Thursday, June 20, 2024

Namibia gets hold of explosive Botswana’s secret shoot to kill report

The Namibian government has gotten hold of an explosive report detailing how Botswana has for close to three decades been sitting on information suggesting that the Attorney General’s chambers, Botswana police and Chobe district Commissioners are part of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) illegal shoot to kill complot.

The report which has been passed to the Sunday Standard was made in 1991 to the then head of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Tymon Katlholo by the then Chobe District Officer Richard White suggesting that the Attorney General, Botswana Police and Chobe District Commissioner allowed the BDF to carry out the shoot to kill policy outside Botswana law.

Sunday Standard Investigations have confirmed that the report is among a number of secret documents that the Namibian Embassy in Gaborone have been able to procure from  local sources.

It emerges from the report that for 29 years, the BDF’s shoot to kill was an open secret among former president Lt Gen Ian Khama’s circle of associates.

The report which is also in the possession of the Ditshwanelo Human Rights Centre, together with a number of secret documents reveals names of Lt Gen Khama’s associates who were in on the BDF’s illegal shoot to kill policy.

According to the report, among Khama’s associates who knew about the illegal shoot to kill intrigue was one Teddy Egner who was with Okavango Nissan in Maun at the time the report was filed.

The report that in April 1991, Lt gen Khama told Egner that the BDF had “orders to shoot to kill.”

It emerges from the report that that the BDF in 1990 ambushed and killed two Namibians who were not poachers but were apparently relatives who had crossed into Botswana to collect some clothing which was lying at the site of a previous shooting where two suspected Namibian poachers had been shot dead by the BDF. “Lt Gen Khama told Mr Egner that the BDF had had orders to shoot to kill in both instances.” Teddy Egner is the son of Brian Egner one of the Botswana’s founding senior civil servants who at some point was Chobe District Commissioner.

The report further states that “between 1987 and the middle of 1990 fifteen persons were shot dead by the BDF anti-poaching patrols. So far as I have been able to discover, they did not make a single arrest during the patrol. My source for this information is Mrs. Eleanor Patterson, acting Chief executive of the Kalahari Conservation Society. She told Mike hall, Lusaka Correspondent of the Financial Times and the BBC who in turn told me. When I confronted her with this information, she agreed that it was correct and told me that her source was Lt Gen Khama.”

The report further states that, “in October 1988, the BDF ordered all civilians to leave the Linyanti and Kwando areas and conducted an anti-poaching sweep. My sources for this information are Mr Bob Rokes of Hunters Africa and Mr Paul Scheller of Ngami data Services in Maun. Mr Scheller also told me that at the time the BDF delivered the bodies of three persons to the mortuary at Maun Hospital. They told the hospital staff that they had been shot on an anti-poaching operation. All the three had been shot in the back and all the bodies were stripped naked and all means of identification removed. One of the bodies was of a boy estimated by a doctor to be about 12 years old. Mr Scheller’s wife Dr Jeanette Petersen was working at Maun Hospital at the time.”

In the report, Richard white states that, “In 1986, the Botswana Defence Force adopted a policy of not arresting poachers as they had found it to be a waste of time.”

He said this was stated by Lt Gen S.K.I Khama at a committee of the Kalahari Conservation Society on 10th January 1991. I was present.”

Former President Lt gen Khama two weeks ago denied the incident saying, “the shoot-to-kill application was not a decision that had anything to do with the NGO Kalahari Conservation Society. 

Sunday Standard investigation have not been able to raise minutes of the controversial KCS meeting. Our investigations however turned up minutes of a KCS meeting of 7th February 1996 during which Khama reported on the BDF anti-Poaching operations.

The report states that, “it would appear that the provisions of the Inquest Act are being flouted. Under the Act, where a person has died due to a criminal, culpable or negligent act or by violence, the District Commissioner must either inform the public prosecutor or convene an inquest. No inquest has been convened, nor has anyone been charged with any offence related the killings. A number of the persons killed were unarmed and were shot in the back. At least one person who was armed made no attempt to shoot but simply fled. District Commissioner, the police and the Attorney General all have clear duties under the Act. Why has no action been taken by any of them?

The answer is provided by former US envoy in Botswana Dan Henk in his book. “Initially, the police insisted that each poacher killed in the course of military operations was a homicide, requiring an elaborate investigation and the interrogation of BDF “murder suspects.” The police also insisted initially on seizing all the captured poacher matériel as evidence,” writes Dan Henk, using the French term for military materials and equipment. “Neither demand sat well with military personnel, who believed they simply were doing their duty—and doing it well—and who found their honor now somehow tarnished with unwarranted implications of illegality.”

Henk is a former military attaché at the United Embassy in Gaborone and interviewed current and former BDF officers about anti-poaching operations for his book.

Nothing in what Henk states remotely suggests that the issue was ever resolved legally because “the resolution of such problems depended largely on the interpersonal skills of the junior officers on the scene, some of whom achieved better interagency working relations than others.” He also notes instances when senior BDF leaders (typically former deputy and later commander, Ian Khama) were obliged to intervene in disputes with the police over anti-poaching issues.

While the BDF and the police eventually achieved “much more cordial and cooperative relationships”, there was never legal resolution to the dispute and the law was never changed to change the status of death occasioned by an anti-poaching operation. It is more than likely that the cordial and cooperative relationships between the army and the police occur outside the law.

Poacher shootings also occur within what has been loosely referred to as the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. “Shoot-to-kill” is not actually a policy but a modus operandi that both BDF patrol teams and poachers use when they encounter each other in the bush. Henk writes that when they started foot patrols, soldiers came to realise that poachers would track them down with intention to kill them.


Read this week's paper