Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Khama, Masisi in fresh row over rhino poaching

Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama has broken his silence over insinuations that he is the invisible hand behind Botswana’s rhino poaching crisis, opening a new battle front with his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Dismissing the government’s snide remarks linking him to the poaching of rhinos, Khama said if he were asked to help with the problem, he could end it within a month.

dismissed ongoing insinuations by the state that he is behind an ongoing strong wave of poaching sweeping across the Chobe and Moremi National Parks.

He attacked Botswana Government for turning down assistance from United Kingdom on anti-poaching and conservation.

He also riled against a controversial decision by government to disarm the anti-poaching unit of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

An area known as “Rhino Headquarters” inside the Okavango Delta has been hit hardest by the string of rhino poaching.

It is the area with the highest concentration of wild-roaming rhinos in the world.

In the last twelve months, close to forty rhinos have been slaughtered.

All of them were discovered with decapitated horns, a sign that they died at the hands of poachers.

Speaking to Sunday Standard through a third party (he has so far declined all requests for a direct interview) Khama said given his experience in anti-poaching he could fix everything that is wrong in a month.

He said he was aware that Government was attributing the ongoing poaching to him.

That tactic, he said was Botswana government’s latest attempt to conceal their incompetence.

When president Mokgweetsi Masisi recently addressed the issue of rhino poaching, he said there is a worrying emerging trend where a small elite grouping always have a commentary to make about Botswana’s poaching problem.

He did not elaborate. But asked Batswana to be careful.

He said of all the places, Okavango Delta given its history could not be coincidental as an area where poaching has seen a spike.

During the week, yet another senior official from the ministry responsible for wildlife also made thinly veiled insinuations on radio that former President was involved in the killing of rhinos.

“Accusing me of poaching is like accusing me of being an alcoholic,” he said.

There have also been insinuations that Khama was involved in the process of placing tracking collars on the rhinos, especially the batch that had come from South Africa where poaching at the time was worse than here.

Khama told Sunday Standard that out of over forty rhinos killed only two were collared.

He said fitting the collars was always done with Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

“I am aware of such ridiculous and pathetic insinuations,” he said.

Adding that they were not the last.

“Don’t forget these come on the back of other childish remarks about the formation of a rebel force in this country and the criminal fabrication of my having stolen from the Bank of Botswana,” said.

He said there is currently a spike in poaching across all species, not just rhinos.

The reason, he said is because “it is only now, under this current leadership that we are failing to respond to the threat.”

Members of the Department of Wildlife Anti-Poaching Unit that Sunday Standard has talked to has said their superiors have told them that their grounds were withdrawn following fears that they were part of plans for a coup at the time.

They said any mention of removing Government by force on their part surprised and disappointed them.

“If it was any other administration, and I was asked to assist, I would end rampant poaching in one month,” Khama boasted.

He said poaching has always existed even under the previous administrations. But government always found superior tactics to respond.

“This time around it is the poachers who have the better tactics. Trying to blame is camouflage for their incompetence. Who disarmed the anti-poaching unit? Who refused assistance from the UK Government? If it was any other government and I was asked to intervene, I would end up all this poaching in a month,” said Khama.

He says in his life he never imagined one day he would be accused of poaching, given his life time service to conservation.

“ I never ever thought after I have done in my life to contribute to fauna and flora protection for the good of our country and planet, as well as serving by invitation on two international conservation organisations and in the presence of Masisi in London where I was appointed Chairman of the Board of EPI – with a membership of 20 African countries including Botswana – that after that life’s work I could be accused of such. This is one of several of his [Masisi] attempts threatening to fix me that he stated to others after I left the BDP, said Khama.

Khama is a long serving board member of Conservation international.

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