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Why Botswana is becoming drugs haven

The legal frame work and judicial leniency are perhaps the major cause of rising incidences of drug dealing and possession in Botswana, Deputy Commanding Officer responsible for Narcotics, Fauna and Flora Investigations, Albert Morapedi has revealed.

Botswana, completely landlocked by four countries South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and slightly by Angola is faced with a saddling experience of having to deal with drugs coming in from all fronts.

“Our investigations indicate that drugs don’t come from Botswana, but from other countries,” he said.

The Botswana Police Service has seen a staggering rise in the number of hard drugs, which are considered more dangerous, compared to soft drugs. Hard drugs include cocaine, nicotine and cat among others which have been discovered by the police in Botswana.

Of all the drugs in general, marijuana remains the most common. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, between periods of January to July, there were 295, 339 and 394 cases of marijuana alone as compared to 5, 18, 27 cases of hard drugs in the same period respectively.

The largest consumers of these drugs are youth, with those belonging to age groups of 18-39 being major participants in the business. According to Morapedi there are rare cases involving primary school kids and recently involving a 52 year old man.

While the rise in drugs cases are a cause for concern, Morapedi also highlighted that for the police, it is a good sign as it shows that they are now able to detect drugs better than they used to.

“Unlike in other crimes where we want the cases to go down, in drug cases we want the detection rate to go high to uproot the harm which they are causing especially to the young people,” he said.

From statistics, it is apparent that pupils at secondary schools are the major victims of drug dealing in Botswana which leads to compromised health, aggressive behaviour and poor performance in schools.

Legal frame work and repercussions

Unlike in other countries, drug dealing and possession in Botswana does not carry hefty penalties and worse of all, the judiciary appears to be lenient by letting suspects off the hook with paltry bail amounts.

According to the Drug and Related Substance Act of 1992, a person can only be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years for dealing or possession.

The Act further states that: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any written law, any Magistrate Grade I, Senior Magistrate or Principal Magistrate shall have special jurisdiction to impose any penalties provided in this Act for any contravention of the provisions of this Part, or any regulations made under this Act relating to this Part, or to exercise any of the powers provided therein in respect of such contraventions.”

Morapedi said this is a big challenge because the law does not act as deterrence. The Deputy Commanding Officer also contended that the law also gives drug dealers who are released on bail the opportunity to continue with the illegal dealing.

“Our aim is to make clean the country and destroy network of drug dealing syndicates,” he said. “Personally I believe drug dealing syndicates should not be released on bail, they should remain in custody so that the network is destroyed,” he said.

Judiciary leniency on drug dealers

However, Morapedi said that although releasing of suspects on bail is defeating the whole purpose of striving for drug free communities, the police will not be discouraged by that.

Morapedi stated that there are four cases in which serial offenders have been granted bail.

“Judges and Magistrates are independent and sometimes use their discretion in making rulings on whether to release the accused on bail or not, but sadly most of time they succeed in getting bail,” he said.

Morapedi quipped that the review of Drugs and Substance Abuse Act, which is underway, will address some of the concerns raised by the stakeholders.

Penalties for drug dealing and possession vary depending on the quantity the accused is found in possession or is dealing with. The penalties range from three years imprisonment to 15 years or P1000 to 15 000 in fines or a combination of both.

Where do the drugs come from?

Although Morapedi could not reveal to this publication the most common area for origination of drugs to Botswana, this publication’s investigations revealed that Swazi nationals as per recent court appearances lead the number of foreign offenders, mostly dealing jointly with locals.

Drug dealers have been able to penetrate the country, with some drugs passing through the country in destinations outside the country, including from South Africa to Zambia, and other neighbouring countries.

“Drug dealers are using all tactics to bring them to Botswana, including using un-gazetted areas to get them inside the country,” he said.

Recently the Police were able, in a rare case to arrest drug syndicates in possession of drugs weighing from 1kg -102 kg, something which Morapedi said was a breakthrough because they were arrested before distribution.

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