Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

A Legacy of Service

One of Africa’s youngest militaries, the Botswana Defence Force, was formed with professionalism at its core

Lt. Gen. Tebogo Masire was commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) until his retirement in 2012. During his 35-year military career, he served in a number of command positions, including air arm commander from 1989 to 2006. A pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours, Masire flew all four presidents of Botswana to destinations in 30 countries. At the time of his retirement, he was the last member of Botswana’s first batch of military recruits to still be in active service. He spoke to ADF by phone in June 2015 from Gabarone, Botswana. His remarks have been edited to fit this format.

Lt. Gen. Tebogo Masire
Lt. Gen. Tebogo Masire

ADF: You were there when the BDF was first formed in 1977. What was that like?
Masire: I was one of the first officer cadets of the defense force, and that in itself makes it a very exciting career. We were sort of the rookies in the business. We went through training when everything was very rudimentary. It made it very difficult for us. After completing the officer cadet training, we started our flying training, which was interesting in the sense that we were the first local people to do it. The BDF was starting from nothing. The initial training was done by civilian pilots on civilian aircraft.

ADF: What was your background before joining the BDF?
Masire: I was in civil aviation as an air traffic controller. That’s what influenced me going into the air wing of the defense force. From there I just grew through the ranks. Lieutenant, captain, major. And every time you moved from one thing to another, you were thrust into higher responsibilities, much higher than a normal captain would have. We were the first people, so you were the leader and the learner at the same time. But we obviously excelled because we kept on being recognized by being promoted.

ADF: After Botswana gained its independence in 1966, it did not create a military right away. It relied on the national police for security. It wasn’t until 1977 that the BDF was created. Why was the decision made to create the BDF, and what was done structurally to ensure it would act as a professional, ethical fighting force?
Masire: The situation in the region had been deteriorating. The security atmosphere was corrosive. We were attacked from the South African side, the Rhodesian side, the Namibian side. I think it came to a point where the government said, “Look, talking to these guys is not going to help us; we need to have our own defense force that can defend our people.” So, it was hastily put together. We didn’t have the resources, we didn’t have the money, we didn’t have any of the expertise. We used the paramilitary police to start the defense force and brought in a few people for flight training. On the Air Force side, we had two retired Royal Air Force pilots called here. There were one or two former Nigerian military people. But the bulk of the training and assistance setting up the military was from the Indian Army.

ADF: According to a poll by Gallup, which evaluated several African countries, 86 percent of the public in Botswana has confidence in the military and views it as a respectable institution. That percentage was the highest of any of the 19 African countries evaluated. What specifically does the BDF do to build a positive civil-military relationship?
Masire: Because the BDF was formed at a time when the region was turbulent, the people welcomed the defense force as their savior and protector, and it did exactly that. To give you an example of something that is very rare in Africa, people feel more comfortable with the Soldiers than with the police. This was because the defense force was so committed to national defense, the defense of the people. So much so that it even went overboard in assisting people. Even on terms which were not really military. So if people were in the operational area, in the border areas where there were problems in northern Botswana, the people knew that it was not only the defense force protecting the border, but even helping with normal, mundane things at home. People saw us as parents, so to speak. I think that attitude and realization just grew on and on, and people became more comfortable and appreciated the help that they were getting from the defense force.

ADF: Can you give some examples of civil-military engagement?
Masire: Disaster response. If people are complaining about a road that is destroyed by floods, they would help. A school where the roof has been blown away by a storm, they would help put back the roof. If they find a village that is trying to set up a [livestock enclosure], they would help. All of these things that are not really their core business, if they are in the area and they hear about this problem, they will go out of their way to help.

ADF: Another thing that makes the BDF unique is that it has never stepped over its bounds and become enmeshed in politics. There has never been a military coup in Botswana. Is there anything done to ensure this is part of the training that military officers receive?
Masire: We as the military leadership inculcated in our officers and other ranks that we are apolitical. We are a defense force that’s for the people and that is obedient to the government of the day, irrespective of who is there. But at the same time, our political leadership made sure that they told the political activists that they must keep politics out of the military. So it was two-way traffic. The military wanted to stay out of politics, and the politicians wanted to stay out of the military.

ADF: Transparency International has ranked Botswana among the least corrupt countries in Africa. It is even less corrupt than many European countries, according to TI. Are there measures put in place to ensure there is no corruption in the BDF?
Masire: The general officers and other ranks have always known that they have to toe the line. There is no playing tricks when you are manning a checkpoint or whatever. And that extends all the way up to the headquarters. The procurement officer is very aware that checks and balances must exist to ensure that all procurement is transparent, it’s above board and there is no favoritism or kickbacks that are asked from any supplier. So it has always been a culture of everybody knowing that they have a role to play in keeping the military clean.

ADF: Transparency can be difficult, though, because sometimes the military insists on the need for confidentiality in terms of what it spends on its equipment for reasons of national security. Has there ever been a tension in terms of the need for secrecy but also the need for oversight?
Masire: The secrecy is there in the sense that you don’t publicize defense procurement, especially of sensitive equipment. But the oversight is there because the Ministry of Finance is aware of what it is that you are buying. They are the ones who are going to pay, and they are the ones who, later, are going to audit what you have. So you always know that somebody is watching.

ADF: In 2007, you were in command when the first female officers were inducted into the BDF. Why was it important to include female Soldiers in the BDF, and how have they changed the BDF over the years?
Masire: There are two reasons. One, we wanted to break down the stereotype that women are not suitable for the military. Second, we wanted to give opportunity to the rest of the young people because everybody is supportive of the military, but the females were asking, “Why are we not allowed to take part in this organization?” So, we said, as a democracy that enshrines gender equality, we need to give women the opportunity to join. Prior to that there had been some constraints, especially logistics and accommodations. So we thought, “OK, let’s start with a smaller number, officers only, so that culture starts to grow.” And indeed we are now taking on other ranks, which means it is working well. We started with the women officers who are going to be leaders of other women; now we are bringing other ranks into the defense force to complete the transition.

ADF: Are they distributed among all units and all branches of the military, or are they mostly concentrated in one area?
Masire: No, they are across every unit of the defense force.

ADF: If there was resistance at first, has that resistance evaporated? Are people mostly in favor of it now?
Masire: There was overwhelming excitement and support across all sectors of the community. Within the military, yes, there were a few who were saying, “Ah, are we ready? This is going to cause a lot of uncertainty; how’s the relationship going to be?” But that we overcame by making sure that there was a lot of public information. There was a lot of training for officers in other ranks; there was even a team of military officers from U.S. Africa Command, which came here and helped us lay the carpet for all of this.

ADF: Another achievement was the creation of the Botswana Defence Command and Staff College, which opened just before your retirement in 2012. What was the importance of the staff college, and how did that all come about?
Masire: This was a project that had been in the cards for a long time and didn’t have somebody to just push it through. I felt that it needed my attention. As you know, professionalizing the military requires professional officers. For you to get professional officers, you need to train them at the highest level, which is the staff college. Without your own staff college, you are depending on the generosity of your friendly countries. At that time, we could get, at best, maybe 20 training opportunities from the United States, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Zambia and other friendly countries. But this is out of a pool of about 120 officers who are due for training. I said, “Look, we need to have our own school so we can absorb everybody who is ready for staff college.” That way, we have a steady pool of professional men and women who can then impart that knowledge to others. So, I just decided to fast-track everything and make sure it got up and running.

ADF: How many officers graduate from the staff college per year now?
Masire: About 60 to 80.

ADF: Since your retirement you’ve dedicated a lot of your time to the THC Foundation that you formed to stop domestic violence. Could you describe this foundation, what its mission is and why you are so passionate about the work? (THC are Masire’s initials since his full name is Tebogo Horatious Carter Masire.)
Masire: You know, one of the things when you are Defence Force commander, it’s like you are head of a family. And there were instances where I was seeing that some of the wives of the military were having a difficult time. There were always complaints that, “I’ve been mistreated this way.” And, also being in the security community, we would get all these cases of spousal abuse or child abuse, and I always said to myself, “These people, some of them get lost in the mud because they don’t know where to go and they don’t have a hand to hold them.” So, when I retired, I wanted to form an organization that can reach out to these people who are hopeless or have given up on life. Therefore, I formed the THC Foundation, which is an advocacy group opposed to gender-based violence and child abuse. So far we have been offering training courses and seminars for students, for police officers, for civil society in general, just to try to sensitize people about gender-based violence. Most important, we are trying to coordinate all agencies that deal with gender-based violence to try to come together and have one common strategy. Because what I observed was that everybody was doing their little thing, but the results were not what we all wanted. I knew that if we had one strong lobby group, one strong approach, the results would be much better and the impact would be significant.

ADF: So really it’s a matter of cultural change and education.
Masire: One other reason that I thought I could make a difference was that when women see a man sort of championing their cause, they tend to have hope that, OK, men do see that we are getting shortchanged here, and there are some who are prepared to chip in and help us get out of this. By so doing, you generate a lot of debate, activity, and hopefully the mindset changes.

ADF: What are your hopes for the future of BDF?
Masire: My hope is that the BDF will continue to be a professional military, but one area that I really know we need to work on, and I hope the government will help them, is equipment. People in this country tend to think that there is a lot of money being wasted on the military, but the reality is that the BDF is still using a lot of obsolete equipment. We have not kept pace with technological advancement. Being a small force, technology is a force multiplier. We need to follow that and really capitalize on that. One of the challenges that countries like Botswana have, since we’re not at war and we’re not faced with any threat of either terrorism or civil unrest, is we are expected not to get engaged in defense procurement, not to get engaged in force restructuring, and all those things that help you be prepared for any eventuality. People just think that, “Oh, come on, there’s no war, what do you need new equipment for, what is the money for?” But, I always try to tell people that wars start overnight. You’re not given six months’ notice or whatever. So, the defense force, for it to be of value to people, it has to be on its toes and ready to move at any time.

Botswana Defence Force Milestones

Botswana gains independence from Great Britain.

Due to instability in neighboring countries and border tension, Botswana’s Parliament votes to create the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) out of what had previously been the Botswana Police Mobile Unit.

Botswana continues expanding its ground forces, organizing them into two infantry brigades — one based in the capital, Gaborone, and the other in Francistown, on the border with Zimbabwe.

The BDF participates in its first external mission when it deploys a contingent to the U.S.-led humanitarian mission Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.

The Thebephatshwa Airbase is completed about 50 kilometers northwest of Gaborone, giving the BDF Air Wing a modern facility.

The BDF participates in Operation Boleas, a Southern African Development Community military intervention in Lesotho. BDF efforts include leading a training program for Soldiers in the Lesotho Defence Force.

The first female officers are inducted into the BDF.

The country opens the Botswana Defence Command and Staff College.

Sources: Dan Henk,

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