The General’s last salute

SHARE   |   Monday, 13 June 2016   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe

Left with only two months before he leaves the disciplined force, Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe who appeared before the parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) spoke about the challenges, success and his dream for an ideal army. Having served the army for 33 years rising through the ranks to become the 5th army commander, Galebotswe, who speaks animatedly and laughs easily, informed the PAC members that he will hand over the symbolic Sword and the Baton to his successor in September.In the Esprit de Corps style which is synonymous with the army, General Galebotswe said that he is confident that his successor will do much better than him as BDF has capable leaders. The spectacled Galebotswe – a commando squadron by training – took over from Lieutenant General Tebogo Masire in 2012. One of his main aims when taking over was to revitalise, re-equip and rebuild the army.

Propounding and expanding on how he aimed at revitalising, re-equipping and rebuilding the 39 year old army, Galebotswe, who once headed the ground forces command, revealed that this can be achieved by enhancing their capability in contested and uncontested space both in air and ground. To achieve that, he said, BDF has to re-equip as most of its equipment was old and obsolete. Trained by the British Special Air Services in 1983, Galebotswe said in the past BDF used to buy old equipment; hence most of them are obsolete. To enhance their capability to contest the air space, he said, they have to consider procuring new jet fighters as the current F5 fighter jets are unsustainable and costly to maintain. Recently there has been speculation that BDF was interested in buying the Swedish Gripen fighter jets, something which the army high command initially denied. Galebotswe confirmed that they are considering the Gripen fighter jets as part of replacing the ageing F5 jetfighters.

On why they were considering the Gripen fighter jets, Galebotswe said their operating costs are very low compared to the Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet and USA combat fighter jets. He said currently there is nothing concrete on procuring the Gripen fighter jets but didn’t rule out the possibility of purchasing them. Recently a 12 member team from the Saab, the manufacturers of the Gripen fighter jet were in Botswana to meet with the army command. After buying 26 Gripen fighter jets South African Defence Force (SADF) has been forced to park 12 of them because they were too expensive to operate, sources have revealed. The Brazilian army is also allegedly struggling with maintaining them due to the high cost involved.

The VUCA situation
Currently the main threat to any country is not necessarily external but can be explained in the military acronym VUCA world, revealed General Galebotswe. This, according to the BDF outgoing commander, is an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. To address that, BDF must be prepared to, “take on increasing challenges from asymmetrical opponents such as Non-state militias and other loosely organised, sometimes almost “virtual” adversaries; to adapt rapidly to highly improvised weapons and tactics by those opponents; to respond quickly, effectively, and efficiently,” said Galebotswe. To address that, he said, there is need to have a national defence strategy which should not necessarily be based on the army but all sectors of the economy. He contended that it can be achieved through dialogue.

BDF Academy
One of Galebotswe’s dreams was to see the army having cadets’ academy.  The project was delayed by the disagreement between the army and consultants. He said that through the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) they are going to redevelop their Paje Military camp where cadets are trained so as to meet the modern challenges. Galebotswe revealed that one of the developments that they will do at the Paje camp is construction of an airstrip. Their 2015/16 cadets trainees are currently based at their Matsiloje military base near Francistown. “Our aim is to turn the Matsiloje camp into an academy as it is well equipped,” he revealed. The Matsiloje camp, which will be turned into an academy, was initially a Botswana Metal Refineries Activox plant which was expected to turn around the economic fortunes of Francistown but failed due to 2008 economic recession.

Last salute to PAC Members
After he finished his presentation and still armed with the infectious smile, Galebotswe stood up and gave the chairman of the PAC Abraham Kesupile his last salute and left marking an end to a military career spanning 33 years.