Thursday, September 23, 2021

Botswana/Namibia border dispute flares up

Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has denied accusations that its officers confronted and pointed guns at Namibian tour operators ferrying tourists in the Chobe River area on Botswana’s border with Namibia.

Information reaching Sunday Standard suggests that the border dispute between between the two countries that was resolved in 2018 flared up last week following the alleged confrontation between BDF and the Namibian tour operators.

Opposition parties and human right activists in Namibia have seized the opportunity to challenge the behind -the-scenes border dispute agreement that the two neighbouring countries entered into in 2018.

While the matter was not widely publicized, it has now come back to haunt the diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries.

 Responding to Sunday Standard queries, army spokesperson, Colonel Tebo Dikole said BDF as a prompt and decisive force always investigates allegations levelled against it including the recent assertions made by the media.

While he acknowledged that matters relating to Botswana and her neighbours do not fall within the purview of the BDF, Dikole said since the army was implicated in the allegations, preliminary investigations on the incident indicate that no guns were pointed at any tourists. Instead, the said boats had crossed into Botswana and operated a guided tour within the national park for which they are not licensed.

“The Botswana Defence Force remains open to further investigations on the incident. The BDF wishes to take this opportunity to assure the public that it remains steadfast on its mission of securing Botswana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interests,” he said.

Dikole said, “this shall be attained in partnership with all stakeholders and sister countries in the region and the world.”

The Chobe River which has been described as an infested river, marks the border between Botswana and Namibia with no fences on either side.

Tensions between Botswana and Namibia erupted last year following the much-publicised fatal shooting of Namibian fishermen suspected to be poachers by the Botswana army. The four Namibian men were killed along the Chobe River.

According to Namibian media reports, the BDF recently came face to face with some Namibian tour operators at a spot that the army believes is part of Botswana territory.

According to Namibian media, police in Zambezi region of Namibia (along the Chobe River in Botswana) have since filed a report against the BDF with their Headquarters seeking the intervention of the Police leadership. Namibian Police inspector general (Police Commissioner) Sebastian Ndeitunga is reportedly poring over a file allegedly containing information showing how the BDF had a confrontation with tourists along the Chobe River. The Namibian newspaper reported that police commander deputy commissioner Evans Simasiku on Monday said a report about the incident has been submitted to Ndeitunga’s office. “We made some consultations this morning [Monday] and interviewed the victims. We forwarded the report to the office of the inspector general for further directives,” Simasiku was quoted as saying. It is alleged that a BDF patrol unit pointed an AK-47 rifle at tourists and Namibians on a boat cruise along the Chobe River last weekend.

Now the Namibian political parties and activists have weighed in on the matter.

National Democratic Party President Martin Lukato was quoted as saying that the party was unhappy with the manner in which the Namibian-Botswana border was signed. 

The border treaty was signed by president Hage Geingob and his Botswana counterpart at the time, Ian Khama, in 2018.Lukato was quoted as saying the residents of the region, as well as five traditional authorities were not consulted on the treaty, except for minister of home affairs, immigration, safety and security Albert Kawana. He said the border treaty has affected the livelihood of the people of the Zambezi region, as well as the region’s future generations.

“Many of our people are depending on Situngu Island. They are grazing their animals and catch fish in that area,” Lukato was quoted as saying.

“First we lost Kasikili Island (Sedudu Island) with its rich wild animals to Botswana. Then we lost Caprivi with its oil to now Kavango East,” he reportedly said.

According to the Namibian newspaper, the Mafwe and Mayeyi traditional authorities in the Zambezi region are refusing to recognise the legality of the border treaty of 2018 between Namibia and Botswana, saying their communities are living in constant fear as the neighbouring country increases military activity along the Chobe River.

The paper reported that the traditional leaders claim to have learnt about this through the media only.

Both chief George Mamili VII and chief Shikati Shifu of the Mafwe and Mayeyi traditional authorities, respectively, claim they were never consulted when the treaty was signed.

“If the territorial boundary dispute is not resolved we are going to face a disastrous situation. If this problem of occupation is not resolved, many lives will be lost to shootings by the BDF as it has been in the past,” Shifu was quoted as saying Mamili, in a letter written to Geingob recently, said the Mafwe people were not consulted on their land and borders.

“Secondly, our people have not given their consent and approval to the new boundaries we only heard of from the surveyor general,” he reportedly stated in the letter.

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