Sunday, September 20, 2020

Livestock rustling has become a national security risk

Police statistics reflect a growing number of livestock cases.

While this is on its own neither new nor surprising, given the across the board upsurge in general crime, what is disturbing and cannot be dismissed at face value is the trend where such crimes are getting more organised, more routine and, perhaps most crucially, more sophisticated.

As we report elsewhere in this edition, farmers and community leaders from the Babirwa areas have organised themselves and approached the Office of the President for help.

This is a reflection of the extent to which the problem has degenerated over time.

People are now looking at government to act. And when no assistance is seen coming from that quarter we run the risk that citizens may resort to mob justice, God forbid.

Something has to be done to arrest the situation.

As we all know, many Batswana, especially in the rural areas, rely almost exclusively on the income derived from their livestock for their sustenance.

Not only that.
Many Batswana attach a disproportionately high premium, emotional value and importance to their livestock.

It is bad enough for them when their livestock go astray. But at least they are able to stomach such misfortunes and accept as part of the risks that come with being a farmer.

It is also bad enough when their livestock have to be put down as when a disease like Foot and Mouth strikes as has often happened in recent times. Such practices are often for the good of the whole nation and the entire national farming industry. They get hurt, but then move on to accept it as part of the sacrifices that have to be made for the greater good.

But for them, it is unpardonable and unacceptable when they find out that they are losing their livestock to organised criminals who habitually come out of the shadows to steal their cattle, in most cases not for immediate consumption but rather for commercial reasons.

We are worried that for many farmers it would seem like they have reached the conclusion that government is helpless against this scourge.

While we appreciate the many challenges facing government, we want to point out that it would not be acceptable to a large number of Batswana to learn that arresting the growing number of livestock theft does not form a part of the government’s top most priorities.
Of course, in some instances butchers have a way of colluding with police officers.

This is terribly unfortunate.
It is very important that citizens continue to have faith not just in the judiciary but also in the law enforcement agencies.

Once that faith is lost, the tendency is that citizens resort to taking law unto their own hands.

Inevitably, when that happens there is bound to be chaos. And that should be avoided at all costs as we strive as a nation to stem the rot that is driving our people into poverty.

Not so long ago, Government promised to set up a special unit within the Botswana Police Services, specifically tasked with tackling the growing livestock theft.

In his many visits across the country, President Ian Khama is bombarded with emotional complaints from farmers who are daily losing their livestock to organised gangs.

The same complaints meet his cabinet ministers and senior officials as they traverse the country to solicit public views on how government could better respond to the many challenges facing the nation.

We have observed that in some instances public complaints about growing impunity towards livestock theft are growing desperate.

While we do not necessarily agree with such views, it has not escaped our attention that many farmers have reached the conclusion that government does not seem to care as to promptly respond to this scourge.

But the important thing to underscore here is that Batswana have become helpless.

And, with a new dimension of livestock rustling becoming not only an organised form of crime but also a cross border one that is performed by sophisticated and well armed rustlers, it’s no exaggeration to say that the crime has degenerated into a national security risk.

Recent reports indicate that farmers in areas along the border, especially in the Babirwa areas in the eastern parts of the country and the Barolong areas in the south, are living in constant fear from foreign organised criminals who steal their livestock and track them into Zimbabwe and South Africa, respectively.

There are indications that not only do these criminals cut fences along our borders, in some instances our borders are also as porous as to make it easy for the rustlers to drive animals across.

While increased presence of the army along the borders is one element that has to be considered, another dimension has to be the erection of fences.
Our chief concern is that if things continue unabated, it will not be long before Batswana farmers organize themselves, take their firearms and cross the borders into other sovereign states to try and reclaim their livestock.

Of course, by so doing they will be breaking the law, but then they would be responding to a desperate situation that is slowly driving them into poverty.

And, as we all know, desperate situations call for desperate responses.
Once again there is no stressing the high premium that Batswana farmers attach to their livestock.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

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