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?
In a classic and shocking case of disgrace and dishonour to this country, the law enforcement agencies are currently struggling to cover up a damaging and humiliating scandal of having conspired to forge the signature of a Palapye Chief Magistrate, Rebecca Motsamai in an unlawful acquisition of the much-publicised 2019 warrant of arrest against Isaac Kgosi, the former director of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).
The cloak-and-dagger arrest was led by the DIS director, Brigadier Peter Magosi supported by the Botswana Police, Botswana Defence Force (BDF), with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) which accused Kgosi of tax evasion, in the backseat.
Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) constituent members are struggling to reach an agreement over the allocation of wards for the imminent ward by-elections across the country.
Despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are said to be active, but the nitty-gritties are far from being settled.
The eight bye-elections will be a precursor of a somewhat delayed finalisation of the brittle MoU. The three parties want to draw a plan on how and who will contest in each of the available wards.
This publication has gathered that the negotiations will not be a run off the mill because there is already an impasse between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which is a UDC constituent and AP (currently negotiating to join umbrella).
The by-elections joint committee met last week at Cresta President Hotel in a bid to finalise allocation but nothing tangible came out of the gathering, sources say.
The cause of the stalemate according to those close to events, is the Metsimotlhabe Ward which the two parties have set their eyes on.
In 2019, he ward was won by Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Andrew Sebobi who unfortunately died in a tragic accident in February last year.
Sebobi had convincingly won by 1 109 votes in the last elections; and was trailed by Sephuthi Thelo of the UDC trailed him with 631 votes; while Alliance for Progressives’ Innocent Moamogwe got 371 votes.
Thelo is a BCP candidate and as per UDC norm, incumbency prevails meaning that the BCP will contest since they were runners up. On the other hand, AP has also raised its hand for the same.
“AP asked for it on the basis that they have a good candidate but BCP did not agree to that request also arguing they have a better contestant,” one UDC member confided to this publication.
Notwithstanding Metsimotlhabe Ward squabble, it is said the by-election talks are almost a done deal, with Botswana National Front (BNF) tipped to take Boseja South ward in Mochudi East constituency. Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) will be awarded Tamasane Ward in Lerala/Maunatlala constituency, sources say.
“But the agreement has to be closed by National Executive Committee (NEC),” emphasized the informant.
The NEC is said to have been cautioned not to back the wrong horse but rather rate with reason and facts.
UDC President, Duma Boko has told this publication that, “allocation is complete with two wards already awarded but with only one yet to be finalized,” he could not dwell into much details as to which party got what and the reasons for the delay in finalisation.
Chairperson of the by-elections committee, Dr. Phenyo Butale responded to this publication regarding the matter: “As AP we contested and as you may be aware we signed the MoU with UDC and BPF to collaborate on bye-elections. The opposition candidate for all bye-elections will be agreed by these parties and that process is still ongoing,” he said when asked if AP is interested on the ward and how far with the talks on bye-elections.
Butale, a former Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, who is also AP Secretary General continued to say, “As the chairperson of the bye-elections committee we are still seized with that matter. We should also do some consultations with the local structures. Once the process is complete we will issue a notice for now we cannot talk about the other two while the other is still pending the other one”.
Butale further clarified: “There is no such thing as AP and BCP not in agreement. It is an issue of signatories discussing and determining the opposition candidates across the three wards.”
Apart from the three wards, there are five more council wards that UDC is yet to allocate to cooperating partners.
FROM PALAPYE MEET: BPP CAUTION NEC MEMBERS
With the UDC cheerful from last weekend’s meeting in Palapye, the meeting however was very tense on the side of both BCP and BNF, with only BPP flexing its muscle and even lashing out.
BCP going into the meeting, had promised to ask difficult questions to the UDC NEC.
BCP VP and also acting Secretary General, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, presented their qualms which were addressed by UDC Chairperson Motlatsi Molapisi, informants say.
It is said Molapisi is fed up and concerned by some UDC members especially those in the NEC who ‘wash party’s dirty linen in public’.
Insiders say the veteran politician cautioned the NEC members that they “will not expel any party but individuals who tarnish the image of the UDC.”
It is not the first time BPP play a paternalistic role as it once expressed its discontent with BCP in 2020, saying it should never wash UDC linen in public.
At first it is said, BPP, the oldest political formation in Botswana, claims disappointment on BCP stance that UDC should be democratised especially by sharing their stand with the media. Again, BPP was not happy with BCP leader Dumelang Saleshando’s decision to air his personal views on social media regarding the merger of UDC party.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) Commissioner, Keabetswe Makgophe, has of late been dousing raging fires from various quarters of society following the infiltration of the police fingerprint system by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), WeekendPost has learnt.
Fresh information gleaned from a number of impeccable sources, points to a pitiable working relationship between the two state organs. Cause of concern is the DIS continuous big brother role to an extent that it is now interfering with other institutions’ established mandates.
BPS which works closely with the DIS has been left exasperated by the works of the institution formed in 2008. It is said, the DIS through its Information Technology (IT) experts in collusion with some at BPS forensics department managed to infiltrate the Fingerprint system.
The infiltration, according to those in the know, was for the DIS to “teach a lesson” to some who are on their radar. It is said the DIS is playing and fighting dirty to win the fights they have lost before.
By managing to hack the police finger print system, a number of renowned businessmen and other politically exposed persons found their fingers in the system. What surprised the victims is the fact that they have never been charged of any wrongdoing by the police and they were left reeling in shock to learn that their fingers are on the data-base of criminals.
In fact, some of those who their fingerprints were falsely included in the records of those on the wrong side of law learnt later when other errands demanded their fingerprints.
“We learnt later when we had to submit and buy some documents and we were very shocked,” one politician who is also a businessman confided to this publication this week.
“We then learn that there are some fabricated criminality recorded for us, as to when did we commit those remained secret to the police, but then we had to engage our lawyers on the matter and that is when we were cleared,” said the politician-cum- tenderpreneur.
The lawyers have confirmed engaging the police and that the matters were settled in a gentlemen’s agreement and concluded.
All these happened behind the scenes with the police top brass oblivious only to be confronted by the irked lot, police sources also add. The victimized group who most of them have been fighting lengthy battles with the DIS read malice and did not blink when it was revealed that these were done by the DIS.
“And it was clear that they (DIS) are the ones in this dirty war which we don’t understand. Remember when we sue, it will be the Police at the courts not the DIS and that is why we agreed to a ceasefire more so they also requested that be kept under carpet,” said the victim.
Nonetheless, the Police through its spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, briefly said: “we do not have any system that has been hacked.” On the other hand DIS mouthpiece Edward Robert was not in office this week to comment on the matter.
Reports however say DIS boss, Peter Magosi, who most of the victims accuse of the job, is said to have met his police counterpart Makgophe to put the matter to bed.
COVID-19 RAVAGES POLICE
As frontline workers, Police have not escaped the wrath of Covid-19. Already the numbers of those infected has reached the highest of high and they suggest that they be priorities on vaccine rollout.
“Our job is complicated, firstly we arrest including those who are non-compliant to Covid protocols and we go to accidents and many more. These put us at risk and it seems our superiors are not bothered,” said one police officer this week.
The cops further complain about that working spaces are small, as such expose them to contact the virus.
“Some tests positive and go for quarantine while the rest of the unit will be left without even test carried out. If at all the bosses are serious all the police officers should every now and then be subjected to testing or else we will be no more because of the virus,” added another officer based in Gaborone.
The government has since placed teachers on the priority list for the vaccines, it remains to be seen whether the police, who also man road blocks, will be considered.
“But our bosses should convince the country leadership about this, if not then we are doomed,” concluded a more senior officer.