“The anti-poaching operation had good intentions, but the reported murders, rapes and brutality are totally unacceptable,” Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told the parliament in December.
The scandal has led to the sacking of four government ministers – of tourism, defence, livestock development and home affairs – for failure to rein in the ministries they were leading. Tourism minister Khamis Kagesheki said in October that poachers engaging in the ivory trade should killed “on the spot”.
The anti-poaching campaign aimed at reducing the illegal ivory trade, has also brought allegations that security forces committed rape, murder, torture and extortion of locals. A parliamentary inquiry found 13 people were murdered and thousands of livestock – the livelihood of many – were maimed or killed.
Presenting a report on the abuses in parliament, the chairman of the committee, James Lembeli, said his team proved beyond doubt that members of security forces spread terror and committed “untold” atrocities against innocent civilians.
The raids forced some people to abandon their homes for fear of being harmed. Abraham Kafanobo, the deputy chairman of Minziro village in Kagera region near Lake Victoria , told IPS that most residents had since fled and said they feared to return even after the operation had been suspended.
Lawyer and human rights activist Issa Shivji criticised the military and called for a swift investigation of the alleged abuses, saying criminal charges should be brought against security personnel who took part in the operation irrespective of their rank. “It’s not only the shame, it’s a big tragedy to the nation which requires a collective assessment of the people to ask ourselves, where are we going? What prompted security organs, which have the mandate to protect lives, dignity and respect of the people to act so irresponsibly?”