The tone of a decidedly jingoistic Namibian parliamentary report on life in Namibian frontier communities along the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers side is anything but friendly.
The nub of the report is a call for a reversal of a 2018 Border Treaty that it attributes to Namibian frontier communities and blames for what it calls “challenges experienced with the BDF”. Namibia – whose citizens have in recent years complained about harassment allegedly meted out to their compatriots and tour operators living along Chobe and Linyati Rivers – turned to their country’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, Security, Security, Constitutional and Legal Affairs to investigate the matter.
According to its report, tourism activities along the two rivers on the Namibian side have been severely affected because tour guides face constant questioning and aggression from members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) in the presence of the tourists.
Citing an incident in which a group of tourists in Namibia were allegedly harassed by the BDF along the Chobe River, the report says: “Guns were pointed at these tourists, together with their boat skippers, in order to scare them into submission.”
According to evidence purportedly collected by the Committee from the communities, the incident occurred in the afternoon when two boats from the Chobe Camp River Lodge took tourists out for a boat cruise to view game. “On board were South African tourists together with other Namibians, including their skippers,” says the report. “The BDF demanded to know why the tourists and the boat skippers had wandered into the Botswana territory. In an attempt to clarify that they were actually in Namibia and not in Botswana, a confrontation broke out and BDF members pulled (out) their rifles.”
It says the skippers, together with a group of tourists, left the scene and returned to the banks of the river on the Namibian side. At Dzoti, which is located along the Linyanti River that forms the international boundary with Botswana, proclamation of Dzoti Conservancy in 2009 included islands such Dzoti, Kakoro, Shinagru, Muai, Hamnugura, Mbara, Kundu and Pamboro, that the report says were all a part of Namibia “historically” before the establishment of the conservancy.
“Immediately after the proclamation, these islands were regarded as core areas of the conservancy,” the report says. “But presently, witnesses presented that all these islands were now regarded as part of Botswana and that they were not allowed to enter these areas by the BDF.”
The report claims that Namibian citizens Kumaiba Jolosi, Kumaiba Lasken and Mutapuli Geffrey were arrested on Dzoti Island by the BDF. The report says witnesses are calling for a reversal of the 2018 Border Treaty signed between Botswana and Namibia because it is the main cause of these challenges experienced with the BDF. “According to witnesses presented, historically, community members residing along the Linyanti River conducted fishery activities in Dzoti island and there was no presence of the BDF members as it was regarded as part of Namibia,” it says.
At Namushasha Lodge in Lizauli Village, the Committee learnt that a group of Namibian tourists on a boat tour in the Kwando River with their skipper were allegedly threatened and arrested by the BDF and then taken to Maun in a helicopter where they were released after questioning. The tourists and the skipper were accused of being in the Botswana side of the river.
Witnesses also told the Committee that BDF members often cross into Namibia illegally and burn grasslands to prevent wild animals from going across. The report says the frontier communities are living in fear for their lives due to constant run-ins with the intimidation from Botswana soldiers (BDF). In terms of general livelihoods, almost nothing is happening alongside the river. “There is a significant reduction in fishing and animal grazing activities alongside the river as most communities are confused and scared to carry on with their usual day-to-day activities to make a living,” the report says.
The Committee says it observed constant presence of the BDF along the river, which correlates with the witness accounts. However, it notes, no act of aggression was observed during its site visit.