Wednesday 12 May 2021
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‘Operation Omake’ in the era of climate change

Michael Munika

Michael Munika

We Namibians just cannot help but have emotional reactions to issues that should be approached with some measure of logic. In a time where crime has gone up, we have blamed anything from the police, the victims and even trees. The carnage on our national road has been blamed on, you guessed it, the police, speed, lack of speed, demons and narrow roads. Rarely do we embark upon a moment of introspection and think that maybe, we as citizens may share the blame.
This brings us to our signature crime prevention program: operation Omake. The sheer brilliance of the plan just leaves one breathless. At the heart of the plan lies this: Criminal hide in bushes, so let’s deny the criminals any hiding places by cutting the trees. What about the environment, you ask. Forget the environment, this is more important. You see, it’s not Tangeni’s fault that he is an unrepentant criminal. It’s the fault of the big tree for giving him a place to hide. If we cut down the tree, or so the logic goes, Tangeni will now walk the straight and narrow and become a model citizen. Omake!
We are literally missing the forest for the trees. Namibia has a delicate ecosystem where we are bearing the ravages of climate change. Willful     destruction of trees for dubious benefits is just irresponsible. We are cutting trees and bushes without any appreciation as to their role in maintaining our environment. We have not considered that enthusiastic cutting of trees might lead to soil erosion. Our country is facing a drought and we are cutting the very vegetation that help hold the soil together. Isn’t soil erosion a Grade 7 concept?
It’s quite hard to make a connection between cutting trees and reducing crime. No one has come up and shown that crime happens in the areas where trees are being cut, and whether the clearing of the areas have led to a reduction of crime. Such reasoning leads to fallacious and illogical conclusions. Take theft, for example. Theft mostly happens in buildings. To prevent theft, we just need to blow up buildings and theft will be eliminated! If trees and shrubs contribute to crime, what about the coast which is practically a desert? One would assume that there would be less crime at the coast since there are no trees for criminals to hide. But yet there is still crime at the coast. So where do the criminals hide? Oh, wait, I have found the perfect solution for the coast. I think that the criminals hide behind the sand dunes, so if we cart all the sand off, we should not have crime at the coast. Come to think of it, most crime happens at night. I suggest that we put big light bulbs in the sky all over the country so that it is always daylight in the land. The electricity bill will be off the charts, but it will make us feel like we are doing something. And that’s what seems to matter in our country: the illusion that we are doing something.
I wonder whether any credible research was made to determine that removing vegetation from certain areas would reduce crime. How do we measure the effectiveness of this strategy? Do we have a coherent crime when it comes to fighting crime, or are we just throwing things at the wall and see what sticks?
If you ask me, crime is not merely an enforcement problem, but a prevention problem. Fighting crime starts in the household, in the way we raise up our children. Crime control gains traction when communities refuse to tolerate criminals in their midst. More often than not, we know who the perpetrators are. They are our friends and family. They are our “suppliers”. It’s that guy in the blue house that always sells the latest phones cheaply. It’s that guy that beats his wife but we turn a blind eye to. It’s that guy that we all know sells drugs, but we ignore it because it’s none of our business. Crime thrives in an atmosphere of poverty, indifference and greed. As a society, it’s up to us to take a stand against those that want to act contrary to acceptable behavior. But we usually do the opposite. We hide the criminals in our midst, we protect them and even lie for them. Until the bell tolls for us and they turn against us. Without the community, the police cannot fight crime in any meaningful way. We can cut every tree in Namibia and crime will remain rampant. You see, it’s not the trees. It’s us.
Michael Munika is the Head of Industrial Relations for NANLO based in Walvis Bay.

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