Attempts by Government to stem new HIV/AIDS infections and fight homosexuality has caused a fit of anger and outrage among human rights activists and campaigners that it will lead to a new wave of homophobia, stigma and discrimination against such groups like gays, prostitutes and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Government says if arrested individuals from such groups will be profiled so that they could in future be referred to the Ministry of Health for medical interventions.
There are also fears that the powers of arrest given to the police and other law enforcement agencies like Department of Immigration will lead to abuse, impunity and even witch-hunt.
In response to a Presidential Directive to the Minister of Health to come up with prescriptive measures to curb influx of sex workers, homosexuality and HIV/AIDS prevalence the Ministry of Health has come up with a raft of measures which include arrest, detention of those suspected to be prostitutes and gays as well as deportation of foreigners suspected to be among such groups.
Explicitly, the policy documents states non-Batswana will be deported. The policy document further suggests that for six months Botswana Police will mount and conduct special operations, before deciding on frequency, depending on the outcome.
“Foreigners arrested and found to have valid papers will have their days evoked and deported. Those with valid work & residence permits will be charged & recommendations made to Minister [Home Affairs] for consideration to cancel permits,” says the new policy document.
This week departments that will be at the forefront of the operations came up with a strategy to give direction and effect to the new government policy.
These departments include Immigration, Police, NACA (National Aids Coordinating Agency) and the Ministry of Health.
Sunday Standard is in possession of a document by these agencies, an outcome of meetings coordinated by the Ministry of Health.
Among other things the document states that ARVs will be provided to arrested local sex workers “regardless of CD4 count so as to suppress viral load.”
On Non-special day operations, the policy document states that foreigners found with valid papers will be detained for 48 hours. “Special arrangements will be made with immigration to be available during weekends where necessary.”
The strategy enlists politicians to among other things talk against homosexuality and prostitution.
Interestingly, the Human Rights Ditshwanelo and lobby group BONELA are also among the groups mentioned as potential candidates that will be enlisted to be at the forefront of a campaign to speak against homosexuality. Donors and Development Partners will also be asked to speak against gays.
This week’s speech by Member of Parliament of Parliament for Kgalagadi South, John Toto when he said homosexuality should be discouraged because it is one of the factors that cause HIV/AIDS is believed to be a starting point of what will in the next few weeks and months be a full blown official campaign that would include adverts on Botswana Television, radios and print media.
Significantly, the speech by Toto was widely covered and given prominence by state media, a remarkable departure from the norm given that Toto is a Member of Parliament from opposition benches.
For their part, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has already condemned Toto’s speech and called on political parties to make public their official stances on gay rights.
BONELA says the statement by Toto is particularly confusing coming from a Member of Parliament for Botswana National Front, because the party leader, Duma Boko is a well known staunch “believer in equality and non-discrimination for all, including gays before the law.”
BONELA has called on Toto to retract and apologise for what they say are inaccurate and misleading remarks.
“We are not aware of any study supporting his views. On the contrary we know that HIV prevalence for this cohort, from the latest study by Ministry of Health is significantly lower than the national one. The national one is 17.6 percent as compared to 9 percent among men having sex with other men.
We are acutely aware that politicians like Mr. Festus Mogae have in the past said they did not want to want to lose elections by supporting gays. We caution politicians not to seek to win elections by persecuting gays,” says BONELA director, Uyapo Ndadi.
If it comes to pass, the new policy by Botswana Government will be a significant departure to Botswana’s erstwhile policy as created and espoused by former President Festus Mogae not to harass or arrest gays and prostitutes.
The new policy was prompted by a new study to estimate prevalence and incidence of HIV/AIDS among so called key populations.
The key populations include female sex workers, gays and people who use needles to inject drugs into their bodies.
The Ministry of Health says it found out that HIV/AIDS was high among sex workers.
Prevalence among gay men was however found to be significantly below the national average.