As more suspected poachers fall to Botswana Defence Force (BDF) bullets, questions are being asked over the government’s shoot-to-kill policy.
As a general rule, the loss of life of any human being is regrettable. I am a firm believer in the rule of law. All things being equal, I would rather people appear in Court to face prosecutions for their crimes than be extra-judicially deprived of life.
But then, the situation in the poaching hotspots is not a normal one to be addressed by the application of general civilian rules and processes. It’s a war.
Not so long ago we lost a soldier in an exchange of fire between our soldiers and poachers. Such an eventuality had been foreseeable, and sadly; long coming. One can understand that after the loss of the life of the soldier, the army men would be jumpy. These are people trained in situational shooting.
During my career with government, I have had the privilege to be a part of a situational shooting class. You cannot adopt an armchair approach to the situation of a man whose life can vanish simply on account of a moment’s hesitation or indecision. And it all boils down to the millisecond. So I understand the difficulties our soldiers guarding our wildlife work under. I have great sympathy for them. The poachers retched the game a notch up, to such an extent where soldiers would likely err on the side of their lives.
Poachers look like all of us. But they are as deadly as any trained soldier can be. Many of them are demobilised veterans of armed liberation struggles across southern Africa. They carry sophisticated weaponry, which explains why it is the armed forces doing the anti-poaching job, as opposed to ordinary wildlife rangers with civilian weaponry.
Because they are aware of the shoot-to-kill policy, they, of necessity, also, shoot to kill. Like I said, it’s a war. Literally.
Four suspected poachers are down. Three Namibians, and we are told, one Zambian. Their families are demanding answers and in fact deserve the same. Invariably, an inquest follows upon any unnatural death. I have personally done inquests and have reviewed inquest dockets regarding armed forces shooting incidents.
It is hoped that an inquest will provide the answers, so that the families may find closure. I know that no family ever wants to believe that its own, could be a criminal. I practise criminal law, and I should know. Likewise, in the very risky, and life threatening conditions that our soldiers are operating under, our government is likely to dig in for them. To do otherwise, would be to hurt their morale, and possibly hurt the anti-poaching effort. Both sides will feel justified in their own way. What we need
Perhaps, out of the inquests, we would learn more and avoid the possible killing of innocent civilians who might just happen to be caught in the crossfire between soldiers and poachers. It will not be easy, but it must be done. And where mistakes have been made, honesty is the best policy. Apologies must be made, and reparations must follow.
The shooting of the four men, is a clarion call for the concerned countries to dialogue more on the subject, let the mounting death toll cause unnecessary grief to families, and hurt the cordial relations our countries enjoy. Corrective action meant to avoid instances where possibly innocent people die, must likewise follow.
In the end, both countries must remain focused on three very key imperatives; our rhinos must be preserved; innocent lives especially of fishing communities near poaching hotspots must be protected, and, those who contrive to endanger the lives of those who guard our heritage with their lives, must be met with proportionate force. When a poacher dies, a rhino lives. It is just the way it is. In that equation, I would vote the rhino any day. My heart goes out for those innocent. I pray comfort upon their families.
Having said that, poachers can take three long leaps and jump to hell. Our rhinos, are being decimated. At the rate we are losing them, we have lost our spark as the global sanctuary of these iconic animals. Our children will be denied the right to see them in their natural habitat, if they will see them at all.
There is a need to strengthen our capacities in interrupting the international rhino horn trade. Africans don’t use rhino horns for aphrodisiac purposes. A rhino cannot die just so some deluded Asian man can be horny. The international community must demonstrate even greater commitment to our anti-poaching effort. We protect these animals as a world heritage.
You would recall that we have been constantly under fire from cynics from across the world on our elephants population control policies. In the end, the international community demands so much to from us, and gives so little, in return.
CITES should not just be a forum where white people meet to tell us how we must manage our animals. We don’t tell anyone how to manage the polar bear whose habitat is disappearing to global warming. CITES must finance the rhino anti-poaching effort substantially.
To the BDF men and women, we are grateful for your efforts. We would stand behind you any day in your right to self-defence and the defence of our priceless heritage.