Yesterday President Lt Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama was among the multitudes of people who descended upon the National Stadium to celebrate the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) 40th anniversary.
Already a very popular day on the calendar among both young and old, Batswana from all walks of life took time off to join in the festivities to mark this milestone in the history of the BDF, where they were able to learn about the establishment, growth and accomplishment of an institution that has come to be regarded by international scholars as one of Africa’s success stories.
As is tradition, yesterday’s celebrations attracted hordes to the National Stadium in Gaborone, the Francistown Sports Complex and the Selibe Phikwe Stadium, to bear witness to four decades of history unfolding before their very eyes. The day was crammed full of a hive of activities that kept the eager spectators thoroughly enthralled throughout the day. True to form and with military precision, various BDF personnel provided the entertainment in the form of parades, synchronised drilling, music mock battles, dog displays and tackling obstacle courses, among others.
A little background
The BDF was formed in 1977, eleven years after Botswana gained independence. You could say it was really cobbled together from the remnants of the Botswana Police Mobile Unit (PMU). At the time, Botswana was a fresh new country, considered among the poorest and had no resources. The force comprised very young personnel and did not inherit a colonial military structure, any facilities or expertise.
“The Botswana Defence Force: Evolution of a professional African Military” ……despite the potential problems and challenges Botswana deserves considerable credit for fielding a capable military with high standards of professional expertise and professional behaviour,” scholar, Professor Dan Henk, The United States War College.
Botswana has over the years demonstrated consistency and perseverance in developing the institution, staying clear of the mistake of attempting to construct a facility that it could ill afford. In its quest for peace across the African continent, the BDF has been a regular contributor to the United Nations missions. In 1992 and 1993 a BDF contingent participated in ‘Operation Restore Hope,’ a United States – led coalition force aimed at restoring peace in war – torn Somalia. From 1993 to 1994 a BDF team served as observers for a UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda.
In the same period, BDF troops participated in another UN peacekeeping operation in Mozambique. In 1998, the BDF also participated in Operation BOLESA, a SADC military intervention in Lesotho. The operation was the first step in a retraining programme for the Lesotho Defence Force.
Since then, the BDF has collaborated with neighbouring countries’ military forces and other friendly military ventures. The popular Exercise Thokgamo a SADC operation conducted in 2005 is just another example of such operations. The BDF also participated in Exercise Golfinho hosted by the South African Defence Force in 2009.
Another notable achievement worth mentioning has been the commissioning of the first cohort of female cadet officers. The 30 female cadets were sent to Tanzania for a year – long training following a rigorous recruitment drive.
From humble beginnings; today the Botswana army proudly stands tall among a small handful of African militaries that are truly homegrown and continues to grow in strength and might. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the BDF has come a long way and long may that continue! Pula!
Did you join in the festivities on Saturday? What for you was the standout performance of the day? Please feel free to comment and share your pictures.
Images courtesy of: Botswana Government