Sunday, October 17, 2021

‘Prison warders shouldn’t carry AK 47s’ ÔÇô Major General

On picking up solid intelligence that some robbers planned to hit the Serowe post office at night, the military intelligence devised a plan to foil the robbery. In terms- of such plan, its agents would lie in wait inside the post office and arrest the robbers before they could steal the money. Intelligence officers approached the post master with such plan and it was agreed that the latter would allow the agents in. On the other side of the village, the police had also received the same intelligence and were devising their own plan. In terms of this one, officers would lie in wait outside the post office before the robbers arrived and arrest them before they broke in. The post master would play no role and so was not alerted about this operation.

So, on D-day, a team of armed military intelligence officers commandeered the post office with the assistance of the postmaster who then knocked off giving no indication that anything was amiss. Hours later, armed police officers arrived and took up positions outside the post office. From inside, the military intelligence officers could espy the latter and assumed they were the robbers. Guns at the ready, the officers prepared to engage robbers. However, in their haste, the officers made some noise that the police picked up and assumed that the robbers arrived before they did. At a point where gunfire was about to be exchanged, the army officers realised that the people outside were actually police officers and identified themselves before a single shot was fired.

Gabane-Mankgodi MP, Pius Mokgware, tells this story to make the point that the various agencies in the Botswana security sector don’t coordinate their activities and that this situation means that tragedy is lying not too far down the road. Such tragedy was prevented at the Serowe post office but despite the fact that they all work towards the same goal, security agencies still don’t coordinate their activities to the required level. Another example that he cites is that the Botswana Police Service, Directorate on Intelligence Services, the Botswana Defence Force and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime have each acquired surveillance equipment which they use without coordinating with each other. At its worst, this dissonance manifests itself in divergent analyses of security threats, the MP says.

A fortnight ago, the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi, tabled the Prisons Amendment Bill and when he contributed to the debate, Mokgware raised concern that the Bill doesn’t plug holes in the system. One example he gave is that prison guards carry weapons of war like AK 47 rifles when there is no provision for such in the existing and proposed law. Elaborating this point to Sunday Standard, the MP said that this situation poses a security threat.

On the face of it, having prison guards carry AK 47 rifles makes perfect sense because some of the criminals they guard are robbers who have accomplices outside who have been known to carry weapons as deadly and might attempt to free the robbers from lawful custody. In as far as such precautionary measure goes, there is no problem. However, as Mokgware explains, the problem could arise when prison guards go on strike and in the ensuing chaos, gain access to the same AK 47s.

“In such circumstances, the only people who can quell the strike are soldiers but those soldiers would be using the same weapons as the striking prison guards. The same goes for the police service which also has AK 47s. If police officers go on strike, soldiers would be called in but those soldiers would be fully aware of the fact that people participating in the strike they are trying to put down carry the same type of weapons as them. This situation is untidy,” says the MP who, in his parliamentary debate, had cautioned about the danger of creating “another army.”

As untidy, Mokgware adds, is a similar situation where the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) now has weapons of war. Other people have expressed grave concern about the DWNP’s incremental evolution into an army of sorts.

Having another army is problematic in another context. Mokgware told parliament that while he was still a major general in the Botswana Defence Force, he was wooed to join the Botswana Democratic Party.  By his account, this wooing took the form of some unnamed Botswana Democratic Party operatives asking him to get a BDP membership card. When he refused, he was fired soon thereafter, he claimed. Mokgware said that his personal experience was clear demonstration of the fact that officers in the disciplined forces are promoted on the basis of their loyalty to the ruling party. The latter is riven with factional rivalry and if disciplined forces are politicised, the possibility of factions forming armies is heightened.

To correct this situation, Mokgware recommends that Botswana’s security sector should have a standing arrangement that if non-army disciplined forces require capability that they don’t have ÔÇô in this case automatic weapons ÔÇô then they should ask the army to help.

“In the case of the police, the Police Act actually authorises the Commissioner to do that. Rather than have a situation where police officers and prison guards carry weapons of war, the police and prisons services should request the assistance of the army which has personnel that is very well trained in the use of such weaponry. Restricting possession in such manner also facilitates proper control of weapons of war. Otherwise you have a situation where weapons of war are in too many hands,” the MP told Sunday Standard.

He adds that what compounds such untidy situation is that Botswana’s security sector doesn’t coordinate its activities to the required level.

Having been forced out of the army ÔÇô at least by his account ÔÇô Mokgware taught security studies at the University of Botswana before going into opposition politics.

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