The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has, in a manner that has never been witnessed in recent years, provoked the ire of Namibians.The anger emanates from the gunning down of four suspected poachers on Thursday November 5th along the Chobe River in the Zambezi region – three of which are reportedly siblings.Although the disciplined forces in Botswana continue to enjoy unwavering faith and support among Batswana, as evidenced by commentary on social media, a different situation is playing out in Namibia on both the streets and social media.
Since 1990, over 37 Namibians have lost their lives at the hands of the BDF under the ‘shoot to kill’ policy.Now fed up with what they believe is government’s inaction over the “trigger-happy BDF”, Namibians have escalated the squabble through Twitter and Facebook, leveraging threats to make the BDF pay the price, while some are suggesting that this is the time to impose a trade embargo on Botswana and spotlight the country internationally.
Over the past week, hashtags which have been trending in Namibia include #embargobotswana, #EndBDFkillings and #Zambezilivesmatter. On Friday scores of Namibians marched in protest to the Botswana High Commission in Windhoek. “Botswana you will get what you are looking for,” are some of the group chants that could be heard as they marched. When they arrived at the Botswana High Commission, the protestors started counting the number of Namibians killed by the BDF.
During the week, most media outlets in Namibia were reporting that “a group of concerned people from the Zambezi region living in other parts of Namibia have created a WhatsApp group in hope of attracting international attention to Botswana’s reaction to foreign nationals along its northern borders.”
However, what is happening in Namibia is not without precedent. Former President Ian Khama Khama controversially authorised use of the shoot-to-kill/shoot-on-sight tactic against poachers and suspected poachers. This is an issue that Survival International (SI) reported to the United Nations (UN). At one point, SI wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Agnes Callamard, to seek clarification on whether it was lawful for countries such as Botswana to adopt the shoot to kill policy. At that time, it had been reported that a sniper in a police helicopter had shot at the Bushmen in the CKGR.
Although the Namibian Presidential Press Secretary, Alfredo Hengari said planned demonstrations against the killing of Namibians by the BDF are pointless when the president is ‘seized with the matter’, it seems the hashtags are an affirmation of the newfound platforms of organising and solidarity among citizens.
It remains to be seen whether the hashtag movement in Namibia to spotlight Botswana will gain traction around the world. If it does, it would mean Botswana will have to avert another potential public relations fiasco just as it did when hundreds of elephants perished.