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Poaching aside, elephants destroy lives

London: Two of my elder sisters have established their homes in the New Stands Kazungula. Paved roads and basic amenities like electricity and water have turned the thick Chobe forest into a residential hamlet.
 

But New Stands Kazungula is not habitable, even after twenty years down.  Still, the residents have devised all assortments of warding off wildlife especially elephants and buffaloes from invading their homes: they parry hands, rev engines until fuel runs out; they encircle homesteads with chili-pepper and keep the flames burning throughout the nights.

Over time, the big five became accustomed to all these techniques, and in a calculated move of revenge, the beasts have bullishly adapted where their invasion is the surest way to visit destruction on human life, livestock, crops, and property.
Just this past weekend, my sister returned from attending a burial of a church colleague and her exasperated voice, shrieked out:

“Yet another person has been killed by an elephant,” she cried out. It is the excruciating fear in her voice as she counts the losses of human life that refuses to vanish from my mind as I ponder the animal-human conflict amidst the raging campaign of massive elephant poaching that dimmed Botswana’s conservation lights last month.

“We hardly ever get any news on Botswana. But recently, we saw that your government has disarmed the wildlife rangers. As a result, poachers have killed close to 90 elephants,” Lorna Henkel, a friend in Secaucus, New Jersey greeted me during my recent visit.

Clearly, elephants have set the sun on residents who live in pristine areas of wildlife conservation such as the Chobe, Okavango, Mashatu, and Kgalagadi. The Monday incident adds to five the telling tragedies of people that I personally knew, whose demise happened in the last three years only. About a decade ago, I was among the mourners at Kananga-Kazungula, whereupon my great uncle was stomped by an elephant in broad-daylight while tracking down his cattle.

However, the truth is that residents in places where animals freely reign in the range have become prisoners in their habitat against the backdrop of an imposed conservation strategy that lacks a basis of scientific research, or social dialogue with the communities to ban hunting of dangerous animals. By the time the wildlife rangers arrive to put the animal down, always, it is at the cost of human life – more like compensation to the grieving family. But in Botswana, human life is priceless and the respect for its sanctity cannot be comparable to any species, no matter how its ivory or tusk can sell.

As the economy saw the need to diversify, tourism has arguably made a persuasive case as an alternative engine for growth, given the unpolluted wildlife resources across Botswana’s main game reserves. Tourists with the dollars and pounds buying-power continue to supply oxygen to the bloodstream of our economy.

If the answers are hard to come by, we need to go back to the drawing board and strategize on how the increased population of elephants can be brought under control to avoid the constant conflict between animals and people in which the mightier species always destroys the weaker vessel. My sister tells me that the lady who got stomped in the head by the elephant’s gigantic foot this week was simply crossing the road in a residential area, albeit at dusk when the beast that enjoys the limitless freedoms cut her life short.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi aptly captured the sentiments of those who live in these elephant-infested areas, that is, while supporters of conservation chant from a safe distance without feeling the after-effects of interacting with the biggest land animal; they need to start borrowing the lenses of those who on a daily basis are burdened by the free movement of wildlife. These losses of human life come with trauma and far-reaching effects for families.

“When I assumed office, immediately I made a pronouncement that I shall uphold the governance ideal of respect for the rule of law as a republican democracy. I did just that by disarming the anti-poaching unit of the wildlife department. The rule of law obtains where there is respect for human life. I find it laughable that we would profess to be a stickler to the rule of law, and yet enable our anti-poaching officers to carry dangerous weapons that they could use to fire at alleged poachers.

If they killed such people, as the government, we would not have a leg to stand on because they were using weapons they shouldn’t be in possession of. The arms and ammunition act prescribes who should have what weapons, when and how to use such weapons. It was authoritatively reported to me that they were in possession of weapons they shouldn’t be using in their patrols.

I did not hesitate to order that they be confiscated and deposited into the armoury. In correcting the anomaly, I instructed the commissioner of police, who by virtue of this act is the custodian of all ammunition, and has access to the inventory, to lock them up in safe custody and redeploy the army where the wildlife rangers encounter sophisticated poaching techniques.

If the wildlife department should need to use these weapons, they should document such requests by following due process – do not defile the law. This administration will not permit any officer to be in possession of ammunition that he should not. This decision I took to safeguard our officers and indeed the government from the probable, but unnecessary pitfall.

Our wildlife officers are armed-to-the-tooth, despite the widely circulated media report of 87 killed elephants. Over and above, all our security forces are involved in the protection of the wildlife species including the prisons, the police, the army, and the DIS and they are armed, legitimately and within the law. It is true that we are a leader in the conservation of wildlife, and have been in the longest time. I am not a leader of a fake government that oversteps its bounds,” Masisi explained last month during a public address in Maun.

His thrust is the respect for the rule of law in a democracy. Masisi in defining the wildlife conservation strategy is of the belief that it cannot exist outside the observance of the prescribed law. But then there is also the unwritten, yet the integral rule that has borne the bedrock for our democracy – consultation with the people. This reason is why it is important to ask the question about the ban on elephant hunting; was there any scientific research carried out, and what were its findings? If no scientific research was ever done, could there have been engagements with the communities and what did they voice out that informed the ban on elephant hunting in the previous years?

In the absence of answers, the policy was ill-conceived and therefore, Masisi is right in postulating that whoever banned hunting together with animal rights activists from the West might have something to explain in the grand scheme of things, should they be probed further as to their stake to link the alleged disarmament of the anti-poaching unit and the carcasses of elephants whose tusks have been cruelly removed.

Straight up, the fact that Mike Chase, a Botswana-born wildlife conservationist salaried by the taxpayers could circulate a damning report about his country behind the back of his employer smacks of dishonesty, and should not surprise anyone as to the ulterior motive to be in cahoots with the enemies of the state. If this liaison with external partners to turn the spotlight on Botswana cannot pass for treason under the sedition law that saw Outsa Mokone prosecuted, Masisi with all his presidential prerogatives would go into the history books as a unique pedigree. This is outright subversion!

Indeed, illegal wildlife trade involves the very conservationists and rather than view poaching as a conservation issue, Botswana’s strategy that marshals all her security apparatus to clamp down on the illicit transaction as an act of crime remains the solution. The conservationists themselves are the gatekeepers and intermediaries with logistics-type businesses at their disposal. They kill for profit. These networks are highly organized.

Illegal wildlife trade must squarely be treated for what it is – a crime and assigned to the police, detectives, spies, border protection officials, rangers and money laundering experts in the place of conservationists and animal rights activists. There is no place for people like Mike Chase who has his interests vested somewhere else. John Sellar tells The New York Times; “Governments in poor countries often do not share information or effectively collaborate. If the genie in the bottle were to grant me just one wish to combat international wildlife crime, I would ask that everyone work more collaboratively.”

As the president candidly cast it for his audience in Maun, our sovereignty should not be treated lightly by outsiders who have vested economic interests in the photographic tourism hatched out from a liaison with sons of the soil who aren’t bothered to mortgage our land to the highest bidder, so long they benefit monetarily, while the masses of Batswana live under the cloud of despair and grief from the swarming elephants that understand too well that human beings don’t have any rights and freedoms.

“As I draw to a close, I will attend the illegal wildlife trade summit in London where I am informed they will be waiting to face off with me. I am bold in my decision and I will not hesitate to make our position clear to the West. It is high time they understood that we are a sovereign nation whose agenda is to manage our affairs, and that includes management of our wildlife, which by the way, we have done with magnanimity over these decades.

I will tell them that Botswana prides itself in upholding the rule of law. AK47 guns belong to the army and not even our police officers carry them. I will tell them that in Botswana, we don’t protect animals at the expense of human life; citizens come first in my administration, and I will not leave my people behind and talk animal rights. I will consult with the communities where these animals coexist with the view to address the animal-human conflict.

I will listen to your concerns and appropriate measures will be taken. I will tell them that while they promote wildlife conservation at the expense of human life, you are living under constant fear and suffering, that your poverty is worsened daily by the destruction caused by these elephants, whose population boom is out of control.

If we have come up with methods to control human birth rates, what is impossible to bring down the birth rate of these animals so they don’t come into repeated conflict with the people? We are a democracy that is built on consultation from time immemorial, and that won’t change under my charge,” he emphasized. Twelve thousand kilometres away from home, Masisi told the American public that the recently circulated media report was, but a smear campaign.

“Like every campaign, this one was not different – the truth was the first casualty. When the news broke about 90 poached elephants linked to the disarmament of the anti-poaching unit, we were shocked. This was a shocker – the biggest hoax of the 21st century. Rest assured that not in Botswana will poachers have a field day; they may not come back, please warn them. Our anti-poaching officers are armed legitimately, and so are other security personnel including the army – all redeployed to patrol our game reserves and national parks,” he explained.

While heads of government and conservation enthusiasts started deliberating in London yesterday and today (11-12 October) on how the world’s fauna and flora can be preserved for future generations; forget poaching as a conservation topic in the ugly campaign against Botswana – the reality that those speaking animal rights need to reckon with is that ordinary citizens get killed by these animals regularly.

Masisi must drill in their minds that unlike the elite class that takes an aerial view of these dangerous animals or zooming in on them from the secure comfort of safari vehicles; in Botswana, innocent children walking back from school, mothers, and fathers going about their daily errands die from unprovoked attacks. Ordinary farmers cannot raise livestock and graze them in a free range without counting losses.

A subsistence farmer watches in defeat as her crops are destroyed.  The barbed fence, reed homesteads and mud huts are brought down by the mighty elephant. We are under siege because of the wildlife that we love and have coexisted with for ages. Can someone care enough to host a summit on Africans’ rights, or must we appeal to the #BlackLivesMatter movement to be heard?

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Major public services shake-up looms

24th January 2022
Emmah

Public Servants should brace themselves for some changes as the government is in an overdrive mode to overhaul the public sector. The government has also set the tone for the looming changes as it has added the public sector to its looming list of major and sweeping reforms.

This is contained in a savingram from the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Emmah Peloetletse’s office showing how the government intends to “take stock” of all reforms in the public sector through the establishment of an inventory.  Peloetletse’s savingram addressed to various ministries and the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) reveals that the government is working around the clock to implement some changes in the Public Service.

The savingram reminded Permanent Secretaries of various ministries and DPSM that the public sector reforms unit (PSRU) at the Office of the President is mandated with Coordinating Reforms across the Public Service.  “This essentially entails providing the strategic guidance and facilitation in the implementation of reforms across the Public Service. In this endeavour the Unit has in the past with Technical Assistance from European Union developed a template for documenting Reforms in the Public Service and documented ten (10) major reforms across the Public Service,” reads the savingram in part. It added that “The Unit has lately rolled out the Change Management Framework in an effort to facilitate effective and efficient management of change in the Public Service.”

According to the savingram, it has been noted that for a variety of reasons the use of the template for documenting reforms has not been universally used across the Botswana Public Service.  It further states that to facilitate the documentation of the reforms it is essential that an inventory of the various reforms across the Public Service (Central Government, Local Government and State Owned Entities) is established.

“By this correspondent we are seeking your assistance in populating the attached template to provide basic information on the various reforms. The PSRU will, through the various Coordination of focal Persons facilitate the full documentation of the reforms once the inventory is established,” the savingram further stated. The copy of the template among others calls on the focal persons to fill out them form under several headings; they include title of reform, start date, reform objectives, reform components, reform components, progress status.

The savingram echoes President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s announcement last year during his state of the nation address that as a nation Botswana has set itself a lofty goal of becoming a high income country by 2036 and has come up with a list of reforms among them digitisation of government infrastructure. He said the path to achieving this goal dictates that, Botswana takes deliberate steps that will transform its institutions; the way Batswana think and the way they act.

“It is with this in mind, that I presented a Reset Agenda in May 2021, with the following priorities: Save Botswana‘s population from COVID-19, by implementing a series of life saving measures that include a successful and timely vaccination programme, Adherence to COVID-19 health protocols remains key and align Botswana Government’s machinery to the Presidential Agenda, to ensure that the national transformation agenda will be embodied in the public service of the day,” said Masisi. He added that, “this will come with significant Government reforms in all public institutions. We need greater agility and responsiveness like never before in the delivery of public services.”

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Covid-19 Task Force meddled in tenders-report

24th January 2022
Dr. Kereng Masupu

The Presidential COVID-19 Task Force reportedly meddled in the awarding of tenders for COVID-19, a new Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report has revealed.

The Committee expressed concern that it has noted that there are two centres for covid procurement being the Ministry of Health and the Covid Task team in the Office of the President. The report says the Committee questioned the Accounting Officer on why the COVID 19 task team is usurping the powers of the Ministry of Health by engaging in covid procurement when the Ministry of Health is the one which has the experience and mandate of dealing with the pandemic. The report says clarification was also sought on why direct appointment is the preferred method for covid procurement.

“In her response the Accounting Officer stated that the task team was mainly engaged in the procuring of quarantine facilities and was assisting the Ministry of Health due to the heavy workload brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic,” the report says. The report says the Accounting Officer further stated that direct procurement was used because COVID 19 was treated as an emergency and that procurement was mainly from companies that have been traditionally used by the Ministry of Health.

“This however, is not the case as there has been report of new companies being awarded COVID -19 contracts. The use of direct procurement method should only be used in exceptional cases as it’s a non-competitive method which increases the risk of inflated pricing and close relations with particular suppliers to the detriment of others,” the report says.

It says since most covid procurement fell under emergency, there is need for openness and transparency regarding the procurement.  The PAC recommended that in order to ensure transparency and accountability all COVID 19 related procurement should be periodically published in the PPADB website giving full details of the companies receiving procurement contracts and the beneficial owners of the companies.

It says with the passage of time the impact of covid is no longer unexpected so direct awards should gradually be abandoned as the medium and long-term needs of the pandemic can now be predicted. “Judgement should be used even during direct awards to ensure that prices are not higher than the market prices,” the report says.

In a related matter, the report says the Central Medical Stores (CMS) was unable to cater for the required quantities of medical supplies with order fulfilments of about 35% resulting in shortages and insufficient drugs to Athlone Hospital and the surrounding clinics.
“In his submission the Accounting Officer had indicated that CMS was unable to supply the exact quantities required by the hospital and surrounding clinics due to the fact that supplies from CMS have to be rationed in order to cover other facilities around the country,” says the report.

The committee expressed concern about the inadequate supply of drugs to government facilities which puts the lives of patients at risk due to non- availability of essential supplies. It recommended that the Ministry identifies and prioritise measures that need to be taken to ensure that there is adequate supply of essential medicines which are needed in the public health system.

Meanwhile the report says the Ministry of Health and Wellness coordinates the operations and functions of some institutions which receive government subventions and secondment of staff from the government. These institutions include 10 NGO’s, two mission Hospitals, three mission clinics and two schools of Nursing.

It says in its endeavour to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of government support to NGOs the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development developed some Policy Guidelines for Financial Support to Non- Governmental Organisations.  According to the PAC report, the guidelines were meant to ensure that there is consistency, accountability and transparency in administering public funding to NGOs. However, the Ministry of Health did not comply with the very important guidelines.

“The main areas of non-compliance were the following: (i) There was no Evaluation Committee to vet proposals from NGOs, in some instances NGOs had formed part of the evaluation forum when their requests were being considered,” the report says.  It says there was continued funding of NGOs even when they failed to submit narrative and financial progress reports; and (iv) Continued funding of NGOs that failed to submit audited financial statements and management letters as required. The Committee expressed concern at the lapses in the administration of grants by the Ministry despite the large sums of public money awarded to these NGOs.

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BDF killings of Namibians: Court unable to rule on missing gun

24th January 2022
BDF

The Kasane Regional Magistrate Court refused this week to rule on whether three Namibians and their Zambian cousin shot dead by members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) were in possession of a rifle or not prior to their deaths.

Ruling in favour of the BDF members, Regional Magistrate Taboka Mopipi who presided over the inquest said, “It is acknowledged that no rifle has been produced before court to confirm that indeed the deceased were armed and or that there was indeed a gun shot.”  She said the evidence before the court is that search for the rifle(s) that allegedly triggered the gunfire exchange was done by both Namibia and Botswana SCUBA divers and nothing was found. She said when the said search was done, an area of search was demarcated around the scene area which was partly searched due to water animals such as hippos that launched an attack at the area during the search.

“The search was therefore never concluded. This therefore leaves a gap. To that end, the area not extensively searched, the court cannot make a finding whether the rifle in issue was there or not. This is a very crucial piece of evidence,” added Mopipi. She said the joint search did not conclude the exercise and I cannot properly make a finding of fact adding that that the rifle was there as the BDF allege can therefore not be ruled out.

The deceased are Martin Munilweye Nchindo, Ernest Nchindo, Tommy Sinvula Nchindo and Sivula Munyeme. The four deceased persons died on the night of the 5th November 2020, in the waters of the Chobe River (Southern Channel) near Sedudu/Kasikili Island in Botswana. Mopipi said the incident took place at night, in a gloomy atmosphere and that as at the time, movement in that particular area was restricted and or not permitted.

She said it was the evidence of some of the witnesses that the injuries as observed on the four deceased reflected that they were brutally assaulted and or beaten either before or after being shot. “Their evidence gained support from Witness 34, Dr. Bithoma Thotho Amis who observed post mortem on behalf of the families of the deceased and Government of Namibia. This witness however conceded during cross-examination that the injuries as observed have been caused by other contacts and or impacts such as falling and hitting the hard surface of a wooden canoe,” said Mopipi.

She emphasized that inquest proceedings have very serious consequences and therefore, whatever evidence brought before court must be produced by persons of right qualifications particularly the post mortem report which the court has to rely upon.
“The qualification of the expert is crucial in determining the credibility of the report. Upon assessment of both experts, I am inclined to adopt the reports from Witness 18, who is a qualified pathologist. A closer look at the other report indicates that the author, Witness 34 is not a qualified pathologist and it is meddled by issues outside an expert opinion,” she said.

Mopipi said reports compiled by a consultant Forensic Pathologist Dr. Kaone Panzirah-Mabaka show the causes of death as follows; Sivula Munyeme, gunshot injury to the chest and extremities, Martin Nchindo, gunshot wound to the abdomen and pelvis, Ernest Nchindo, multiple gunshot injuries to the chest and extremities and Tommy Nchindo, gunshot wound to the chest and abdomen.

“Medical evidence therefore prove conclusively that the four deceased persons died due to gunshots injuries. It is undisputed that the injuries were inflicted by seven (7) members of the Botswana Defence Force; Lieutenant Moreri Kenneth Mphela, Sergeant Ndingisano Nfazo, Sergeant Puisano Pistor Kgokong, Private Mbikiso Tafila, Private Emmanuel Moganetsi Majuta, Private Barulaganyi Rannosang and Private Oromilwe Motlhabi,” said Mopipi.

Mopipi found that there was a gunshot from the direction of the men to the direction of the BDF section.  “The BDF members retaliated and returned fire. This was done in accordance with Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) within the BDF. According to the SOPs, in case a soldier is being fired at, they fire back and do not have to wait for a command,” she said. She added that “The gunfire exchange was brief and after it ceased, they used a torch to light where the men were and established that all the four men were motionless, two in one canoe, one in the other and the other man lying on the edge of the river on the Island.”

She said, “The evidence of the witnesses is that, when they followed the intel, the intent was to conduct an investigation. There was clearly no intent on their part to shoot the deceased, they did that as an act of retaliation.”

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