Friday, July 12, 2024

‘Shoot-to-kill’ policy spotlighted in Botswana-Namibia diplomatic row

A reckless statement made by the former Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, in the past will be haunting Botswana officials as they meet their Namibian counterparts to thrash out an unusually sensitive issue.Khama made that statement at a time that his own brother, General Ian Khama, was the president. President Khama introduced a controversial “shoot-to-kill” policy that was enforced by his minister brother as the overall supervisor of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP).

“Shoot-to-kill” was an anti-poaching tactic and with specific regard to foreign poachers, Tshekedi told Tom Hardy, a British film-maker: “That is a position we adopted to send a clear message to say, if you want to come and poach in Botswana, one of the possibilities is that you may not go back to your country alive.” The former minister added that even if suspected poachers surrendered, they would still be killed. That would be how Botswana’s neighbours understand the controversial policy because it was so described by a senior government official.

During Khama’s administration (between 2008 and 2018), some 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans were killed on suspicion that they were poachers. There have been reports that some of the dead were actually fishermen or ordinary people walking along an unmarked international border. It is likely that some of the latter may have surrendered but as Tshekedi has stated, even if suspected poachers surrendered, they would still be killed.

The controversial policy is being spotlighted as Botswana and Namibia jointly investigate circumstances that led to the November 5 death of four Namibian men at the hands of a Botswana Defence Force patrol team. A statement released by BDF’s public relations office says that the men were poachers who had sneaked into Botswana. In its mission of “defending Botswana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interests”, the patrol team killed what the statement says was “a syndicate of poachers believed to be part of a network responsible for cross-border organised poaching.” Possibly overcome with grief, the 69-year old mother of three of the deceased men died five days later herself.

With President Hage Geingob as the face of the public protest, Namibia has bitterly protested the killing, stating that the man were actually fishermen. That account has been confirmed by an official statement from the Namibian government as well as on-the-ground report filed by Namibian Broadcasting Corporation from Katima Mulilo, the district headquarters of the Zambezi Region – formerly Caprivi Strip. “Shoot-to-kill” is taking centre-stage as this saga unfolds. Following the incident, Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, summoned Botswana’s High Commissioner, Dr. Batlang Serema, to explain the November 5 incident.

“While I informed [him] that the Government of the Republic of Namibia does not condone poaching, I strongly deplored the extrajudicial killings by the Botswana Defence Forces in their anti-poaching drive,” reads a statement signed by Nandi-Ndaitwah. “Bearing in mind that the two Governments signed the Boundary Treaty in 2018, I sought clarity from the High Commissioner on whether Botswana still maintained the “shoot to kill” as a government policy, as such a policy has potential to cause disharmony between the two neighbouring countries.”Presidents Khama and Geingob signed the Boundary Treaty on February 5, 2018, two months before the former stepped down. In a short speech that he concluded with Botswana’s national slogan (Pula!), Geingob said that in addition to defining the boundaries between Namibia and Botswana, the Treaty makes provisions for efficient and effective border management.

“Comprehensive and well-functioning border management structures are essential in ensuring both security and facilitation of legitimate cross-border flows of people and goods,” said the Namibian president, later adding off-script that Khama had assured him that the fatal shoot-on-sight killings would end.In Namibia, New Era quoted the Defense Minister, Penda ya Ndakolo, as saying that the Treaty “will see an end to any deadly border disputes between Namibia and Botswana.”

As Nandi-Ndaitwah statement implies, the Namibian government believes that the policy has been reinstated. The statement leaves out a very important detail that would have been very useful – the response that Serema gave. Without such detail, we are left to speculate what the response was but the fact of the matter is that “shoot-to-kill” was never official government policy. While poaching is a crime, the law establishes, in clear terms, legal process through which culprits are brought to book. To the extent Khama was involved in its implementation, “shoot-to-kill” was a mere presidential edict that, as far as we are aware, was not even written down. It was also unlawful and amounted to extra-judicial killing – a term that the Namibian Deputy Prime Minister actually uses in his statement. Nandi-Ndaitwah would understandably have reason to worry if “shoot-to-kill” has been reinstated, especially that “even if suspected poachers surrendered, they would still be killed.”

Ironically, Batswana would also have reason to worry because as Tshekedi told the British film-maker, even citizens were not exempt from “shoot-to-kill.” The latter would be confirmed by an incident in which aerial snipers aboard a police helicopter patrolling the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve fired down upon suspected Bushmen poachers. For what it is worth, Khama’s successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, has never publicly embraced the policy and neither one of Tshekedi’s successors ever touted its virtues. The problem is that there has never been official announcement about “shoot-to-kill” – which blackout puts everybody in the dark about what its current status is.

Following the November 5 incident, Botswana and Namibia have set up a joint committee to investigate. However, having already reached its own conclusions, one dark corner of Namibian social media is already baying for the blood of Batswana. A now-viral Facebook post by Mukuve Marcos Mpepo reads in Facebook-ese: “It’s December they will be flocking to Swakopmund, let’s Sort them out, if you See a Botswana registered Vehicle make sure that they will never forget the parking for the rest of their life if they make it alive.” To that statement, the appropriately named Johnny Don Colliyone Kidnapper replied, “You know [three laughing-face emojis] We’ll deal with these guys.”

Swakopmund is a coastal resort popular with Batswana, who flock to it in large numbers during the festive season. It is unclear how the Namibian government will handle incidents of this nature but inciting people to violence is a criminal offence in Namibian law. To its credit, the Namibian government has urged calm as it seeks a lasting solution to the border conflict issue. That is the message that was reiterated by Lawrence Sampofu, the Zambezi Governor who visited an area called Impalila where the deceased men came from.“Sampofu advised the residents of Impalila not to take the law into their own hands but rather wait for government to engage the Botswana government,” said an NBC reporter.

Ahead of demonstrations planned for last Friday, Namibian Sun quoted presidential spokesperson, Dr. Alfredo Hengari, as saying that the demonstrations were “pointless, politicised and misplaced.”

“Namibia is a country governed by the rule of law and demonstrations for good causes are often hijacked and weaponised for political gains, and this has the potential to distract from the systems, processes and institutions that have characterised our governance architecture,” the paper quotes him as saying.

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