By Richard Moleofe
Taking rounds around Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, one would notice the numerous white masts that have come to define the landscape of our streets. These masts are carrying at least three security cameras that this city so desperately needs.
We heard that the cameras were coming in more than a year from today. I must confess that I was truly one of those worried about the prospect of cameras on our streets. They were coming to rob us of our peace. However, the timing for the coming of the cameras is just right.
My previous fear for the cameras was founded on the type of president and chief of intelligence we had at the time. It is good that the change at State House also translated to change of guard at the Directorate on Intelligence Security (DIS). The former boss at DIS acted with impunity and he was a law unto himself. He was not a man to be trusted with such tools when there were no checks and balances placed on him.
President Ian Khama had given Isaac Kgosi a big blank cheque when it came to issues of security. Because he was not accountable to anyone but the president, it is good that the cameras did not come during his reign of terror.
But whose cameras are they anyway? This is a Botswana Police project that has been in the pipeline for some time now. It got delayed due to the usual government red tape and endless bureaucracy. It is not a DIS project as some may want to believe. However, Isaac Kgosi’s DIS was going to abuse them regardless of project ownership.
Gaborone has in the past seen a growing crime rate. In short, things are really getting out of hand in as far as crime is concerned. Botswana in general is seeing an increase in all areas of crime. The siphoning of the P250 million represents the white collar crime. Theft and pilferage in our stores, hotels and factories comes in as a good example of blue collar crime. And robbery has also increased regardless of the heavy punishment for this type of crime.
However, it is the petty criminals that are giving the country sleepless nights. In fact our lives have come to be fashioned in the way the criminals operate. People no longer can enjoy the breeze of the night with open windows because of the men of the night. People miss holidays because they are in town watching over their belongings. I remember that on Christmas day in 1993, I happened to be the only motorist driving on the Old Lobatse road in Gaborone. The reason for that was, people had deserted the city for their home villages. That cannot be the case anymore.
It is for these criminals that a city such as ours needs to be wired with cameras. In fact all progressive cities around the world depend so much in the use of security cameras. London was able to rid itself off the Irish Republican Army bombings with the help of cameras. New York City has been the first city to install cameras on its streets. All the arrests made in the past surrounding terror related crimes came through the aid of cameras.
Early last month there was a circulating message on the different social media platforms announcing that the cameras around the city have been commissioned. That was far from the truth because the installation is still ongoing. The public needs to rest its anxieties on the functions of these instruments.
Last year there was a case of a mob of taxi drivers who abused a woman at the bus rank. They were ultimately nailed through a cell phone footage which was far from professional the way it was taken. More is to come with the high resolution cameras being installed around the city. The cameras will act as deterrence and that alone will bring down crime.
My fear is that with the commissioning of the cameras, crime is going to be exported to the rural areas where there are no such facilities to fight crime. Already we have seen a rise in crime committed by Zimbabwean farm workers around the country.
High tech equipment alone will not bring this country any redemption in relation to crime. The government needs to put in place other interventions such as bringing more jobs on the table. The jobless youth will continue to envy the lifestyle of the upper class and they will try and achieve that through crime.
One thing that we may overlook with the benefits of the cameras is the prevention of terror attacks on our city. The major security concern around the world is the prevention of such crimes and the policing and intelligence communities are investing heavily in this area. In recent years a US security report singled out Botswana as open to terror attacks.
Local politicians have been calling for more policing on the ground. The cameras are a real force multiplier as they will do the work of several police officers. The camera does not sleep, does not go on leave and will not require any sick leave. However, Botswana Police needs to invest heavily on human resources, the people that are charged with the responsibility to man the monitoring rooms.
Locally, businesses have improved their earnings with the installation of Close Circuit Television(CCTV) sets. There is a local company that does monitoring here in Gaborone. They monitor cameras from as far afield as Maun. The use of this technology has helped in the arrest of many employees who turned themselves into thieves. One individual who works for a local meat company was caught stashing biltong under his jacket and between his legs.
Watch an American television program known as “Caught on Camera” which shows how people and particularly workers behave themselves behind the scenes. One employee peed into his boss’s coffee and he was doing that just because he didn’t like the idea of making coffee at the time he should be on the road going home.
*Richard Moleofe is a Security Analyst