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90 elephants poached! Not in our AOR – BDF rubbishes Chase

“Eighty-seven elephant carcasses were found in the country, months after it disarmed its anti-poaching unit. The carcasses of 87 elephants have been discovered near a Botswana protected sanctuary, killed and stripped for their tusks. The elephants were discovered by Elephants Without Borders, a conservation nonprofit.”

This is the narrative that was sold to the international media and attributed to Dr Mike Chase who has been awarded a contract by the Government of Botswana to carry out a survey of elephants in the Ngami-Chobe area. However this week, a Task Team led by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF)’s Brigadier Simon Barwabatsile rubbished these reports which were attributed to Dr Mike Chase on 3rd September 2018. The Office of the President had invited local and international media on a tour of the area which was said to have invaded by poachers and elephants massacred and striped of their tusks.

“… the figure of 87 or around 90 that was circulated was not a true reflection of what has been recorded by all government agencies involved in anti-poaching operations to date in the Ngami-Chobe areas. The official figure recorded as from January to date is 63 poached elephants,” said Brigadier Barwabatsile, who indicated that on their verification tour they invited Dr Mike Chase. The exercise took two full days and only a total of 19 carcasses were located.

Before he delved into the numbers, Brigadier Barwabatsile indicated that the area that Dr Mike Chase referred to is under the control of the BDF, “…and as you can see we are armed, we have all the ammunition we need to deal with poachers.” In accounting for the elephants carcasses reported, Brigadier Barwabatsile said a total of 36 carcasses have been located as per the grid coordinates given. The carcasses were found to have died over the years from various causes including poaching, natural causes, as well as human/wildlife conflict among other causes.

According to the Brigadier, the task team realized that most of the carcasses are not recent and are scattered all over the area contrary to what has been attributed to Dr Mike Chase. “Among these carcasses less than 50 percent of them can be attributed to poaching which has been taking place over the years, but it has not worsened.” All these incidents occurred in BDF area of operation, he stressed as a way of shooting down the assertion that disarming Wildlife officers gave rise to poaching.

When giving his update on the anti-poaching situation in the Chobe-Ngami area, Brigadier Barwabatsile shared that the north of the country has a high population of elephants and this attracts poachers. He pointed out that they are aware that poachers come armed and they have to be addressed as such by those in operation. Brigadier Barwabatsile explained that the military provides safe and secure environment for elephants and the area of Chobe-Ngami has been under the control of the military since the 1970s.

He acknowledged that poaching has always been there and on average poachers kill about 80 elephants countrywide. The army Brigadier noted that the numbers attributed to Dr Mike chase are staggering hence they had to call him in and do a corroboration of facts.
“There has been no exponential increase in the number of elephants that died because of poaching. We take coordinates for every dead elephant in the bush and we keep them for future reference. It was established that most of the carcasses reported by Dr Chase were old, some died six month ago, others eight months, and three months; only a few were found to be fresh,” said Brigadier Barwabatsile.

Off all carcasses located one is estimated to have been lying there for 2-3 weeks; Three estimated to have died about 2-3 months ago, nine estimated to have lay dead for 6-8 months; while six are estimated to have died 12 months ago. Of the 19 carcasses located, 18 were without tusks, one had a pair of tusks and were collected by the task team. Of these number, six were found to be covered with tree branches – an indication that they died as a result of poaching. They were also found to be near water points, another sign that shows that poachers were involved because they ambush the elephants at water points.

12 carcasses had no sign of either being poached or dying of natural cause. An old camping site was identified which is an indication of a bigger group of poachers during winter season. The team realized it was the first time that Dr Mike Chase had visited some of the locations where these carcasses were identified. To step up the anti-poaching campaign, Brigadier Barwabatsile pointed out that they intend to enhance capacity of law enforcement agencies. He said there is need to ensure enforcement of legislations to preserve wildlife resources. Critical to the operations, Barwabatsile said community involvement in ant poaching initiatives must be increased while also accommodating interagency cooperation in operations.

 DR CHASE’S EWB RESPONDS

“Elephants Without Borders (EWB) has received many questions and comments regarding the elephant poaching situation that has been widely reported in the press. EWB has been working in partnership with the Government of Botswana (GoB) conducting aerial wildlife surveys since 2010. Our team, which includes members from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and other professionals, is perhaps the most experienced wildlife aerial survey team in Africa. Our current survey adheres to the highest international standards for counting wildlife, the same standards employed for the surveys EWB conducted in collaboration with the GoB in 2010 and 2014.

Dr. Michael Chase is recognised for his knowledge and dedication having received the Botswana Presidential Merit of Service Award and was also bestowed the Global Conservation in Action Award, a prestigious international conservation honour. Dr. Chase is a fourth generation Motswana and is a citizen of Botswana by birth.

EWB was awarded a grant from the Conservation Trust Fund, under the administration of the DWNP, to conduct the 2018 wildlife aerial survey of Northern Botswana. The 2018 survey, began on the 3 July in full partnership with the DWNP, and is due to be completed by October.
During this survey an unusually high number of elephant carcasses were seen by the survey team. As part of the survey, data (which include GPS locations, photographs, written records and cockpit voice recordings) are collected and then collated, checked and run through standard statistical analyses to generate the final report.

In addition, and given the high number of elephant carcasses seen during the survey, EWB felt it a moral and patriotic duty to immediately report this to the Government of Botswana, which it did soon after the survey commenced. EWB is, however, deeply saddened by recent articles both in the written media and on social media which have sought to portray the issue as being political. It is not. EWB has the greatest respect for Government and EWB is completely a-political in its work. EWB’s sole concern is for the wildlife and the natural heritage of our wonderful country and its preservation for future generations of Batswana.

Dr Chase was not extended an invitation to the recent Government of Botswana press briefing held in Kasane on the 19 September pertaining to a fact finding mission about alleged elephant poaching. EWB is not able, until further notice, to release any detailed information concerning the survey in general, nor potential cases of elephant poaching. We trust that concerned citizens of Botswana, the media and the international conservation community can respect these constraints and await the dissemination of the final survey report.”

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No end in sight for Nam, Botswana borderline feud

27th July 2021
Namibian-report

Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.

Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.

“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.

Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.

The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.

The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River.  They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).

His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.

The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.

Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.

37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far

Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.

“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.

It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.

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Masisi gives KBL the “middle finger”

27th July 2021
President Masisi

Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.

This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.

In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.

“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.

Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.

Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”

Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.

He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”

According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.

Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.

“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.

He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.

Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.

“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.

He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”

Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.

However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.

In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.

“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.

Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.

“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.

Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.

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Gov’t gives parallel statements on COVAX

27th July 2021
COVAX---lelatisitswe

In  an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.

The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.

“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.

According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.

“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more  money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.

Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.

“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.

“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.

COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.

Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).

On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.

Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.

President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.

“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.

On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.

In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.

Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.

Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.

As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.

This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.

The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.

As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.

“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.

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