Sunday, October 17, 2021

Is it time to provide VIP protection for MPs?

If there is anything that the murder of the former Kgatleng East MP, Isaac Davids in broad daylight shows, it is that Botswana’s members of parliament are exposed to danger. There is a context in which an MP’s death is different from everybody else’s because it disrupts the political (and possibly legislative) process. At a date to be announced by the Independent Electoral Commission, there will be a bye-election which will come at a cost to the taxpayer. The January 14 tragedy would not have happened if Botswana MPs had VIP protection in the form of personal bodyguards. So, should MPs have bodyguards to safeguard their personal safety? No, say two politicians from two opposing camps but for different reasons.

The Francistown East MP, Buti Billy, says that because of conditions that exist in the country, Botswana is still far from a point where MPs have to be provided with bodyguards. He sees the Davids tragedy as a rarity and not part of a pattern that should cause alarm.

“Conditions are not that risky and bodyguards not that necessary. Some would be inclined to cite this incident as reason why MPs need bodyguards but this is just a once-off incident,” says Billy who is a member of the Botswana Democratic Party which Davids also belonged to.

Personally, the MP says that he never feels any danger to life and limb that is allied to the position he holds.

“Of course there are situations when I worry about my personal safety. However, that would be in the same way that everybody else can worry about their personal safety and not because I am an MP,” he says.

The first point that the Botswana Congress Party president, Dumelang Saleshando, makes is that that the Davids incident is a bad example to argue the bodyguards case given circumstances that gave rise to it. Prior to his stabbing by one of his herdboys, the late MP, who had a reputation for belligerence, had reportedly been involved in a scuffle that he initiated. While he largely sees harm that could occur to MPs as an occupational hazard that legislators all over the world are exposed to due to the political views they hold, the former Gaborone Central MP doesn’t think that the latter have a special right to protection because of their position. Even then, he is mindful of the fact that a country’s peacefulness is no cast-iron guarantee of personal safety. With regard to the latter, he points to an incident where a Swedish MP was fatally stabbed.

To Saleshando, providing MPs with bodyguards could also have a downside because the unscrupulous ones among them might literally hide such bodyguards while committing criminal acts against members of the public. What worries him though with regard to the Botswana situation is the lax security in and around the National Assembly. He says that Botswana’s parliament is one of the few in the world where a stranger can just walk into the chamber when house is in session on account of the lax security.

Saleshando views as inadequate knee-jerk security measures that were introduced after the Mogoditshane MP, Sedirwa Kgoroba, threw a bottleful of water at the Deputy Speaker and Gaborone South MP, Kagiso Molatlhegi, during a heated parliamentary debate.

Providing bodyguard protection would also raise another issue. Some VIP protection is provided by the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) which opposition members have expressed a lot of uneasiness about. Following the cold-blooded murder of John Kalafatis in 2009 by state hit men, Saleshando called DIS a “death squad that is a law unto itself.” Before his death and while a member of the opposition Botswana National Front, Davids also described DIS in similar terms. On that basis, it is unlikely opposition MPs would want to have DIS bodyguards.

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