The announcement was made by Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) Chief Executive Officer, Thari Pheko, at a press conference on Wednesday morning. He said the registration is meant to make it easy to track owners of sim-cards whenever the need arises.
A journalist at the press conference asked whether the registration was not part of plans by state security agents to keep tabs on people. He said that given the context of the announcement, the initiative may be abused by elements in the security intelligence community. However Pheko replied that the initiative is normal and is line with international practice. He asserted that the BTA is not beholden to any institution.
Sunday Standard journalist Reuben Pitse told Mmegi that he found no problem with the system. "As somebody who is against crime, I would say this is a good thing. The current system where somebody could buy sim-cards, use them and discard them easily made it easy for criminals to abuse the technology. Many criminals would ordinarily communicate through cellphones with sim-cards specifically bought for the purpose before throwing them away," he said.
However, Media Institute of Southern Africa Director, Thapelo Ndlovu, says there is a possibility that the system could be used by security apparatus to target people, especially media sources, for the personal and political benefit of those in power. He said there is no question that the reasons forwarded by Pheko are valid and even sincere. However, he said a number of factors make the issue a cause for concern for journalists.
"We know that we have a government that has made no secret of its disregard for the media," he said. He said The Guardian fiasco a few years ago when the government withdrew advertising from the paper as a punishment for its critical reporting was a prime example.
"We have a president who on his first day dismissed the media as a trouble maker without even acknowledging the role it plays in a democratic society. We also know that a number of organisations including unions have often complained of being subjected to surveillance by the security agents and seen under that context, one could say the system could be open to abuse," he said. He expressed hope that the initiative will be used for its intended purposes.