Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Tommy Nambahu, shares with The Patriot some of the ideas he is considering for the Ministry, and in this Part II of the interview he addresses the issue of poaching..
Over the years domestic tourism has been very low, why do you think this is the case and is it a concern to the ministry and what is the way forward?
Our cultures conspire against our people becoming interested in tourism domestically. The culture of travelling is not just there. We still don’t appreciate and value the benefits that can be derived from tourism. Culturally, travelling is labelled as a trait of lazy people without anything to do and that contributes to the approach that people have on tourism. So we have to fight against these tendencies and actually make people realise that it is a necessity.
The issue of poaching is currently peak in Namibia. Some are saying that it is at crisis level some are saying it is not. Are we at crisis levels when it comes to poaching?
I don’t have a scale of measuring but I can, with confidence, tell you that it is not at a crisis level, it would be at a crisis level when it is an enigmatic. We do not know who is poaching, we don’t know what is being poached or we know what is being poached but we arrest no one, we don’t know where they come from, we have no idea or clue as to who is involved and how they work. But you will agree with me when I say that we know and that is why we arrest. Our arrest rate has grown, there was a time that we were not as successful in the arrests of these people and they believed that they would definitely just run away with it, they can come here and do what they want and we would not even detect that they were here. But as we speak, how many of them do we have in the cells? How many of them appeared before our court, how many of them have we caught red-handed and all these kind of things? We know the traces, the roots of how they are doing these things so with all that information and the strategy that we have now in place that certainly is starting to yield results and we have to perfect it. I wouldn’t say it is completely out of hand. Yes, it is serious and it is everybody’s business because these people are not poaching my animals they are poaching your animals, they are poaching the country’s animals these are actually criminals that graduate from one kind to the other. I keep on saying that when the drugs are not reporting they will definitely go to horns, when the horns are not properly reporting they will go to the diamonds or combination of all of them at the same time.
So now do we say we are at a crisis level and it is also because of the success that we have. They come because they know that these animals are extinct in other parts of the world and so they would definitely come to where the population is healthy. It is therefore necessary for us and for the whole of humanity and the whole of the world to come to our aid because the more we succeed the more we increase our numbers the more they will start sending people all over here. All the criminals know that these things are found here. Therefore, we must position ourselves for a bitter fight.
There have been many claims over the years that our government officials are involved in the poaching syndicate, has there ever been definite evidence that some officials were involved?
For us, we will welcome any evidence that leads any of our officials to that. We even know now that even the police there are crime reporting lines that are open they can even write anonymous letters with evidence. Why is it that they have sympathy for somebody that they know is poaching and all they do is to make allegations and not provide evidence to prove that these people are there, they are doing it this way so that whoever is going to arrest has a clue as to where to start to know that when they arrest that person they have a case and they are going to win? So in the absence of that we will take it as a claim, we will not be able to act on them. So, it is necessary for he who alleges to prove and actually we will be able to follow that up.
So you haven’t received any reports?
If I had it with name and location, I would have acted. There are those that have been caught, I don’t have the statistics with me but if you hear that so so poaches and a government vehicle was used in these things and it was so so principle and so so worker of what what company if it is in that context yes but if there are more then let’s actually bring them forward. If they are afraid they can bring them to us they can take them to the police and these things a can be acted on rather than throwing allegations which is not going to be helpful.
Within the system, are you sure that all the poaching strategies of the ministry are well kept in terms of secrecy and not being exposed to potential poachers?
I wouldn’t say so because we can go to the most sophisticated of the spy agencies, we can go to the CIA or whatever. I wouldn’t know if they can say for sure that there are strategies that cannot be spied on. Who are we to claim that we are spy proof or that we are impenetrable? I wouldn’t say that. So all those things are possible that’s why people have intelligence in all these types of things and you will also always have the occurrence of Judas who comes in and betrays you.
With all humility, I would not claim the system as loose as ours in the ministry can be but so far it is working and so far it has yielded results. There might be things like that but I think we have been very successful in catching and tracing them.
Is it an issue that poaching has recently increased or is it just more arrests and reports than the past, has it always been the same? What has changed because nowadays it feels like it has really increased or has it always been there but just under reported?
At some stage, you could say even some colleagues that have been with us, there are some of them who have been able to come to us to say that you guys are doing a good job. But we are not convinced because this poaching started long ago, even in colonial days it has been there, and when we also bought the helicopters and all these things the detection rate became high. From the air you are able to spot these things easily. Even carcasses that have been on account of natural mortality they are able to be detected now and the interest that we have taken lately, also the newspapers are able to report these things. The national interest is quite high, it is a combination of a strategy and also that we have been able to go out there and help other agencies cooperating with us. They are trying to assist us in one way or another, we have technological advances that we didn’t have those days, we didn’t have helicopters and all these things that are at our disposal now. We have increased our capacity and as a result they might also be telling each other that in Namibia you can go you can recruit and what not but as they increase their activities we also intensify our operations and our effectiveness. So I would [not] be able to give you a clear cut answer of how it has been. We do not rule out there are some people who commit some self-inflicted kind of harm and they report these things as poaching.
In terms of poaching what’s your ideal from now when it comes to poaching?
The ideal situation is to have zero poaching but that may be a day dream so we would want to have a situation where the people in the final destination the market where these things are consumed actually coming on board. I would love to see the day when these criminals are actually caught in countries of origin. Before that happens I would have difficulties believing in the seriousness of efforts being done by our partners. And I would be very happy to work towards seeing that they are happening and also having to hear that the whole of Namibia from all kinds of places, those who have not yet raised their voices against these things to raise them. And for it not to be an issue of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism but an act that is condemned, that is despised, that is rejected by all Namibians. And for each and every one who holds a leadership position in this country to add their voice that this is not a proper thing and I would want to see a person preserving their names because even if they do not come today one day they will and you would have tarnished your image over their deeds just because of some greediness in the human instinct. That you are definitely right, it is not an encourageable thing.
We look forward to the day when Namibians are going to see poaching of animals as their business because it is in the interest of our country to do this and actually for the purpose of what we call intergenerational equity we should do that. And intergenerational equity means using the resources today, preserving them and also taking into account the needs of the future generations.
We are enhancing our networks that are the only way we can actually arrest these people. Our partners that we should be speaking to it’s good for them to actually come on board and do their bit because it is not in their interest to actually have their names linked to this. We have allegations that some of these things are state-sponsored, allegations which in the absence of proof we reject.
But then it is also onerous upon those that are alleged to be involved in these kinds of things to take actions that actually would be convincing that they are not doing what they are alleged to be doing. So by arresting or by actually coming to us and saying no you have not attempted this, we detected this entering into our country. The DNA indicates that the horn or tusk originated from your country. So it will be at the level of judiciary cooperation between countries.
It is a reputational risk for them and that will definitely not be a good contributor to the maintenance of good relations between our countries. And us, as a country, to take a whole country strategy from a whole government approach from our side. If a person is coming here to open a shop then we should really know that it is that shop that is sustaining his Range Rover or there is more to it.
If it is a front, one should know; one should try to see how they registered that company. Is there income and what are the benefits? We are far from that because personally I went to those shops and I bought items and I did not get a receipt. I wonder now how the tax man gets to calculate his tax from this guy who doesn’t even have a receipt book in his shop. But now is he really interested in selling or are there other things, how did he come here? Where was he? Do a background check of these people before we give them what we give them.