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The tightrope act at Sedudu

MMEGI EDITOR
Tensions are simmering, at least online, between Batswana and Namibians over the shooting of three citizens of the latter country at the poaching hotspot of Sedudu Island along the Chobe River.

Even in the flurry of different reports on the incident, the agreed facts appear to be that three Namibian men and a fourth, who has been referred to by media as a Zambian cousin, crossed illegally into Botswana and were confronted by Botswana Defence Forces (BDF) on Thursday November 5.

The men were shot and their belongings and bodies taken to law enforcement authorities in Kasane as part of investigations.

The incident has inevitably sparked outrage amongst Namibians, who view it as the alleged continuation of harassment and extrajudicial killings by the BDF along the border in furtherance of its anti-poaching mandate. The Namibians, for the most part, insist that the four men were fishing on the island, while the BDF says they were part of a group of suspected poachers in an area that has witnessed high killings of economically protected species such as elephants and rhinos. Sedudu Island is historically a powder keg issue for Botswana and Namibia, with shots having been fired in 1984 between the BDF and South African soldiers near the island. At the time, Namibia was still ruled by apartheid South Africa, who also did not recognise Sedudu as belonging to Botswana. In the 1990s, another confrontation between soldiers of the two countries over the island saw the late Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe mediating and the matter finally being settled   at the International Court of Justice in December 1999, but clearly sour feelings, frustrations across the border and suspicions on our side have endured over the years.

Fortunately, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his counterpart, Hage

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Geingob are famously close, a fact the Namibian leader acknowledged in brief remarks on the incident this week after visiting the family of the deceased. The two, together with Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, have partnered on value creation from the lush wetlands of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. Known as KAZA, the area is a 520, 000 square kilometre paradise in every sense of the word, boasting both the Okavango Delta and the Victoria Falls, forests as well as wetlands. The partnership between the countries, seen at its most effective in the Kasane Elephant Summit held last May, underlines the fact that leaders of these countries are committed to sustainable value extraction from KAZA as well as conservation and the upliftment of resident’s lives.

Geingob revealed this week that he had a long discussion with Masisi on the recent Sedudu incident and no doubt, these KAZA ideals should underpin the engagement between the two leaders. This is because the shooting is essentially a fight for value; the BDF is protecting economic key species and territory, while the Namibians, whether they were fishermen or poachers, were looking at a different value extraction, illegal in that area.

While the leaders focus on the broader ideals of cross-boundary value creation, which when achieved will limit these incidents, we appeal to the voices of social and traditional media to calm down and allow the joint investigations to run and reach their conclusion.

Today’s thought

“Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbour is a spiritual one.

- Nikolai Berdyaev



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