Thursday, July 7, 2022

Inside Botswana’s cocktail of poaching militias, security moles and Chinese handlers

Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Wildlife anti-poaching unit are locked in a running battle with heavily armed members of demobilized Southern Africa’s guerilla forces who have carried their battle tactics into the crime world.

Credible information that has been corroborated by the BDF has revealed that the poaching militias, flush with dirty money, have been able to buy their way into confidential security and law enforcement X files and have recruited moles from local security and law enforcement agencies and cultivated contacts at local cattle posts for surveillance and logistical support.

It has also emerged from the intelligence gathered by the country’s security personnel that Chinese construction companies operating in Botswana are doubling as liaisons for the poaching militia.

Information passed to the Sunday Standard suggests that the poaching cartel weaponry and military skills make them more than just poachers and call for a more martial description. BDF Brigadier Sentsekae Macheng confirmed this week that the poachers operating in Botswana are trained militias who use sophisticated weapons and tactics and can match regular armies pound for pound.

Brigadier Macheng explained that over the years, poaching has grown increasingly militarized on the back of a proliferation of arms of war, especially in neighbouring countries that have a history of political instability as a result of liberation wars. At independence, demobilization of guerrillas and integration into regular armies were not always seamless. Some of the guerillas who were demobilized made away with arms of war and took their skills into the world of poaching. Their attacks show a high level of training and preoperational planning.

BDF and Wildlife anti-poaching unit have in the past arrested poachers clad in military fatigues and armed with semi-automatic military style rifles. Brigadier Macheng says all evidence points to the fact that smuggling syndicates are growing more militarized and sophisticated. “Their tactics and styles are top notch military tactics, clearly mounted by people with professional military backgrounds. The styles of attack show military tactics are routinely involved. If you take Chobe, for example, we see poachers who exhibit military skills.”┬á

Brigadier Macheng explained that poaching militias have resorted to splitting into smaller units of about seven people, with every member of the group highly skilled in their area of specialization.
In all such groups, every member has a clear-cut role which range from providing surveillance intelligence, providing logistical support and providing overall security to other insurgents.

“Their positions show comprehensive knowledge of military and security applications. They employ anti-tracking tactics, they are well versed in evasive measures, including hiding in holes which makes it very difficult to pick them from a helicopter,” said Macheng.

“More than ever before, they are prepared to kill,” says Brigadier Macheng.” As a matter of fact, we have in the past lost our officers to these poachers,” he adds.

It emerged that the poaching militia who are organised and have lots of money to buy civil servants have been able to infiltrate the Botswana law enforcement agencies and security services. “It is very clear that the poaching syndicates have inside information on our intelligence. They clearly have access as shown by the fact that their decision cycle is often ahead of us. This can only be because they have people among us,” says Macheng.

Adding to the deadly cocktail of trained militias and bought security officers who allow them access to security information is a clutch of moneyed Chinese businessmen who use their construction businesses as a front for the billion dollar illicit trade. Brigadier Macheng says intelligence has on many occasions turned up information that Chinese contractors in Botswana double either as poachers or poaching liaisons, allowing their site camps to be used as bases from which to launch the illegal activities.

Perhaps as more evidence of the extent of resourcefulness of these construction sites to poaching syndicates, contractors are often unwilling to close down and demobilize their camps long after legitimate projects have been completed and handed over to government.

There is also proof that in the areas to the north of the county where elephant numbers are high, poaching levels often spike around construction areas.

“I must point out that not every Chinese is a poacher. But so far all evidence shows that Asians have come with their own issues. There used to be a problem of the market but now the market is right here among us. Construction workers and constructions sites have also proved a problem. Our covert operations have sufficiently proved that,” says Brigadier Macheng.

While the Chinese have no doubt brought in a new dimension of sophistry to Botswana’s poaching mix, Brigadier Macheng insists that locals remain an important component of the chain.

“We can label the names with levels of involvement; there are incursions from Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe, but in all the cases there is assistance from locals. We have found that in some cases local cattle posts provide the much needed logistical backup to the foreigners,” said Brigadier Macheng.

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