Sunday, September 20, 2020

Khama’s government shows contempt for the Botswana Police Service

When I opined that military involvement in civil policing is risky, the Office of the Minister for Defense, Justice and Security did not entirely dispute the core of my argument that in a normal democracy it is objectionable for the military to do civil policing. Rather the Office elected to explain the circumstances dictating the use of the army in civil policing, arguing that manpower shortages in the police service dictate so.

The Office then re-assured the nation that plans for increasing the police service establishment at the beginning of 2009 are in place, with a view to improving their capacity. The next thing you read that the Police would not get any new posts in the next two years and you cannot help growing pubic hair on the face due to fear and, anxiety and despondency.

Since this announcement was made, I am certain that criminals are making advanced budgeting in anticipation of unprecedented loots resulting from the inability of the police to keep up with the challenges of policing. Even people who never contemplated crime as a short cut to plush life would be motivated to join the profession. This is really scary.

Patterns in Botswana show that Botswana is directly importing crime from neighboring South Africa. Since crime levels in South Africa have reached crisis proportions and are making a mockery of the sophistication of the South African Police, it is not unreasonable to guess that such crimes will spill over into Botswana as criminals look for fertile targets. South Africa has a very sophisticated police service which is nevertheless failing to contain the spiraling levels of violent crime.

In sharp contrast, Botswana Police service is under-resourced with its service men spread too thin to make any meaningful impact which could eventually lead to occupation by criminal gangs. This stark reality has always been used to justify military involvement in civil policing. Although I have always welcomed the joint operations between the police and the army, I had cautioned that the expanded role of the army in civil policing could ultimately lead to a militarized police service.

Already there are reports of the police fatally shooting suspects who in most cases turn out to be innocent bystanders. It would be tragic if citizens and residents alike scurry for cover at the sight of the security agents. This would make it virtually impossible for members of the public to partner the police in the fight against crime since the public now constitute a soft target.

I have never been in doubt that President Khama’s administration would deploy more armed troops to do civil policing (Sunday Standard, 30 October, 2006), not out of the necessity for combating crime but simply because President Khama, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and an accomplished soldier, has more confidence in the soldiers than the police.

In his 2008 State of the Nation Address, President Khama revealed that military involvement in civil policing would be intensified.

I am now convinced that under Khama’s administration, the police service is certainly going to be paralyzed to ensure that they are overwhelmed in a way that will justify the deployment of an increased number of soldiers for civil policing. Deliberate machinations to weaken the police service commenced with the establishment of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services which culminated in the demise of the Special Support Group, revered for their rapid response and sophistication. The police service was thus mischievously robbed of a vital organ.

But the most ridiculously orchestrated maneuvering to weaken (and perhaps phase out) the police service has been the decision to freeze any recruitment into the police service for the next two years. This means that in terms of staff complements, the Botswana police service is bound to remain stagnant which in reality translates into a state of virtual paralysis because as the population grows, more and more criminals join the ranks and render our small and under-resourced police service sterile. The decision to freeze the creation of new posts in the police service is baffling since police statistics indicate an increase in violent crimes and stock theft.

Indications are that crime levels will reach unprecedented proportions in the next few months as hard core and petty criminals form strategic alliances in readiness for the 2010 soccer world cup tournament in neighboring South Africa. This is frightening and scaling down of the police service cannot be justified on the basis of the global economic downturn. It is difficult for people to appreciate these cost-cutting measures because decisions are shrouded in secrecy and facts are not known and understood. There are no consultations with stakeholders especially businesses. This decision essentially means that ordinary people who cannot afford security guards and installation of security alarms in their homes will be left to their own devices as criminals set up bases in the precincts of our homes.

That the growth of the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) has also been halted is simply a ploy to deceive the uncritical minds. It is a mere balancing act more so that a few months ago a clandestine scheme was hatched to recall army retirees and constitute a body that can occasionally spring into action, a kind of a reservoir of the army. Thus, the army will continue to grow as more and more soldiers retire and join this body and new faces are recruited to replace retired officers. This in all probability represents growth of the clearest form.

Serving and retired army officers are constantly being absorbed into the civil service and then replaced by new faces at the barracks. Police officers are hardly extended this olive branch except for Norman Moleboge whose ambassadorial appointment to Namibia was the equivalent of banishment.

One would have expected that even in the face of global recession, the police service would continue being expanded in response to increases in organized crime as well as in readiness for the 2010 soccer world cup and beyond. This may not necessarily require the creation of new posts, but instead some vacant posts across ministries could be transferred to the Botswana Police to increase numbers and keep up the momentum.

It is agreed that owing to the global recession, it would be inevitable that difficult decisions would need to be taken, including a re-arrangement of our priorities but sacrificing capacity growth of the police is not considered an option unless there is underlying mischief.

It is pure nonsense, reckless and entirely illogical if not treacherous to suspend the growth of the police service and retard its capacity at a time when criminals make rules that govern our daily lives.

I had in the past implored the government to draw up a deliberate plan that would elaborate a gradual phase out of military policing of the civilian arena. In contrast, the government of President Khama seems to be overly determined to bolster the presence of soldiers in the civilian arena in a way that ridicules the police service and make them look sterile and hopeless and needing to rely on the BDF in order to ensure the safety and security of the people and perhaps remain relevant in the eyes of the citizenry.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.