Ambassador Van Vranken’s Remarks at the Launch of Botswana Institute for One Health Security

October 31, 2023

As prepared for delivery

His Excellency Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana
The Esteemed First Lady, Mrs. Neo Masisi
Lt. General Placid Segokgo, Commander of the Botswana Defense Force
Senior government officials present here,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocol observed.

It is with great pleasure that I celebrate with you the groundbreaking for the Botswana Institute for One Health Security. While the Institute for One Health Security has many priorities, one component within it is the Wildlife Forensic Center, which will collect, store, and analyze evidence to support wildlife trafficking cases.

On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, we congratulate Virginia Tech and CARACAL on the launch of this center, which is supported in part through a $2.6 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). INL plays an important role in the fight against the illicit trade of wildlife by building criminal justice sector capacity in partner nations along the entire supply chain. Wildlife trafficking generates billions of dollars in illicit revenue each year, undermines security, threatens the
rule of law, spreads diseases, and destabilizes communities. This center will help Botswana strengthen its forensic science capabilities to better investigate and prosecute wildlife crimes, serving as a center for excellence in Southern Africa.

Virginia Tech University is one of the leading land-grant universities in the United States and among the top 6 percent of universities in the United States for research expenditures. Rich in tradition, culture, and robust global education programs, VT truly lives up to its motto: Ut Prosim, That I May Serve.

The mission of Virginia Tech – to serve as a community of knowledge, discovery, and creativity to improve the quality of life and the human condition, not only within the Commonwealth of Virginia but also throughout the world – is closely aligned with our embassy’s mission in Botswana.

The U.S. government works closely with the Government of Botswana and civil society to protect Botswana’s valuable natural resources, including its wildlife and endangered ecosystems. Sustainable management of Botswana’s natural resources is not only a critical conservation goal but is also vital for Botswana’s long-term economic health and supporting the livelihoods of Batswana. Botswana historically had one of the strongest records onndeterring poaching and wildlife trafficking in Africa; however, the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact on the economy made it vulnerable to poaching for sustenance and profit. Poaching and wildlife trafficking by criminal organizations not only hurt Botswana’s environment and economy – they are also among the greatest threats to Botswana’s national security.

Virginia Tech, along with CARACAL, has a positive legacy of conducting research in Botswana. Dr. Kathy Alexander herself has a history of working hand-in-hand with top government officials in Botswana in both zoonotic pathology research and countering wildlife trafficking. We are pleased to see these critical areas come together within one facility and pleased to see INL funding dedicated to a forensic laboratory that will strengthen Botswana’s ability to address wildlife crime.

The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, INL, works to counter crime and instability abroad. Its slogan “security through justice,” seems ever-more important in these challenging times. INL’s work focuses on strengthening the capacity of foreign governments’ law enforcement and criminal justice systems to combat organized crime and fight corruption.

Assisting other countries to counter crime abroad helps create a safer and more resilient international community. Organized crime undermines border security, damages communities and livelihoods, and disrupts countries’ formal governance and economic systems. The diversity and agility of organized crime groups and their activities means that the harm they cause in one country affects us all. Effectively combatting transnational organized crime requires informed and well-coordinated strategies, working hand in hand with partners
like Botswana.

And for this, with this U.S. government project, we are pleased to see Botswana’s government entities working together—DWNP, BDF, DIS, BPS, as well as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism—with the purpose of improved coordination on combatting wildlife crime. This interagency cooperation will be a huge asset to the program, each group bringing its unique problem-solving abilities to accomplish our shared goals.

We are also thrilled to be part of this celebratory event as the U.S. government values a One Health approach. Environmental shocks, such as more intense and more frequent climate change events, require resilient investments, institutions, and collaborative decision-making. The One Health approach integrates knowledge and data across human, animal, and environmental health sectors, to improve surveillance, detection, and prevention of zoonotic pathogen risks.

Sustained investments, biomedical research, and disease surveillance are essential for all countries to enable effective emergent disease response, as is evident by the great work of CARACAL and Virginia Tech in Botswana, and the work that is to come with the launch of this new facility.

On behalf of the U.S. Embassy Gaborone, tonight I offer my sincere congratulations to Virgina Tech, CARACAL, and the Government of Botswana on the establishment of Botswana’s One Health Security. PULA!