Tuesday, October 19, 2021

American diplomats in Gaborone living in fear

American diplomats no longer feel safe in Gaborone, the US Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OSAC 2017 Botswana’s Crime and Safety report has revealed.

In their latest report, published on 1st February 2017, OSAC states in capital letters that, “THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED [CITY] AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.” The high in “high threat” in highlighted in bold font.

Successive OSAC reports reveal how American have gone from feeling very safe in Botswana more than ten years ago to feeling very insecure in 2017. In their 2004 report, the American Bureau of Diplomatic security stated that, “Botswana has arguably the most stable democracy in Africa and is a country where human rights and personal freedoms are respected. There is little anti-American sentiment and in general, Americans are welcomed throughout the country.”

The OSAC reports also track American diplomats’ changing perceptions about how Botswana’s criminals have become more violent and daring over the years. In their 2017 report, The US department of state warned that: “Reporting indicates incidents of both non-violent residential burglaries and violent home invasions. Incidents affect the local population, expatriates, and visitors. Robberies and burglaries tend to spike during the holiday seasons, and extra vigilance should be taken during these periods.

Criminals can be confrontational. Criminals are often armed with knives or blunt objects (shovels, bats). Botswana has strict gun control laws; however, criminals reportedly smuggle firearms from neighbouring countries where weapons are cheap and readily available. There is a public awareness campaign highlighting this issue and requesting citizens report illegal firearms to the police.

Persons living in Botswana, especially in major cities, are strongly encouraged to upgrade security at their residences to reduce their vulnerability to home invasions. Intrusion alarms, electric fences, perimeter lighting, telephone/camera intercom systems, and window/door grilles are key components of a comprehensive, robust residential security program. Dogs can also be useful deterrents of criminal incidents.”

The report shows a major shift in American diplomats’ perception of crime over the past 19 years. In their 2004 Botswana report, The US Department of State observed that, “Botswana is rated high for crime. The Crime threat in Botswana is very similar to that in any large city. Non-confrontational, non-violent crimes such as smash and grabs from vehicles and pick-pocketing are very common. The burglaries of unoccupied or vacant residences and night time robberies of occupied residences are becoming more and more of a common occurrence. Less common, though increasing, are the more serious crimes of armed carjacking and home invasion.”

The report also suggests a perception in American diplomatic circles that Botswana’s road infrastructure is deteriorating. In their 2004, the OSAC report raised concern about reckless driving and animals straying onto roads causing road accidents: “By far the most serious safety issues affecting Americans is the threat of vehicle accidents. Driving in Botswana is a challenge and everyone is cautioned to drive defensively. It is not uncommon for drivers, especially local taxis and minibuses, to stop, change lanes or pull into traffic without looking to pick up or drop off a fare. Running red lights and “jumping” green lights is also a very common practice among local drivers. Fatal vehicle accidents caused by drunk driving and speeding are also all too common, especially on weekend nights. 

Both domestic and wild animals are often on the road and are very difficult to see until the last moment. One locally hired US Mission Employee was killed in the past year when a Kudu attempted to jump over his headlights and came through the front windshield.”

In their 2017 report, OSAC raises concern not only about Batswana’s dangerous driving habit, but also about how neglected and dangerous Botswana’s road infrastructure has become: “Botswana is one of 13 left-side drive countries in Africa. Major roads are tarred and in good condition, but some lack substantial shoulders for emergency pull-offs. Most secondary roads are gravelled or hard-packed earth. Vegetation can grow up to/over the edges of roads, particularly during the rainy season, causing a lack of visibility and concealing hazards at the side of the road.

Driving can be challenging and sometimes dangerous. There are a high number of traffic accidents often due to poor driving habits, long stretches of two-lane highways (often without shoulders), excessive speeds, poor/non-existent street lighting, non-functioning traffic lights, and animals. Cows, donkeys, and goats are often found feeding along, crossing, or standing in the road. On some stretches of highway, drivers may also encounter elephants and other wildlife. Calves, foals, and young goats present a particular danger, as they are skittish and may suddenly rush onto the road.

Due to road conditions and poor visibility, visitors are strongly encouraged not to drive after dark outside of major cities.”

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