In its zeal to seal the borders against poachers through a deadly shoot-to-kill stance, the department of Wildlife could seemingly have been breaking the law by accumulating and using arms of war when they have not been recognised as a disciplined force. Only now is the minister responsible moving to have the department’s anti-poaching cadres recognised as a disciplined force. PHILLIMON MMESO reports.
He is regarded as one of the most outspoken cabinet ministers – he speaks his mind without fear irrespective of place or the audience at hand. Tshekedi Khama – the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism – has since his appointment as the minister of MEWT spoken out against poaching, adopting a controversial ‘shoot to kill’ stance which puts Botswana at loggerheads with some of its neighbouring countries especially Namibia. The Namibian government is not happy with Botswana’s policy and during his recent state visit to Botswana President Hage Geingob called on his counterpart to review the shoot-to-kill policy. Over 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans had their earthly departures fast-tracked by the Botswana’s anti-poaching operations. In an interview the unshaken Tshekedi Khama insists that the shoot-to-kill policy has worked wonders for Botswana as they have seen the decrease in the poaching cases. “Now poachers know that in Botswana we don’t tolerate poaching and don’t compromise hence they are afraid to poach here,” says minister Khama, adding that animals are also migrating from neighbouring countries to Botswana as it is proving to be a safe haven for them. He says they will not succumb to any pressure to scrap off the policy as it is the only proven deterrent to poachers.
Unit is the most effective
He confirms that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) under the leadership of former Botswana Defence Force (BDF) deputy commander Major General Otisitswe Tiroyamodimo has established the Tourism Intelligence Unit. “Yes, we have our own intelligence unit and is the best so far compared to others which deal with multiple issues while ours deals with wildlife intelligence,” he reveals. Minister Khama hails the capabilities of Tiroyamodimo who was pushed out of the army in 2010, saying he is one of the best military personnel in the country. He says if budget permitted they would employ more personnel, especially at the Anti-Poaching unit. “When I joined the ministry, anti-poaching was given a budget of P32 million per annum which was just a drop in the ocean. I managed to convince government to increase it and now stands at P130 million per annum,” he says, maintaining though that it is still not enough.
DWNP in limbo
In February this year Tshekedi Khama announced the desire to reduce their dependency on other security organs in anti-poaching. The DWNP Anti-Poaching unit has been equipping itself with weapons of wars in its effort to march poachers who are mostly well equipped with military training background and weapons. The dilemma that the department is facing is that they might be breaking the law as they are not allowed to be in possession of such weapons or operate them as they are just civilians. Department of Wildlife and National Department Parks staff is regarded as just civil service employees and are not categorised as security agents like the police, BDF, DISS and Prisons personnel. Tshekedi says he will soon present a proposal to cabinet to have DWNP officers categorised as members of disciplined forces. “Currently they are regarded as civilians yet they carry out work of the disciplined forces like patrolling the parks and fighting poachers,” he says.
Diversifying the tourism sector
Botswana tourism has been wildlife-based with the main attractions were in Okavango and Chobe but Minister Khama said that they want to change that old way of thinking. Currently, according to Minister Khama, they are developing adventure tourism which includes the Khawa Dune Challenge, Makgadikgadi Epic, and Race for Rhino and the Desert Race. Over the past years the adventure tourism has seen Batswana developing more interest in it and Khama says currently they are developing a camp in Nata and will put wildlife animals in it. Regarding the 10 000 Desert Race, the outspoken Tshekedi Khama says there is need for paradigm shift in how the race has been conducted. “It has been based in one area for a long time; we need to take it to the people for example in Gantsi as a way of developing tourism in the area,” he says, reasoning that it needs to rotate. On heritage tourism, he says they have developed a new strategy to ensure that communities participate in it. “One of the reasons why we have been lacking behind in developing heritage tourism was that the budget was very low and we had to use Ipelegeng funds,” he says, adding that so far they have managed to compile 100 heritage sites. In the past only communities were allowed to adopt heritage sites and Minister Khama says that it has changed and individuals are now allowed to participate in developing them.
World Strongest Man finale
Minister Khama reveals that for the first time the World Strongest Man competition finale will be staged in Kasane, Botswana. He says they will use the finale which will be broadcasted in more than 162 countries to showcase Botswana’s rich flora and fauna. The show, which will be held on the second week of August, will be broadcasted on CBS Sports and will be shown on its affiliates at the end of December. The minister says this is a big opportunity for Botswana to sell its tourism to the outside world hence they chose Kasane to host the event.
On political ambitions
He is the first child of founding President Sir Seretse Khama to declare his interest in politics only for his older brother Ian Khama to get the nod and be parachuted to become the Vice President ultimately the fourth president of Botswana. Many in political circles, especially within the ruling party, have indicated that the reason he is building a strong Tourism Intelligence Unit is to spy on his political opponents especially the current Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi in the contest for the Presidency. Tourism Intelligence Unit is said to have set tongues wagging but Minister Khama is not bothered, maintaining that he is doing what is good for the country, especially its flora and fauna. “Look I can be moved from MEWT and the theory that I am building my own intelligence unit is just political fantasy,” contends Tshekedi Khama.