A report from The Namibian has emerged stating that about 30 Namibians suspected of poaching have been killed through Botswana’s ‘shoot to kill’ policy around the Chobe River, a part of the north-eastern boundary between Namibia and Botswana. The Chobe National Park is a major tourist attraction site in the country, consisting of a large number of elephants, making it prime ground for poachers.
This could as well be considered a border or mistaken identity issue because, according to The Namibian, testimonies from locals point to the possibility that those who have been executed by men of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) were not poachers.
While one may be mortified at the thought that in a democracy, persons can be subjected to this kind of killing, in Botswana, the death penalty is considered lawful practice. Although the ‘shoot to kill’ policy regarding poachers in the country first made an appearance in 2013, when the Deputy Speaker of the Botswana Parliament at the time, Pono Moatlhodi, called for the immediate introduction of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy to tackle poachers targeting rhinos and elephants in the country.
The shoot to kill policy, as instituted by President Ian Khama, is so stringent that poachers are killed even if they surrender. The Namibian reports that during an interview in 2013, Khama said would-be poachers needed to know that they might not go home alive and would be shot even if they surrender. Although the records of the deaths of the Namibians date as far back as 2012, men of the BDF claim that all their operations were “under prevailing statutes.”
Hopefully, the deaths of the Namibian citizens do not result in a border conflict with Botswana. Namibian investigators claim that they were not granted access to the animals that the dead were accused of poaching at the time of their deaths. Also, autopsy reports suggest that some Namibians may have been shot while attempting to flee. For instance, Namibian observers have cited the July 2012 death of fisherman, Nyambe Brian Nyambe, was inconsistent with claims put forward by the BDF.
Does this mean the Batswana government values its wildlife more than human lives? Namibian human rights groups claim that over the past two decades, 30 Namibians and at least 22 Zimbabweans (or more) have been killed in anti-poaching operations in Botswana.
Now that this information has been made available to the public, through the efforts of the Namibian and non-partisan organization, INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, it is expected that the issues will be resolved and restitution will be made to the families of injured parties, if it is found that those who died were indeed unfortunate victims of circumstances as opposed to criminals.