BDF has ‘no policy to kill’

A retired Botswana army general says his country’s defence force in principle only shoots when in danger.

19 November 2020 | Local News



Retired Botswana Defence Force (BDF) General Pius Mokgware says it is not the army’s policy to shoot people who wander into restricted areas.

Four Namibians were shot and killed a fortnight ago after the BDF had found them in the Chobe River’s southern channel. The BDF claimed the four were poachers, despite an apparent lack of evidence that they were armed.

Mokgware, a former commander of that army’s ground forces, maintains that Botswana does not have a shoot-to-kill policy.

“We do not have a shoot-to-kill policy; we have our rules of engagement,” he said, rubbishing notions that the army used excessive force against would-be poachers.

“The term ‘shoot-to-kill’ was coined by other people, but we do not have that,” Mokgware said.

When confronted with persons in restricted areas, the BDF’s first course of action would be to ask the trespassers to identify themselves, he said.

However, he added, soldiers are often shot by poachers and have to use their own discretion.

Identify yourself

“When you encounter people, you have to try and assess the target and whether it is an intruder. You then ask them to stop and hold up their hands; our soldiers never have that opportunity. It is difficult for soldiers to make those decisions,” Mokgware said.

He added that joint patrols used to be carried out with members of the Namibia Defence Force.

“We used to have coordinated patrols where we communicated every day. The patrols need to be introduced again. If we go back to that system, we can avoid situations like this,” he said.

Reflecting on recent incidents where trucks entering Namibia through the Kasane border post were pelted with stones and that country’s flag was burned, Mokgware called for calm.

“We have to control our emotions; these incidents need to strengthen us and not break us,” he said.

Excessive force

Over the past two decades, 30 Namibians and at least 22 Zimbabweans have been killed in Botswana’s anti-poaching operations, although human rights groups claim the figure could be much higher.

Anti-poaching operations have also increased border tensions between Botswana and Namibia, amid claims that the BDF has violated Namibia’s sovereignty.

The Namibian government has in the past voiced its opposition to Botswana’s zero-tolerance policy, calling it a “disturbing problem”.

‘May not return alive’

Meanwhile, in a 2013 interview with British film-maker Tom Hardy, former environment minister of Botswana Tshekedi Khama said the policy was a necessary intervention.

“It’s a culture; we have to kill the supply to starve the culture,” Khama said.

“That is one of the reasons why, in Botswana, with our anti-poaching unit, we don’t necessarily interrogate the poacher.

“That is a position we adopted to send a clear message to say if you want to come and poach in Botswana, one of the possibilities is that you may not go back to your country alive.”

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