WITH POACHING IT IS FOREIGNERS TOO
‘Foreigners’ seems to be one of the key word these days in Tanzania when it comes to apportioning blame for a range of assorted crimes and society ills, as the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism has learned too. He blamed the increase of poaching, as seen in Tanzania in recent years and months but which for long many officials strenuously denied that it even existed, on ‘foreigners’ while citing an example of how a gang of poachers was arrested not long ago in the Katavi National Park. Having fulfilled the demands of the political hymn-sheet circulating in Tanzania at present – only the other day the opposition against the controversial Serengeti highway and the Lake Natron soda ash factory were also blamed solely on foreigners – he then commendably however turned a leaf and started to address some of the root causes, albeit leaving out the key component of what drives poaching in Africa at present.
The minister conceded that a lack of personnel, for instance in the Selous Game Reserve, made it easy for organized gangs of poachers to get away with their bloody work, as effective policing of the Selous would require more than three times as many game wardens compared with present numbers.
Corruption too was apparently an issue for the minister, who called for a more refined screening of wardens and game rangers, before they are employed and while on the job, to avoid collusion with poachers and turning a blind eye towards them in exchange of money.
A damning CITES Secretariat report about poaching and anti poaching measures in Tanzania, published a year ago ahead of the Doha CITES conference, had at the time caused an outcry of denials by ministry officials, but with both the then minister and the then PS gone, the tune seemingly has changed as the lessons taught from the report seem to gradually sank in.
The poaching of a newly imported Eastern Black rhino in the Serengeti a few months ago likely had a great impact on the way Tanzania now looks at the handling of anti poaching, as that case in particular had swiftly made it into the global news, forcing a change of attitude. The president on at least one occasion during past weeks promised to support TANAPA’s anti poaching operations with troops and other security agencies’ personnel, at last recognizing what damage to Tanzania’s reputation abroad, over and above the highway controversy, the soda ash plant controversy, the Eastern Arc Mountains controversy and the Stiegler’s Gorge controversy has been done.
While the minister’s lamentations are generally considered genuine and credible, considering his past stand on conservation, he however failed to put the ‘foreigner’ aspect into the right perspective, treading softly as if to avoid stepping on the toes of China. Across Africa concrete evidence has been emerging that the wave of Chinese aid projects and the arrival of ever more Chinese in their wake have triggered a massive, and directly related poaching boom, driven by the greed and hunger in China for ivory, rhino horn, skins, trophies and even bones of wildlife. The relationship of the two can no longer be denied, and while the Chinese government at home has so far failed to tighten their laws on importation, trade, possession and processing of blood ivory and other wildlife products, African governments – arguably afraid to bring the free flow of ‘aid money’ to an abrupt halt – have been notably silent on addressing publicly the root causes of the increase in poaching on the continent.
So ‘foreigners’ it is alright Mr. Minister, if you could now just put a name on it, invite the Chinese Ambassador to Tanzania into your office and tell him so yourself, without mincing words to avoid any ambiguities. Then the conservation fraternity will have renewed faith into you and can take government’s public statements about poaching a little more seriously.