By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone - Botswana’s main opposition party, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has claimed that the Swedish government has made an undertaking that it would not encourage an arms race in the SADC region.
Responding to Minister Kenneth Matambo’s budget speech in parliament, leader of the opposition Duma Boko said, “We are aware that because of the intervention of the UDC which engaged the Swedish government directly on these ‘air assets’, the Swedish government has now declared that it would not want to get involved in encouraging an arms race in our geo-political region.”
He added that “the Swedish government has therefore maintained that the jet fighters, if they are to be acquired from Sweden, will not be configured to carry and launch missiles and has scaled down the type of weaponry they would carry.”
Boko further stated: “We are aware that this has stalled the deal with the possibility that President Khama will vacate the presidency before this deal is concluded, affording the incoming president, unless he is merely a stooge or alter ego of his predecessor, an opportunity to cancel this deal altogether and return the country to fiscal sanity.”
Boko also said: “In this budget he (Matambo) commits to the procurement of ‘air assets’ which we understand to mean Gripen Fighter Jets that we know to be an ill-advised investment.”
According to Boko, Gripens are “are expensive to purchase, equip and maintain. We have no enemies in the region that require us to have the offensive capabilities these fighter jets will confer on us. No honest assessment of our security needs will support the procurement of these ‘air assets’.”
Presenting his budget, Matambo had stated that a budget allocation of P2.78 billion or 14.4 percent has been allocated to the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security with part of the money earmarked for the purchase of the fighter jets during the 2018/19 financial year.
Last year, Boko wrote a petition to the Swedish government titled “Botswana arms race in the midst of poverty, massive unemployment and social inequality.”
The petition was aimed at protesting the government’s ongoing and planned military spending.
Boko stated that their plea as representatives of Botswana's political parties and civil society was for the Swedish parliament not to approve the sale of the fighter jets to the government of Botswana as it was 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 to attract foreign investment, reduce poverty, unemployment, social inequality and reward labour productivity, especially in the public sector,” he wrote.
Last year while on a state visit to Sweden, President Khama said Botswana was going ahead with procurement of Gripen fighter jets, dismissing calls to halt multi procurement that is likely to spark an arms race within the SADC region.