Thursday, October 29, 2020

Botswana’s lackluster anti-poaching fueling regional insecurity

Since 2016 Botswana Government decisions in so far as they have been nothing short of a fiasco. Once a doyen of conservation and anti-poaching Botswana Government today finds itself a regional pariah. Not only has there been a spike in poaching recently; with close to a hundred rhinos killed, neighbouring countries are also now voicing their frustration at Botswana’s fall from a lynchpin to a weak link. Their concerns are multifold. Firstly, they say Botswana is rich with many wildlife species because for many years the country was a sanctuary. Having become a fertile hunting ground, that means those species are in real danger of being wiped out.

Borderline species like rhinos are especially vulnerable. Secondly, Botswana’s weak anti-poaching efforts are making other neigbouring countries vulnerable. And making their security situation much more precarious. Botswana Defence Force has generally proven incompetent, including suffering the ultimate embarrassment when at one point a soldier was fatally killed not by poachers but by friendly fire from colleagues as they tried to engage poachers. Not long ago the combination of BDF and the Department of Wildlife were a lethal anti-poaching force.

They were respected the world over. Politicians provided strategic guidance, resources and all that goes with political will but left operational matters to officials and field commanders on the ground. There was no effort to micromanage anti-poaching operations from the capital like it is the case today. Botswana has always had an exceptionally good conservation record. And that has benefitted the country in the past. Because of such reputation, Botswana was for a long time a leading global recipient of donor funds for conservation purpose from abroad, chiefly from the European Union and also the United States.

Big conservation groups like Conservation International and World Wildlife Forum channeled resources to Botswana, knowing so well they would be used for what they were supposed to do. And more importantly that there would be results.Now all that lies in peril – all of it a result of schoolboy mistakes and a shocking failure to get even with the public and parliament when giving an accounting brief or justifying an executive decision.

At different levels, Botswana’s deteriorating poaching situation is a source of discomfort for neighbouring countries. It makes them vulnerable. And renders them sitting ducks. Ultimately, it also undermines the integrity of their borders and also their overall security. Neighbouring countries are worried and uncomfortable about sharing intelligence with Botswana, not least because security agencies here have been infiltrated and are not trusted to handle sensitive information with care. Tourism, which is a direct outcome of conservation accounts for a significant proportion of Botswana’s GDP. Its importance can thus not be emphasized strong enough. One would have thought that before making any changes like taking any kind of guns, cabinet would have thought of the likely ramifications. Now we find ourselves in a bind, discussing the fallacies of what type of guns game scouts are allowed to carry, when they have to face well-armed, well determined and well-resourced poachers.

As a result, poachers have quite rightly identified Botswana as a sitting dark when it come to their illicit trade. A decision to confiscate some arms from the game scouts has exposed the fragility of ant-poaching. It has become clearer that every unit, every piece of the effort matters. Today international poachers find it easy to kill animals in Botswana as they find it easy to get in and out at will – illegally. This because we are unable to take care of our borders, thus putting into danger other countries that are doing their best to fight poaching. Botswana’s decision is endangering other countries. Poachers traverse long distances, passing through these countries enroute to Botswana.

This allows for a passage of other contrabands like drugs and narcotics.

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