports had it that talks would be held on the possibility of that country hosting AFRICOM.
Efforts to get a comment on the record from both the Botswana military and the Foreign Affairs Ministry were fruitless at the time of writing (August 16).
However, an official in the Foreign Affairs Ministry said, “I know of no such thing. But I can’t comment. Our superiors are in Mozambique (for the SADC Summit).”
Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse denied that Southern Accord was a step closer to hosting AFRCIOM.
But when pressed for more details as to how Botswana will respond to formal US request to host AFRICOM, he ominously said: “That is a decision for another day.”
In a terse note, the Embassy in Gaborone responded to the speculation saying: “Reports that there are plans by AFRICOM to establish a military base in Botswana are wrong. No plans exist for establishing a military base in Botswana.”
That has done little to calm the fears.
In 2007, Botswana’s then President, Festus Mogae, said it had not taken a final position on the matter “because we don’t know what the animal (AFRICOM) will look like”.
Prior to that, according to leaked diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Gaborone, Botswana gave Washington the green light to explore the possibility of establishing an AFRICOM base on its territory.
A cable sent by America’s Ambassador in Botswana, Katherine Canavan, to the US Secretary of State in Washington in October 2007, shows senior embassy officials met then Vice President Mompati Merafhe to discuss the matter.
Canavan said Botswana and other unidentified African countries were being considered for hosting elements of AFRICOM.
“Recalling the earlier receptivity towards the AFRICOM concept, the ambassador sought to confirm Botswana’s current sentiments and whether the country would be willing to receive a technical assessment team in the near future,” the cable said. It said Merafhe “appeared genuinely interested” and wanted to know how many American troops would be based in Botswana. Five days later, according to the cables, Merafhe said Botswana was not averse to the idea of hosting AFRICOM and that Mogae was “favourably disposed”.
The response from the region has been swift.
Officiating at the opposition Botswana National Front’s 45th anniversary in Mochudi on August 11, the deputy secretary-general of South Africa’s ruling ANC, Thandi Modise, said it was disappointing to learn that some countries were planning to host the American military.
Modise said some “leaders want to host people who want to hurt us. They think as long as they can get funding from these Western people they are fine. But I can tell you that we are not happy at all”.
Modise, who is also the North West Provincial Premier, called for greater unity in the SADC, asking why integration was so slow and yet imperialists had left the region long ago.
Former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema also accused Botswana of pandering to the interests of the West, in particular the US.
Political analyst Honourable Saka, in a blogpost this past week, said Africa should resist all attempts to establish foreign military bases on continental soil.
“…they are not in Africa to protect the continent’s interests, they are on African soil to facilitate the exploitation of our resources for the benefit of the tiny minority that controls the wealth of the American people and who are sitting on top of this world.”
He added: “I am appealing to the governments f the Southern African Development Community (SADC)…These countries all have a collective responsibility to act in order to defend the future of their children and Africans as a whole.”
He said African leaders “must show some responsibility and put our security into our own hands; not into the hands of those who seek military adventurism as a means to exert political pressure on Africans in order to loot our natural resources on a much larger scale. Unity is what we need; not military adventures”.