Former President Ian Khama broke his silence this week on his discussions with Namibia’s President Hage Geingob about Botswana’s shoot to kill code.
Khama opened up to the Sunday Standard this week after it emerged that Namibia’s President Hage Geingob had engaged him on the shoot to kill issue following the fatal shooting of Namibians last year.
Khama told Sunday Standard: “I can confirm that the matter concerning the shooting of poachers was discussed briefly but as the discussions involved another Head of State it would be inappropriate to reveal the substance in detail of the discussions except to state that I informed him of our position.”
He said there is no poacher that does not know that in Botswana the country’s wildlife is protected by the BDF who are obviously armed for that purpose and will engage a threat to defend what they are deployed to do.
Falling short of accusing leaders of neighbouring countries of being complacent Khama added: “In the past to which I can only speak about, we urged the authorities in those countries poachers came from to educate and emphasize to their people the risks and consequences poachers take if they were to cross the border. Our soldiers have been shot by poachers as well.”
Khama stated that “Do not confuse “shoot to kill “with “shoot on sight”. Shoot to kill should only apply in unique circumstances based on the threat to oneself and whatever you are protecting. Shoot on sight is indiscriminate and without any consideration of the necessity to do so. It has never been the practise in the BDF and I hope still remains such.”
He said he could not comment on whether the recent shooting incident resulting in the deaths of Namibians by the BDF was justified or not because he did not know the facts around what took place.
“Shoot to kill is not a policy but an operational procedure which is not unique to Botswana but practised by most countries. Maybe it is attributed to us as we have openly spoken about applying it.
It is a practise that a variety of security services around the world implement depending on the situation they are confronted with,” said Khama.
The former President added that, “To give you an example, if officers responsible for protecting a VIP are confronted by a potential assassin they would draw and fire their weapons at the assailant in order to save the life of the VIP. That would likely result in the killing of the assailant to protect the VIP as only trying to wound the attacker would give him another opportunity to harm the VIP.”
He said such protection officers are normally trained to fire two shots in quick succession at the attacker to make sure he posed no threat as they aim at the centre of the body which will likely kill.
“Such lethal actions are driven by a situation of kill or be killed. When your life or those of your colleagues are in such danger you have a split second to make the decision based on instructions, training and discipline as to whether to fire or not. Once you make the decision to open fire it is to aim at the centre of the body, which is invariably a killing shot, as stated to ensure the aggressor is no longer a threat. This type of action has been in practise around the world against the likes of terrorists and armed robbers,” said Khama.
Khama said from the many incidents during his time in the BDF, poachers were armed insurgents crossing the international boundary into the sovereign territory of Botswana with the intention to shoot and kill wildlife and those who protect them who were themselves also armed.
He said, obviously by so doing they were risking their lives because no soldier when confronted by an armed aggressor will wait to be shot at first when it is his duty to protect himself and others and the countries national resources.
The former BDF commander said, “like I said, it is not a policy which is written like in law, but an operational procedure that I support if applied in the circumstances I have outlined; In as much as we encouraged other countries authorities to make their people aware of the risks of crossing armed into our country which was done to remove the potential of the loss of life for our people as well as Namibians and others.”
“My message to Namibians is that as neighbours and friendly countries seeking to constantly expand every opportunity to promote further cooperation and goodwill between us as demonstrated by our respective governments over the years and which I was proud and honoured to be part of, citizens of each country should not engage in any actions that would undermine these efforts. To the families, words cannot describe their loss and the grief they are going through. I can only hope and pray that as such we all take responsibility to ensure there is no repeat of what took place,” said Khama.
There have been suggestions that SADC and EU should intervene and resolve the impasse between Botswana and her neighbours to which Khama said,
“There is no need for SADC and the AU to intervene. If as you say 34 Namibians have lost their lives in poaching incidents, then surely this sends a message to potential poachers.”
He further stated that “I personally plead to any who have such intentions to think twice about committing such crime in our or any country. They should think about the risks to themselves, the anxiety and grief for their families should they have encounters, and the tensions that arise between our friendly nations that can be avoided. Lastly those in authority I once again appeal to, to energetically deter people from undertaking these illegal activities.”