LET ACTION FOLLOW THE GOOD WORDS SPOKEN AT THE IVORY BURNING
Burn Ivory Burn was the motto yesterday afternoon at the Kenya Wildlife Service’ Manyani Training Centre in Tsavo National Park, where the conservation who is who from Eastern Africa was joined by President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, a number of his ministers and senior government officials and ministers from across the region who had come to witness the event.
The burning of several tons of ivory, confiscated a decade ago in Singapore and eventually brought to Kenya by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, again put Kenya on the forefront of the African fight back against poaching like it did 30 years ago already, when in a groundbreaking event a huge pile of ivory was also set alight at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi at the time by President Daniel arap Moi.
Then as now, Kenya showed open defiance against the crime of poaching but also against constant efforts by other signatories of the Lusaka Agreement, to obtain ‘exemptions’ and sell ‘surplus stocks’ of mostly blood ivory to the open market, something which in retrospect is now accepted as a major contributing cause to increase in poaching just as soon as the flood gates had opened.
Like in the war on drugs, or in the war on terror, let there be no ifs and buts when it comes to poaching and how to fight back as national interests and national security is gravely affected by well armed, often militia like poaching gangs roaming the continent’s wildlife reserves, national parks and conservancies. Loss of crucial game populations, rhinos being high on the agenda next to elephant, sooner or later results in a drop in tourists visiting the affected areas and the subsequent loss of foreign exchange, loss of jobs and divesting of assets by foreign investors then constitutes a direct challenge to the governments of such countries suffering from commercial scale poaching.
First, pending legislative amendments across Eastern Africa and beyond in Southern, Central and West Africa, in regard of stiffer sentences with not less than 10 years in prison and crippling fines added to it, have to be fast tracked to finally serve as a deterrent to those financing poaching, doing the poaching and found engaged in the trading and processing of blood ivory, rhino horn and other prohibited wildlife products. Bail, if at all, must be so costly for those accused that it would ruin them financially if they try to jump bail and flee and should be denied altogether if there is any suspicion that the culprits would continue to poach while out awaiting trial. The component ‘crime of sabotaging the national economies’ too should be added, as tourism is a key sector in the East African economies and poaching is a clear and present danger to the success of tourism. Meanwhile law enforcement should be allowed much harsher rules of engagement when dealing with poachers in the field.
Secondly, China and a few other notorious countries in the Far and South East must be told in no uncertain terms that they have to strengthen their own legislation to completely prohibit importation, possession and processing of ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife products like bones from tigers and lions, trophies and skins. There is the greater need of action in fact, as these countries citizens have shown not only an unprecedented greed and lust for ivory and rhino horn powder but have done so in total disregard of the damage they do to Africa’s great wildlife heritage.
Words from law enforcement official in Eastern Africa speak of about 90 percent of the arrests made at airports and sea ports over smuggling of blood ivory and other contraband are linked directly to Chinese citizens being involved, a damning indictment for China and their inability or unwillingness to tackle this problem hand in hand with their professed ‘friends’ in Africa. Here ‘guilt by standing by and doing nothing’ comes to mind unless there is a combined strategy at work, to siphon out Africa’s natural resources of minerals and oil as already evident while deliberately turning a blind eye on the destruction of our continent’s wildlife and their own citizens constant attempt to smuggle contraband out of Africa.
But the story does not end there. As mentioned earlier, notably Tanzania and Zambia had applied at the last CITES gathering in early 2010 in Doha to be given permission to sell ivory, and Tanzania then, being denied the official sanction, tried to circumvent the prohibition order by attempting to auction off ivory confiscated at the main airport in Dar es Salaam via the customs and excise department. They were claiming at the time that only ‘raw’ ivory was affected by the CITES Convention while processed or semi processed ivory could still be sold.
This violation of spirit – sadly very much in line with other actions by the Tanzanian government in recent months concerning conservation and environmental issues – has dented Tanzania’s reputation abroad and left officials spitting mad, accusing neighbours to be hostile, conservationists and environmentalists to be mad and last week calling UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee an ‘inconsequential entity’.
Zambia, host of the Lusaka Agreement and the CITES Secretariat, seems to have had second thoughts on applying afresh for permission to sell of ivory stocks at the next CITES Convention, in the face of growing international pressure and as the country attempts to rebrand and relaunch the tourism industry as a major economic sector to create jobs and earn foreign exchange.
So while Kenya, East Africa and the world at large – at least officially and for sure by the conservation fraternity – applauds President Mwai Kibaki’s action yesterday, that can only be the start of things to come. ACTION is what is now needed, beyond the good words spoken, immediate action and visible action or else, this too will go into the history books as just another ‘footnote’ on the way to losing Africa’s heritage to a new breed of Eastern invaders and neo-colonialists.