Gaborone – The Botswana government has decided to withdraw military grade arms from its anti-poaching units on patrol along the country’s borders.
The move to recall what it called “arms of war” from the anti-poaching units has been hailed as a step in the right direction, in another move seen as President Masisi’s attempt to right his predecessor Ian Khama’s wrongs.
The use of unreasonable force by the country’s security agents had resulted in diplomatic tension with its neighbours, especially Namibia. This was after Botswana’s security agents killed Namibian citizens, suspected of being poachers because they were found roaming along the country’s borders with Botswana.
Media reports in Namibia in 2015 pointed out that the Botswana security forces, as a result of the shoot-to-kill policy, killed at least 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans.
Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, revealed that the “government has decided to withdraw military weapons and equipment from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.”
The department is under the Ministry of Wildlife, which in the past had adopted a shoot-to-kill policy stance against suspected poachers.
Morupisi denied suggestions that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks was involved in armed military activities. He would not be drawn into explaining how the department had procured military weapons in the first place.
Morupisi also denied reports alleging seizure and confiscation of military weapons from former president Ian Khama’s residence at Mosu in central Botswana.
The latest development is seen as Botswana’s change of heart, in the manner in which it deals with its neighbours and the international community, especially the random shooting of suspected poachers by security agents. Morupisi said the changes “if carried out are not intended to undo or antagonise what the previous administrations have done. His Excellency the President stated in his inaugural speech that he will continue implementing most of the policies, albeit with modifications after extensive consultations on matters of public interest”.
Botswana and Namibia have previously engaged in a diplomatic spat after Botswana Defence Force anti-poaching teams gunned down a considerable number of Namibian nationals believed to be poachers.
Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and International Relations Minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, told The Southern Times that she is not yet briefed on the latest development and thus could not comment on them. She, however, said that since her office engaged Botswana on the alleged killings in 2014, her office has since not received further reports of the extrajudicial killings by the Botswana authorities on Namibians.
Namibian nationals, at the time, criticised their government for alleged “reluctance” to engage its Botswana counterpart to deal with what Namibians saw as trigger-happy Botswana security agents.
Namibia then told Botswana that it did not condone poaching, but called for restraint when using force. Former Namibia’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Peya Mushelenga was also quoted in the media saying that his government condemned the random shooting of Namibian citizens suspected of being poachers at the Botswana border. He said Botswana’s security agents were too quick to pull the trigger. “We have our own laws in Namibia on how to react to such situations. Botswana has a death sentence, but shooting is not a solution,” he was quoted as saying.
On the other hand, Botswana Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister, Tshekedi Khama, at the time, was quoted as saying the government had since adopted a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers, as a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of elephants in the country.
He said the shoot-to-kill policy had proved an effective deterrent, as it sent a clear message to poachers that they would be shot dead on the spot when caught poaching.
Khama explained that had Botswana not adopted the shoot-to-kill policy, the country would have lost a considerable number of elephants to poachers. On suggestions that poachers have the right to be tried in the courts just like other offenders, instead of being executed without trial, Khama insisted that it was unfortunate that the shoot-to-kill policy has proved to be an effective deterrent. “Unfortunately, it is what is working at the moment,” he said at the time.