Maparangwane BDF (Air Wing) Base (from Google Earth Community)
circled above in yellow, closer up below, from Google Maps
Botswana Defence Force Base, approximately 75km from the capital Gaborone. The main runway is astonishingly long for its intended use at 3360 metres. This has led to speculation over it’s true role. Some people say it may serve as a landing and refuelling post for US spyplanes or as an alterante landing location for the space shuttle in the southern hemisphere given it’s relatively close distance to the equator.

BAUMHOLDER, Germany – Jeffrey Morrison, the U.S. Army’s 21st Theater Sustainment Command director of logistics (right), explains the process of loading vehicles onto rail cars to Botswanan officers (left to right) Captain Kabo Moswenyane, Lieutenant Gaopale Swereki and Major Ompatile Modisenyane, in Baumholder, Germany, on March 5, 2008. The purpose of the visit was to help the Botswanan officers learn about rail operations and bolster relations with the U.S. military. The Botswanan officers also received briefings on the military police, the Distribution Management Center and the use of American military jargon. They also traveled to other Army and Air Force installations in the area. (U.S. Army photo by Sergeant Phillip Valentine)

It is obvious from the photo and caption above, taken from africom.mil, that Botswana enjoys a close working relationship with the US military.

Botswana’s one party democracy has long been a friend of the United States. Although Botswana has publicly questioned the creation of AFRICOM there have been ongoing rumors of agreements between the US and Botswana to host an AFRICOM base. That base may already be in place in the form of the Thebephatshwa Airport/Maparangwane BDF (Air Wing) Base. It is located about halfway between Molepolole and Letlhakeng, north and east of Gaborone. It is also referred to as Molepolole.

You can see it in this photo titled: A large US military base in the middle of Botswana. Taken enroute to WDH at FL350. Photo taken in 2003 by Julian Whitelaw. Click the link above to see the photo.

And Wikipedia has an interactive map of the base, info courtesy of b real, who adds:

where i found out about it was on an AFRICOM thread at the usmc’s small wars council forum & military guys there say it was indeed built by the u.s. before apartheid ended in south africa.

From discussion at Google Earth Community, bbs.keyhole.com:

The base is called Maparangwane (that might be hard for you to get your tounge around). I have been there numerous times. It was probably (these things are usually kept secret) developed with the technical support of the USAF, but in all probability was funded entirely by Botswana’s Government. We aren’t exactly a poor country. If you use the ruler and go 71.37 Kilometres West south west (thats in between west and southwest) fom this airbase you will see the country’s largest diamond mine at Jwaneng (marked by bright blue pools of some sort) – we have three. We are the 2nd largest producer of gem quality stones after Russia.

Anyways I sa with some probablity because it is possible that the ISAF have a sharing agreement with the government and might have footed some of the bill, but the country could easily afford to design and build such a thing.

. . .
The Eagle project. French influence, not US. Fighter, transport and chopper squadrons on base as well as a training squadron with PC-7 aircraft. The fighters are former canadian CF-5 A and B Freedom Fighters, which were sold to the BDF Air Arm after having been refurbished for the original 419 Squadron of the Canadian Armed Forces at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta Canada. After 419 was shut down in the mid 90s, they were sold and delivered via AN-124 air transport to the base were they were formed into 28 Squadron BDF AA. Transports are former USAF C-130 B versions, also refurbished. Choppers are 412s. Occasionally you might see a Global Express on the field. Botswana has spend considerable funds in the last 10 years on hardware from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, UK, USA and Canada as well as from SA. Chinese technology and Indian expertise is present throughout the country. For such a small country they have accumulated an impressive arsenal. Although Thebe Phatswa (which is the actual base name) is the main air force base, the HQ is actually located just outside Gaborone and mostly Army. FOLs include Francistown and Maun. The foreign military in Botswana include mostly spec ops training elements from the UK US and a variety of african nations, not always with the knowledge of the BDF. Expats still run a large portion of tech intensive hardware and conduct training on various bases and in the field.
. . .

AFB Molepolole (USAF and BDF) 04/26/06 11:54 AM (google earth community)
The Botswana Defence Force Air Wing is the air force of Botswana.The Air Wing was formed in 1977 and is organisationally part of the Botswana Defence Force.All squadrons are designated with a Z, which has no meaning but is used as a designation for ‘squadron’. The main base is Molepolole and was built mostly by foreign contractors from 1992 being finished around 1996.
this is the main Air base for Botswana’a Air Force. well actually that’s pretentious. The Botswana Defence Force (the Army) has an Air wing, similar to what the UK had before wwII – as there isn’t much need for a peaceful country to have a full air force.


From General Mompati S. Merafhe, the Botswana minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, in October 2003, General Merafhe vigorously denies that it is an American airbase:

Regarding the alleged American airbase, let me state for the record that the United States does not own any military base in Botswana. The airbase that is being referred to is the Thebephatshwa Airbase that is wholly owned by the government of Botswana.

The airbase was constructed during my term as commander of the Botswana Defence Force with our own resources and without any assistance from the United States or any other country for that matter.

In fact, during construction, the Americans publicly accused Botswana of excessive military spending and threatened to cut economic aid to Botswana. So, if the Americans built the airbase, how could they then accuse us of excessive military spending on the airbase?

We have done our best to demonstrate that these allegations are false. Among other things, we have used every opportunity to conduct tours of the airbase for military dignitaries visiting Botswana, including military chiefs from the region. The purpose is to demonstrate to the region and indeed the international community that there is nothing sinister or clandestine about the airbase?

I have decided to raise this matter here because my government is seriously concerned about the damage this campaign of disinformation is doing to the image of Botswana in the region and internationally. Fortunately, we take solace in the fact that mud never sticks on a clean surface, it cakes and falls away.

From Scramble in the Netherlands comes this information about the Air Wing of the Botswana Defense Force.

The Botswana Defence Force Air Wing was formed in 1977 as a result of rising tension in the area. All squadrons are designated with a .Z., which has no meaning but is just used as a designation for .squadron.. Main base is Molepolole which was built mostly by foreign contractors from 1992 and was finished round 1996. Other bases used are the International Airport at Gaborone and Francistown.

The backbone of the Air Wing is formed by ex Canadian CF-116s which are locally designated as CF-5. Thirteen ex-Canadian CF-116s (ten single-seaters and three trainers) were ordered in 1996 to replace the Strikemasters, with another three single-seaters and two double-seaters delivered in 2000. For transport the Air Wing uses BN-2A/B, C212, CN235 and C-130Bs. Latest addition to the transport-fleet was an ex-AMARC C-130B to complement the two existing aircraft.

In 2000, three additional AS350BA helicopters were bought for Z21, bringing the total to eight.. The single Italian built AB412 has been replaced by an Bell 412EP in VIP-configuration. Z21 has a total of six Bell 412s of which the Bell412EP is being used by the VIP-Flight. Flying training is done on seven PC-7s. The VIP flight uses besides the Bell412 a Gulfstream and a Be200. In 1993 nine ex US Army/AMARC O-2As were delivered for use in the battle against poaching.

So what is actually going on between the US and Botwana. Your guess is as good as mine. But keep in mind these words from General Ward’s Q&A for his confirmation hearing, PDF: U.S. Africa Command Will Enhance Local Skills, Problem Solving, again, courtesy of b real:

on basing criteria
– – –
Some of the criteria includes: political stability; security factors; access to regional and intercontinental transportation; availability of acceptable infrastructure; quality of life; proximity to the African Union and regional organizations; proximity to USG hubs; adequate Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The transition team has used these criteria to narrow down potential sites. Those potential sites have been briefed to the Dept of State informally and we have begun dialogue on the advantages and disadvantages of those sites.

Botswana meets these criteria. There was also a recent article in Air Force Times about two Air Force generals named to top spots in AFRICOM, which would fit in with air bases.

Brought up from the comments, courtesy of b real, and added April 9:

THE BOTSWANA DEFENCE FORCE: Evolution of a professional African military

. . . No discussion of politics or military affairs in Botswana can avoid a discussion of Seretse Khama Ian Khama. He is the most eminent member of what might be called the ‘first family’ of Botswana. His father, Sir Seretse Khama, was a national hero, prominent in the struggle for full national independence, and founder of the party that has governed the country since independence, serving as the country’s president from its founding in 1966 until his death in office in 1980. When the Defence Force was created in 1977, Ian Khama was appointed its deputy commander with the rank of brigadier. Twelve years later, in 1989, he acceded to the command of the BDF with the rank of lieutenant general, a post he subsequently held for nine years. Khama’s service spanned the formative period of the Defence Force’s evolution, and despite his retirement in 1998 to enter politics, he continues to have a close connection with Botswana’s military. Khama’s current positions of vice-president and party chair of the ruling party are widely believed in Botswana to guarantee his accession to the presidency when the incumbent, Festus Mogae, steps down. However, Khama’s activities over the course of his military and political career have provoked controversy and he is accused of having very authoritarian tendencies. Many among Botswana’s educated elite view a future Khama presidency with some trepidation. . . .

From the US Dept. of State:

The United States has been the largest single contributor to the development of the BDF, and a large segment of its officer corps has received U.S. training.

. . . The United States considers Botswana an advocate of and a model for stability in Africa and has been a major partner in Botswana’s development since its independence.

Botswana, military ties the main issue, not tribe includes the mention that “One knowledgeable [military] source estimated in 2004 that 75 per cent of BDF officers above the rank of major are graduates of US military schools.”

the wikipedia entry on BDF says that “by 1999 approximately 85% of the BDF officers are said to have been trained under this system [IMET].”

It sounds very much as though Botswana is evolving away from democracy, and into a military government. And I am sure the US Department of Defense and AFRICOM are most happy and comfortable with Botswana’s movement into militarism. This provides the US with a happy and willing “partner”, well placed to act as a US surrogate on the African continent. And it puts the US Department of Defense and the Botswana government in the same business, speaking the same language. The less democracy, the more it becomes a military government, the more a few “boys in the back room” can make decisions without any pesky interference from legislatures, or the public at large. This further weakens what democracy is left. So the US can help “partner” away democratic institutions in Botswana.

This is a perfect illustration of why a military command cannot help foster democratic institutions, and economic development. The structure of a military command is a strict heirarchy organized to achieve military ends that require heirarchy and line of authority. In order to have political and economic development, a country must draw from a far wider pool for input, ideas, and investment, and defer to voices across a range of roles and ranks. It would certainly be nice if the US was investing as much money training people for other forms of public service, for all the skills that go into governing and delivering public services, water, sewars, electicity, roads, schools, clinics, hospitals, from local towns and municipalities to national governments, rather than building “defense” forces. The photo op “humanitarian” projects help, but they are no substitute for serious investment in developing civilian governing skills and institutions. Unfortunately, the current US governement does not believe in investing in these at home, and does not appear to believe in the actual practice of democracy.

What will happen if and when the citizens of Botswana become unhappy with losing their democracy to a military government? What role will the US play in that case?