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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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Opposition talks: Conveners ditched, experts engaged

13th October 2021

The much-anticipated opposition unity talks that will see Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) engage Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are expected to kick off any time from now.

According to informants, the talks, which were preceded by-elections negotiations, aim to be as inclusive as possible. As the talks start, the UDC, composed of Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana People’s Party (BPP), insist on retaining its preferred model of Umbrella; on the other hand, the BPF is proposing a PACT; and AP is in favour of an alliance model.

BPF is reportedly sceptical on the umbrella model and wants cooperation with the flexibility to allow other parties to join hands with UDC but without necessarily contesting elections using UDC symbols and colours.

BPF, which is currently the fastest-growing party, seems to be focused on self-actualization, self-preservation and securing institutional capacity in case of any political calamity. Although often profitable, cooperation politics can often leave individual political parties battered by political events and weakened beyond meaningful survival.

Discussions with some BPF members suggest that the party has big ambitions and harbour serious intentions of taking the BDP by its horns-all by itself-one day. “The position by some of our leaders is that the future of the UDC remains uncertain. The position and advice are that we should not put all our eggs in one basket. And the party elders think the pact model of cooperation is the safest under prevailing circumstances. Some, however, are worried that we should not overestimate our worth despite being the fastest-growing party in the country.

However, the matter is yet to be concluded once we receive the official invite,” revealed a BPF member of the NEC. Asked about the specifics of the pact idea, another high ranking party official revealed that the party Patron, Lt Gen Ian Khama and his brother Tshekedi Khama are among those who are for the election pact model.

BPF Spokesperson Lawrence Ookeditse has earlier this year told this publication that: “We have not settled on a model yet.” He also added that as a party, they are ready and willing to work with UDC, “but we will have our thoughts on how the cooperation or the talks should transpire, and they too will tell us their preference, and we will sit on the table to see how best to work together”.

AP heads into these negotiations with proposals of its own. On the model part, AP has expressed flexibility but want its partners to consider other models. AP believes that beyond the umbrella model, the coalition could also have a matrix to ensure that opposition parties select the best candidates for parliamentary and council seats.

AP, a splinter party of the beleaguered Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), asks for the constituencies allocated to BMD in the previous talks before it was kicked out on the eve of the 2019 elections.

AP, which garnered a popular vote of under 40 000 in the 2019 general elections, is confident that it brings tremendous value to the UDC, and state power could be within reach in 2024.
To reconcile the various interest of political parties, the leaders have agreed to engage political experts in a bid to arrive at the best decisions.

“There will be no conveners because parties in the past believed that they (conveners) took decisions on behalf of the constituent parties, though they are not representing any. So, the idea is to rope in political experts to direct UDC and the negotiating parties as to which path of cooperation model to follow,” a highly placed informant said this week.

UDC convener Lebang Mpotokwane has also defended the umbrella model in the past, noting that it creates fewer problems for the participants. The negotiations will be the fourth opposition cooperation talks since the 2009 elections. The opposition has held talks in 2011, 2012 and 2017. The 2012 talks resulted in Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), which has been anchoring negotiations since then.

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‘Dingake’ name spoils Botswana’s interest in ILO top post

13th October 2021

When the Chairperson of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Governing Body invited member states to submit candidates for the vacant Director-General post for consideration, Botswana developed a keen interest.

It swiftly mobilized to beat the deadline, but the unions, upon consultation, nominated Justice Key Dingake as their preferred candidate, much to the government’s disappointment, who then decided to dump the whole issue altogether.

In accordance with the Rules governing the appointment of the Director-General and the decisions made by the Governing Body at its 341st and 342nd Sessions, the Chairperson of the Governing Body calls for candidates for appointment to the office of Director-General of the ILO through communication to all Governing Body members and all ILO Member States and candidatures must be submitted by a Member State of the ILO or by a regular or deputy member of the Governing Body.

The deadline for submission was on Friday, 1 October 2021, and candidatures were to be sent by postal or electronic mail to the following address to the Chairperson of the Governing Body.
This publication had established that when Cabinet sat to discuss the issue, it was resolved that the unions as key stakeholders should be consulted and requested to submit a name for consideration. They did and offered Justice Oagile Key Dingake-a distinguished scholar and labour law expert whose contribution to the country’s labour fraternity is unparalleled.

When asked this week to share their side of the story, the unions said they were first invited to partake in the process by the government but never got a response after they nominated judge Dingake as an ideal candidate.

“We sent our correspondence to the Minister of Employment, Labour and productivity, Mpho Balopi, with our suggested name being Justice Oagile Key Dingake, but since then we never got a response,” said unionist, Tobokani Rari who further expressed disappointment at how the government has handled the matter.

Rari said that while he would not want to impute any improper motives to anyone, the developments rekindled memories of the government’s hostility towards Judge Dingake, who has been forced by circumstances to take his skills and wealth of experience to the benefit of other countries. Balopi did not respond to questions sent to him and did not pick this publication’s calls at the time of going to press.

Cabinet insiders say Dingake’s name spoilt the party and dampened the spirits. “In the list of nominated names, he was the leading candidate, but I guess the powers that be could not imagine themselves campaigning for him and doing all they did for the Executive Secretary of SADC Secretariat, Elias Magosi.”

Dingake’s sin, observers say, has always been his progressive, independent mind and family’s political background, all of which have always stood in his way to progress to the country’s judicial ladder’s ends.

It is understood that also in the mix and preferred by the state was former Attorney General, judge, and now Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Botswana to the United Nations and other international organizations, Dr Athaliah Molokomme, who also has a background in human rights advocacy.

But insiders say many believed that the country should export Dingake to represent the country given his decorated experience and background. As a lawyer, Dingake represented 90% of Trade Unions in Botswana, drafted numerous Collective Labour Agreements, later presided overall trade disputes, including Collective Labour Agreements, and made determinations as Judge of the Industrial Court of Botswana.

Dingake has also written and lectured widely on trade, labour and human rights and holds numerous citations and awards for his work regarding peace, human rights, and social development. Had he contested and won, he would have been the first African to lead the ILO.

The ILO is built on the constitutional principle that universal and lasting peace can be established only if based on social justice. The ILO has been the source of such hallmarks of industrial society as the 8-hour day, maternity protection, child labour laws and a whole range of policies promoting workplace safety and peaceful industrial relations. Unique among UN organizations, the ILO has a tripartite structure involving governments, employers and workers.

ILO Director-General elections events lineup…

At its 341st (March 2021) and 342nd (June 2021) Sessions, the ILO Governing Body approved the following timetable for the appointment of the Director-General because the current term of office of the Director-General will come to an end on 30 September 2022:

1 July 2021: The Chairperson of the Governing Body calls for candidatures
1 October 2021: Last date for the reception of candidatures
A week in January 2022: The Chairperson of the Governing Body conducts interviews with candidates for the position of Director-General based on the format and principles contained in document GB.342/INS/6 and the guidance provided by the Governing Body at its 342nd Session
14-15 March 2022 (344th Session of the Governing Body): The Governing Body conducts candidate(s) hearings
25 March 2022 (344th Session of the Governing Body): The Governing Body conducts the ballot for the election of the Director-General
1 October 2022: The term of office of the Director-General commences.

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Botswana, EU clash over human rights issues 

13th October 2021
human-rights

Botswana and the European Union (EU) appear to have been at each other’s throats behind the scenes since last year, with the EU saying it held several meetings with Botswana to convince her to address human rights issues. 

This is contained in a 2020 Human Rights Report that reveals broad divisions in contentious issues boiling behind the scenes between Gaborone and the Union. According to the report, which was released recently, the EU says it “continues to follow closely three main human rights issues in Botswana: the application of the death penalty; the rights of LGBTI persons; and gender equality.”

“Botswana remains part of a small group of countries – in Africa and globally – which continue to retain the death penalty both in law and in practice. Three executions were recorded in 2020,” the report says. According to the report, the Botswana Government indicated that a public debate on the application of the death penalty should be part of its ongoing work towards developing a Comprehensive Human Rights Strategy and the related National Action Plan.

The report says further progress on the rights of LGBTI persons’ seen in 2019, when Botswana’s High Court decriminalised same-sex consensual relations, is still pending, subject to a final court decision over a government appeal.

“Finally, gender-based violence and the need to advance gender equality and women’s rights in society remain another challenge for the country. In response to the high incidence of gender-based violence – which has intensified in many countries during the current COVID-19 pandemic – the President and the First Lady launched a public campaign to fight gender-based violence and to promote equality,” the report says.

The report says the EU did not fold its arms and watch from the sidelines the human rights issues in question are concerned but confronted Botswana to have the contentious issue addressed. “The EU continued to engage with the Botswana Government, multilateral organisations, non-governmental organisations and the broader society in Botswana in three main areas: the death penalty, gender-based violence and empowerment of women, and rights of LGBTI persons, as well as on the support of media and implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations,” the report says.

The report says that in addition to ad hoc consultations and human rights-oriented outreach efforts, the EU engaged with the Botswana Government on human rights formally in the context of the Article 8 Political Dialogue, which took place in February 2020.

“The dialogue offered an opportunity to exchange views on EU’s and Botswana’s experiences concerning the three EU priority areas in Botswana (capital punishment, gender-based violence and rights of LGBTI persons) as well as other human rights challenges, while also exploring opportunities for EU-Botswana cooperation on human rights issues in the context of the EU-Africa partnership and at the multilateral level,” the report says.

In parallel to engagement with the government, the EU said it continued to maintain dialogue with representatives of civil society focusing on human rights and with UN organisations and other partners of the country.

“The EU continues to be the driving force behind the Gender Dialogue (in principle co-chaired with UN Women and the Gender Affairs Department in the Ministry of Immigration, Nationality and Gender), which brings together various stakeholders to discuss gender issues to chart a way forward regarding partnerships. The EU has also used public diplomacy efforts to stimulate broader dialogue in the country on human rights issues,” the report says.

The EU said it continued to provide financial support to projects funded through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, with activities focused primarily on helping Botswana tackle gender-based violence, strengthen the notion of gender equality in the country, and promote participation in political processes.

“With six projects already underway, the EU signed two new programmes, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, to support victims of gender-based and domestic violence and defend the rights of marginalised people, with a combined budget of EUR 430,000,” the report says. It says one of the projects is designed to offer care services to victims of gender-based violence and provide clinical services, counselling, shelter, and a referral system for legal and social assistance. Another project provides legal, medical and psychosocial support to refugees, undocumented migrants and indigenous people.

It says Botswana remains an important like-minded partner for the EU on the human rights agenda at a multilateral level. “The country’s positive role on human rights in the multilateral context would be further strengthened by initiating a domestic process of reflection about the signature and ratification of several pending core human rights conventions and/or optional protocols (e.g. the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, etc.)” the report says.

But the report acknowledged that Botswana is a stable and well-established democracy with a legal framework and institutions designed to guarantee respect for human rights in society. It says human rights complaints are addressed by the courts, with the government accepting decisions and implementing relevant rulings.

“Although the media scene in the country is relatively undeveloped, the World Press Freedom Index has noted a further positive trend concerning the role of the media in society (as was also the case in 2019) and has improved Botswana’s ranking from 44th to 39th place (out of 180 countries),” the report says.  Meanwhile, this week, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi met with the EU delegation led by the managing director for Africa of the European External Action Services, Ms Rita Laranjinha.

 

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