Saturday, November 28, 2020

Botswana and Namibia float or sink together against organized poaching syndicates

A damaging rift it has developed between Botswana and Namibia; two neighboring countries that are also members of SADC in southern Africa. This happened after Botswana Defence Force soldiers shot and killed four Namibians near the border town of Kasane. The BDF has since said the killed men were poachers. Namibia maintains they were unarmed fishermen. Frankly speaking Namibia has by far been Botswana’s closest ally among all countries in the region.

Former President, Festus Mogae actively cultivated Namibia. During that time the country was led by its founding father, the much-revered liberation hero, Sam Nujoma. When Nujoma and Mogae left the scene, and in came Ian Khama for Botswana and Hifikepunye Pohamba for Namibia the relations were taken to an even higher level. As president Khama was a leader who cared very little about the utility of foreign relations. But to be fair, when it came to Namibia he paid an especially particular attention because he had reached a conclusion that Botswana needed to get access to the sea through other countries other than South Africa. For Khama, it was about trade, most especially fuel security for Botswana more than anything else.

To reward his efforts the Namibian government agreed to lease to Botswana a portion of land next to the sea. That has over time proven very important to Botswana, even as it stays not fully utilized yet. The special attention Khama paid to Namibia he also paid to Mozambique – and both of the countries offered similar advantages to Khama and to Botswana. Nationalism, populism and flag-waving have been growing on either side. Since the shooting incident. The Namibians have lost people – and for those of us who place a highest premium on the value of human life, they have a point, no matter what. But in the end credit goes to both presidents Mokgweetsi Masisi for swift action to get a grip on the situation. Agreeing to announce an investigation was the most important thing.  It is a clear demonstration of self-awareness on the two men. And also a clear understanding of what is really at stake.

A grasp of reality is important. But it only a starting point. This was an agreement of absolute fullness with consequences that in the end might have bought the two countries and nations peace that often eludes neighbours whenever there are skirmishes. The announcement was however disconcerting by palpable lack of specifics. The terms of reference are yet to be announced. The names of people or institutions have also not been made public. Botswana is in a clutch of enormous pressure from organized international poaching syndicates. The country has to do everything to fight and defeat the poachers – including as it is increasingly growing clear – fighting fire with fire. It is not going to be easy. And there will be casualties and mistakes will be made, no doubt about it. Already Botswana has lost law enforcement officers – either from enemy fire of friendly fire. Many of the poaching syndicates are manned by all sorts of people across their value chain including a local guide who knows the terrain well, a gunman who is a marksman could, but could be from anywhere really especially the border towns, carriers etc.

Botswana Defence Force is making efforts against these syndicates. The situation has not been helped by a clumsy decision by Botswana government to mysteriously take away guns from the Department of wildlife under some of the flimsiest excuses. Whatever happens after an investigation into the shooting of four Namibians by Botswana Defence Force, Botswana will find itself grappling with poaching that is growing like wildfire. No country can tolerate a mass slaughter of endangered species at the level that rhinos are being killed in Botswana. Botswana and Namibia will investigate the death of four Namibian citizens at the hands of BDF.

When that is done, the two countries will find themselves in exactly where they were before; faced with a glaring spectre of international poaching against which they have to cooperate -win together or sink together.

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