At first glance, the circular from the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs dated April 16 2009 appears to be little more than bureaucratic housekeeping, announcing a change in immigration checking procedures.
The Ministry’s Public Relations Officer, Lebogang Bok, issued a press notice this week that “during the 2008/2009 financial year the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs has cancelled 39 work permits and residence permits and a further 65 are still in the process of cancellation”.
Bok said the “ministry will continue to intensify inspections”.
However, if you want a snapshot of the extent of Botswana’s immigration crisis, take a stroll along the streets of Gaborone during working hours: armed Botswana Defence Force officers are knocking door to door checking passports, work and resident permits of gardeners and “house maids”.
One evening, I arrived home to find Botswana Defence Force officers milling around my gate with machine guns slung over their shoulders, threatening to run over my gate. They demanded to see the passport of the young man staying in my servant’s quarters. Gun barrels swung to him as they ordered him outside. After poring over his documents they gave them back and drove off.
A friend of mine, Charles Kowa, remembers being stopped by army officers in traffic. Before he could ask any questions, they dragged him outside and flung him over the car bonnet, machine guns strained over his back. After satisfying themselves that his Mercedes Benz S-Class was not stolen, they then demanded to see his workers’ permits. They escorted him to his office where they inspected the document. When they could not find anything wrong, they drove off without so much as a “we are sorry”.
My neighbor remembers hearing banging at the gates of his family compound, then a strange noise. He peeked through the curtains and saw Botswana Defence Force officers decked out in combat fatigue outside his gate. One was banging at the gate while others kept a close watch over their captives.
The war, which is currently Botswana’s fiercest, had finally entered the parlour of his family, where breakfast lay unfinished on the table at the centre of the dining room. It was not easy to say why the soldiers knocked on the gate of one house and not the other, but a faint air of prosperity hung over this gated compound in Block Five. They demanded to see the maid and the gardener. They demanded to see their work permits, resident permits and travel documents. Outside, another soldier forced the captives into line. They marched down the dusty streets of block five. The line of women and men in torn clothes swelled with other abductees.
Almost everyone has a story about their encounter or friend’s encounter with BDF officers searching for illegal immigrants. Police and army officers have helped shift battle frontiers against illegal immigrants from the border-posts to residential neighborhoods. Hardly surprising.
The Auditor General’s report has exposed a catalogue of errors at the Immigration Department, which have compromised the country’s national security. Botswana may be losing the fight against illegal immigrants because senior officials at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIC) are diverting money intended for strengthening security at the borders to their own self development and training, at the expense of deserving junior Immigration officers ÔÇô the Auditor General has revealed.
It has also emerged that even in cases where such training was done including both senior and general Immigration staff, no recorded account of the effect and difference made by such training has been produced.
The Auditor General, in his Performance Audit Report No. 9, 2008 on Management of Illegal Immigrants by the Department of Immigration, has expressed concern at this state of affairs.
“DIC is one of the Government Departments, which, at most, work with minimum experienced officers in terms of academic background, and who upon entry were offered 1-2 weeks on-the-job training, which would anyhow be considered inadequate,” he said.
In addition, the Immigration Officers’ capacity to discern fraudulent documents and ability to intercept the same for appropriate decisions was found wanting given that almost all officers, especially those at the borders had no special or intensive training in the relevant field.
The AG lamented that this was so despite the fact the International Law Enforcement Agency (ILEA) offered courses such as Law Enforcement, Border control and Fraudulent Documents.
Instead, “the courses were only offered to Senior Officers who at most did not man the border counters”, queried the auditors.
To quantify the extent of the risk emanating from this attitude, it was stated that of the 12 borders that were audited, there were 98 members of staff, but only 6% of them had received the intensive training on documents inspection. These poorly trained officers are no match for sophisticated illegal immigrants who are even cloning official traveling documents and the Chief Immigration Officer’s stamp. This has called for a change in immigration checking procedures.
The situation is not helped by the army’s increasing role in civilian policing under President Ian Khama.
In fact, these days when citizens phone police stations to report break ins, there is a good chance that they may have gun toting Botswana Defence Force and intelligence officers showing up on their door step, instead of police officers.
Different research papers from the University of Botswana and the US Air war College analyzing Botswana budget figures and the country’s civil-military relations point to an emerging pattern where the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is increasingly crowding the Botswana Police Service out of the fight against crime.
University of Botswana lecturer, Mpho Molomo, and Associate Professor, Department of Leadership & Ethics, US Air War College Dan Henk carried out separate research at different times but came to the same conclusion that the increasing role of the army in civilian policing may be shrinking the police service while helping the growth of the army.
Henk warned that, “The continuing use of the military in internal security roles probably retards the development of the police capabilities and may ultimately involve the military in domestic security controversies that undermine its rapport with the citizenry.”
His fears are already coming true.
Molomo and Henk warned that the deployment of the BDF in policing activities were reducing the government’s incentive to take the difficult measures necessary to strengthen the anticrime capabilities of the Botswana Police Service.
They used budget allocations to show that although the Botswana police are still struggling to keep pace with high crime rates, they continue to receive less financial support compared to the BDF.
For example, in the 1996 budget, out of a total of 209 million that was allocated to the Office of the President for development expenditures the 12 000 men strong BDF received P145 million while the police received only P45 million.
This trend has been repeated in successive budgets. In 1997, out of a total development budget of P282 million, the BDF and police claimed 64% and 28 % respectively. In the 2001 budget the BDF received 66% of the P638 million Development budget.
In 2003 the BDF received P415 million while the police was given only P145 million; in 2004 the BDF received P391 million while the Botswana Police Service received P120 million; in 2005 the BDF received P300 million while the Botswana Police service received only P100 million and in the 2006 budget the BDF was given P310 million while the police took only P181 million.
The trend got worse when Khama became president.