Thursday, July 7, 2022

‘For the love of my country’

Whereas the problem of illegal immigrants has become common and readily acknowledged, a relatively new and seemingly small problem that is hidden but nevertheless presenting a huge challenge to Botswana is slowly fermenting. Though international fraud in Botswana is not being committed on a large scale, its effects are usually massive and devastating on the entire sectors of the economy. Imagine being operated on by a fake medical surgeon or having a fake macro-economist tasked to propose the country’s long-term macro-economic model, resulting in human-induced deaths and a distorted or failed economy respectively. Employment by deception, as in the case of employing unqualified persons who have forged their educational papers, can lead to the ultimate collapse of an economy, especially fragile economies of developing nations like Botswana.

I know I am at risk of being branded a xenophobe but for the love of my country, I nevertheless wish to voice my concerns. Of late, the country has experienced unusual cases of fraud masterminded by foreign nationals, especially medical personnel and lawyers. In the past, we have had applications rejected by the Medical and Dental Council which is responsible for registration and clearance of health professionals wishing to practice in the country on account of bogus qualifications. In some cases, such cheats are noticed at the end of their contracts. Elsewhere, the University of Botswana recently terminated the employment contract of an expatriate for similar reasons. The Attorney General Chambers suspect that they have been utilizing the services of a fraudulent lawyer for over two years. A few years back, a Constable in the Botswana Police service was dismissed from work after it was discovered that he was, in actual fact, a Zimbabwean. A Chinese racket was also feared to be facilitating the entry of Chinese into the country. This could as well be indicative of a large scale fraud scheme that has been simmering for sometime. Yet such cases are not easy to detect or investigate because people are quick to link such investigations to symptoms of anti-globalization and xenophobia.

I am aware that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Trade Protocol aims at creating free trade in the SADC region, which will facilitate virtual free movement of people of the region. Regional groupings else are pursuing the same idea as a dictate of globalization. Yet the situation on the ground in many regions points to the opposite direction. For instance, the economic and political crisis gripping some SADC member states places a question mark on the viability of the proposal. Illegal immigrants to Botswana and South Africa are destabilizing the region and, in consequence, may derail the idea. But proponents of globalization would argue that states, in particular developing countries, should open up their borders irrespective of the likely consequences if they desire to be prosperous. As a result, developing countries like Botswana are bullied into hosting thugs and quacks in the name of globalization. Yet the US and many Western European countries are limiting immigration because of its accompanying ills. Whereas such steps are often regarded as unwelcome symptoms of xenophobia, it is patently clear that in order to properly manage migration such steps are a necessary evil.

Migrants receiving countries like Botswana have no choice but to propose tougher immigration laws essentially to keep aliens out. Where necessary, the government should deploy intelligent and security agents to sniff out cheats in all sectors of the economy and such people should be deported instantly. In the UK for instance, it is perfectly lawful to deport aliens who commit even the pettiest of crime or misdemeanor.

Botswana should take this route to keep clear of thugs. Sometime in 2007, it was reported that some nationals of Bangladesh were masterminding the sale of stolen carcass to some butcheries around Gaborone. Such people, if convicted, should be slammed with summary deportation rather than being given suspended sentences that allows them to stay in the country and continue to swindle our people. It is incomprehensible and irresponsible for institutions and departments to deal with cases of fraud involving foreign nationals as trivial internal matters. Often such people are simply dismissed from work and somewhat allowed to try their tricks elsewhere in the country.

The law should be explicit that such fraudsters be handed over to the Police and Immigration officials for deportation. We will be better off hosting under-qualified but law-abiding foreign nationals than the so-called professionals who are often quick to flout their illegally acquired wealth and new-found superior status in our friendly society. I am sure that foreign nationals who do not do crime and whose papers are not fake would harbour no fears about this proposed ‘operation sniff out quacks’. Attacks on foreign nationals presently rocking South Africa may not entirely be the issue of the frustrations of poor sections of the South African community but could, by and large, be related to the horrific crimes committed by foreign nationals.
Take the case of Botswana where freely mingle with loitering poor Zimbabweans despite that most of them are willing to work for very low wages thus displacing locals. But once they do crime they face instant mob justice and if not rescued by the law enforcement agents they risk summary execution. Thus, if they do not commit crime they are welcome but the moment they graduate into criminals, they become an endangered species. Honestly, it will be better to contend with our own un-deportable fraudsters and cell phone thieves.

Granted, Botswana has a debilitating shortage of skilled professionals in numerous fields and has to depend largely on imported labour. This is a reality that the country has to contend with for many years to come. Yet this should not blind us into placing too much faith on such imported people to the extent that we excitedly make them saints while locals provide some comic relief. Even though some such professionals have made significant impact in the development of the country, recent developments indicate that if not thoroughly screened expatriates could in the long run injure Botswana’s future. This is so because the country is too reliant on expatriates for key positions in the civil service, parastatals and private sector and their commitment to ensuring sustainable and sound economic development cannot be guaranteed.

My interpretation of the bad shape of our infrastructure (roads and buildings) is that either the country has been attracting skilled professionals whose interests have been limited to enhancing their personal lives as opposed to providing requisite top notch services that Botswana need from them or that the country has been infiltrated by quacks and unqualified people who had forged their papers. Such people may have facilitated and presided over ‘fonkong’ growth from the early stages of our national planning framework which perhaps could explain our failure to diversify our economy despite so much effort.

Our over-reliance on skilled expatriates means that we will always pamper them and give them preferential treatment for fear that they could return to their countries of origin if we do not coddle them. This would be a mistaken analysis for I believe that most of these ‘skilled’ expatriates do not possess superior knowledge and skills to fill gaps. They are not complements but are merely substitutes for locals. They have, therefore, been attracted to the country due to the many opportunities for a better life. In other words, they need Botswana more than Botswana needs them and, therefore, should not be permitted to hold the country to ransom due to misplaced fears that their departure would signal the end of Botswana. Highly skilled professionals normally migrate to developed countries not the Third World. The Third World mostly attracts fraudsters, child and drug traffickers and generally unhealthy and less educated lot who hardly strengthen economic growth.

In South Africa, for instance, there is widespread marriage fraud whereby South African women, without their knowledge and consent are married to expatriates for residence purposes only. In some cases, women are legally married only for their husbands to divorce them once residence papers are sorted. Indications are that this ill is slowly creeping into Botswana and our sisters are falling prey to foreign nationals who mischievously praise them (our sisters) for their virginity and beauty. On many occasions fraudsters use local women to penetrate the system. Such women who knowingly permit themselves to be used by foreigners as harbingers should be blacklisted so that they pay for their sins. I am for ‘operation Sniff out Quacks’.


Read this week's paper