The tension between Botswana and Namibia following the shooting of Namibians suspected of poaching by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) escalated into a war of words this week. The Namibian Government broke its silence an issued a warning to the Botswana Government that the ongoing diplomatic tension between the two neighbouring countries should be addressed a matter of urgency.
Namibia’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Peya Mushelenga told the Namibian media that his government condemned the random shooting of Namibian citizens suspected of being poachers at the Botswana border. He said Botswana’s security agents were too quick to pull the trigger. “We have our own laws in Namibia on how to react to such situations. Botswana has a death sentence, but shooting is not a solution,” he said.
Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, however insited on Friday that Botswana will not climb down from its shoot to kill policy. Khama told Sunday Standard that it was unfortunate that the shoot to kill stance has proved to be an effective deterrent as it sends a clear message to poachers. He said Botswana will not be dissuaded in her mission to protect her natural resources.
Khama and Mushelenga’s verbal sparring on the media marks the highest watermark so far in the ongoing diplomatic tension betweenthe two neighbours after Botswana border patrol soldiers shot and killed two Namibian suspected of elephant poachers in May.
The two Namibians, Maziezi Tekulo Salomon (26) and Manyuka Shakawyae Iwana (29) were allegedly discovered with four elephant tusks in their possession in the Kwando area near Shakawe village.
Mushelenga said that his office had requested the Namibian high commission in Botswana to look into the matter. Mushelenga is also quoted as saying that “there are innocent Namibians who go to Botswana and into the game reserve unaware about what is going on but are shot just because they are suspected of being poachers.”
The Namibian deputy minister said the Botswana authorities should first ask questions before firing. “The Botswana Defence Force should also fire warning shots,” he suggested.
Minister of environment and tourism Pohamba Shifeta said Namibia has a standing relationship between neighbouring countries on how to handle suspected poachers across the borders.
“We communicate to other countries when there is a suspected poacher and handle the matter without shooting. Namibia does not shoot at suspected poachers unless the official is under threat by an armed suspected poacher, we do not have capital punishment in Namibia,” he is quoted as saying.
Shifeta also suggested that authorities in Botswana should first fire warning shots at Namibians before shooting them.
In an interview with Sunday Standard on Friday, Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister Tshekedi Khama insisted that Botswana will not be dissuaded in her mission to protect her natural resources.
“There is no one who should dictate to us as to how we should protect our natural resources. It must be noted that this are our natural resources and whether we deploy the army or the police is our prerogative,” he said. The Minister said the suspected do not only enter the country at non gazetted point of entry but” are also armed to the teeth.”
“These people have no interest to observe the law and they are aware that we have taken a radical measure to protect our natural resources in the form of wildlife. If they value their lives they would be saved,” said Tshekedi.
Falling short of accusing neighbouring countries of failing to sensitize their citizens on the risks and disadvantages of poaching, Khama said “Batswana are law abiding citizens because we don’t have cases of our citizens being engaged in poaching activities in other countries.”
The Minister said there is a joint security commission between neighbouring countries but some neighbouring countries seem not to be treating the objective of such a commission with the serious they deserve.
“Our natural resources cannot protect themselves so we will continue to protect our wildlife. Remember also that these suspects are armed and when our soldiers try to observe the rules of engagement, they are literally in the line of fire,” he said.
Asked if the discontent by the Namibian Government is likely to stoke the already acrimonious relationship between the two countries, Tshekedi said that is always the challenge.
“Eventually you come to a situation where you disagree. But I don’t think there is going to be a diplomatic tension between us,” he said.
When contacted for comment by Sunday Standard, the Namibian high commission in Botswana declined to comment on the matter saying “we don’t discuss such issues with the media.”
Botswana’s High Commissioner in Namibia, Tshenolo Modise also declined to discuss the matter when contacted by Sunday Standard on Friday.
In a terse statement, Modise said “kindly be informed that the above issue will be dealt with through the existing bilateral cooperation structures and diplomatic channels. I’m therefore not in a position to discuss this sensitive subject with the media.”
In a previous interview with the Sunday Standard, Namibian Police spokesperson Deputy Commissioner Edwin Kanguatjivi said their preliminary investigation have revealed that five Namibian Nationals and one Zambian National entered “the Park, three were shot dead two survived, one is still missing, and the alleged fire arm is not yet found, so is the alleged Ivory.”
“I am made to understand that there is discussion between our two governments regarding those issues,” he said.
He admitted that it is not the first time that the Botswana security agents shot at Namibians suspected to be poachers “however I am not qualified nor do I have the mandate to answer questions pertaining to diplomatic matters between the two governments and as such I can only refer you to the Ministry of foreign Affairs.”
Falling short of accusing Botswana of violating international laws, Kanguatjivi is of the view that “there are international laws that governed the use of deadly force adding that these laws also stipulate when and under which circumstances one can use deadly force.” He added that “these laws are applicable to the law enforcement agencies as well as the military.”
For his part, BDF spokesperson Colonel Teko Dikole said that a patrol team deployed in the Kwando area on anti-poaching operations shot and killed three poachers and that the matter has since been handed to Botswana Police Service for conclusion.