The year 2019 was a very busy one as the country went to the polls. It was apparent from the beginning to the end of the year, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) featured prominently in the news amid accusations mainly from the opposition that the spy agency was meddling in the elections process. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE engages the DIS communications officer, Edward Robert on these worrying developments
FRANCISTOWN: First, there were reports that the DIS targeted mainly opposition operatives who were incessantly arrested without charges in what left many believing that the whole exercise was meant to disadvantage the opposition.
The picture painted by the news media and social media reports generally was that the DIS with its sister organisations like the tax agency, the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) were desperate to ensure that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins the elections by hook or crook.
Social and media reports throughout the year portrayed the DIS as an ‘irresponsible organisation’ that abused suspects that it pursued as many opposition politicians were arrested, tortured and searched without charges. Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) operatives were the loudest in condemning the DIS ‘abuse’.
UDC presidential candidate Duma Boko, parliamentary candidate Mohammed Khan and council candidate Arafat Khan and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) president Biggie Butale were some of the politicians who were arrested and not charged at the hands of the DIS and BURS.
The UDC pre-election worries; fears and concerns are well documented as articulated by the tri-party spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa, in several press statements issued by the party. The general fear was that the BDP was using the DIS to instil terror in the opposition ranks and thereby removing their eyes from the political ball.
Worse, both the DIS and BURS incessantly grounded Boko’s campaign planes in what the UDC described as a blatant case of de-campaigning the main opposition
It goes without saying therefore, that the DIS image in the eyes of the public has taken a battering.
In the words of the DIS spokesperson, Robert, this week, it is very normal for complaints to be raised against intelligence and security services in all jurisdictions where they exist. However, Robert says, “In situations where complaints are raised about security and intelligence services, there are set out legal procedures that are established by law such as the Intelligence and Security Act (2008), which governs the conduct of the Directorate in Botswana.”
Anyone who has any reason to believe that the Directorate (DIS) has violated their rights or that it has acted outside the established mandate, Robert says is free to seek legal recourse and pursue their queries to the fullest extent.
“In Botswana,” the DIS spokesperson insists, “there are several examples of complaints against the DIS that were pursued and exhausted in courts of law and other established structures and this is very normal. Where aggrieved parties are proved to have been wronged, there is also ample proof to show that they do get recourse.”
As far as Robert is aware, the Directorate currently has no formal complaints or matters before courts of law related to the perceived misconduct of the organisation or its officers.
“However, we are aware of the talking points raised in the questionnaire you presented to us, and they are notably largely related to the campaign season that preceded the
The Directorate also urges the media to critically interrogate claims from its own sources or concerned persons before affirming narratives that may unnecessarily alarm the public without context or proof.
“The Directorate however, noted with concern during the election campaign the alarming proliferation of disinformation campaigns, social media fake news and other concerning tactics used by persons and entities who appeared hell bent on creating unnecessary public alarm by spreading disinformation evidently created to have maximum negative impact,” declares the DIS spokesperson worriedly.
For example, Robert observes that if a person or persons claim to have been abducted by the DIS; the normal thing for the media before crafting screaming headlines would be to thoroughly probe the veracity of the claim.
“For example, who witnessed the abduction; at which namable police station were they held or reported the matter; did the person receive the help of any lawyer or did they visit a medical facility if they allege torture? Why did they not think of reporting their matter to the police or seek medical attention, before they could take to social media, radio stations and newspapers?” he suggested.
He added: “If one’s life is in danger or under threat is it not normal to expect them to consider the police over the media. Similarly, with some of the WhatsApp messages circulating where the Directorate is implicated, the media should establish the origin of such messages, talk to the individuals making the claims to establish their veracity, so on and so forth.”
The DIS is particularly concerned to observe that some claims about the Directorate are total fabrications.
But are then given uncritical prominence by the mainstream media without considering the implication to national security? The Directorate, he vouched, is always willing to verify incidents and matters related to its mandate and will continue doing so where necessary.
Even the view that the Directorate took a battering from the public, Robert is adamant that it is partly the product of the same disinformation campaign, “and we have observed that in many instances where claims and news reports that are based on fake news, the intended consequence was among other things to construct an unnecessarily negative view about the Directorate.”
The Directorate welcomes genuine public views about its delivery of the mandate and supports any action by stakeholders to help improve how it serves Botswana’s national security and interests.
This is why the Directorate is more accessible to the public than it was before, “and it is through interaction with all stakeholders including the public, that we receive important information and feedback that have proven very beneficial to the Directorate’s delivery of its mandate.”