African countries must speak with one voice on ivory trade ban

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Reports that African countries continue to be divided over whether the United Nations Convention on International in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) should lift or maintain the ban on ivory trade makes sad reading, to say the least.

It is worrying that Africans cannot agree on how to utilise their God-given resources and continue to be hoodwinked by western-sponsored non-governmental organisations who appear to benefit more from the resources found on the continent, at the expense of the Africans.

 SADC countries have made proposals to CITES seeking to be allowed to trade in ivory. But sadly, a group of 10 countries (comprising nine African countries and one Arab nation) have already opposed their fellow Southern African countries’ bid to benefit from their wildlife through trade. They have incredibly suggested a counter proposal that the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe be moved from Appendix II to Appendix I, effectively preventing SADC countries from using their wildlife.

A majority of these countries opposed to the lifting of the ban, we believe, are in West Africa. It should be noted that some of these countries have depleted their elephants after failing to manage them for the benefit of their peoples.

Yet Southern African countries have over the years employed sound wildlife management policies that have seen the ballooning of the elephant population to unstainable levels such that they have exceeded their carrying capacities and are now damaging the environment.  For example, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe have more than three quarters of the elephant population in the world.  

The world has got about 400 000 elephants and three quarters of that population is within the SADC region. All that the SADC member states with huge elephant populations have been asking for is to be allowed to trade in elephant products for the benefit of their people.

Why shouldn’t these countries be allowed to benefit from their elephants, we ask? Leaders from the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation area, which encompasses Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe recently met in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, to deliberate on a strategy for the lifting of the trade in ivory trade by CITES. They deserve Africa’s support. 

And we recently reported that SADC had sought to win over Kenya, which commendably has a huge elephant herd, for support over the ivory trade ban.  But it appears the divisions continue and it would be a sad day if African countries were to go to the CITES meeting scheduled for Geneva towards the end of this month on opposition sides.  What happened to African unity and solidarity?

Southern Africa is home to more than three quarters of the world’s population, thanks to sound conservation and wildlife management policies, but some western powers and their NGOs, backed by CITES, do not want these countries to benefit from their wildlife resources.

KAZA is Africa’s largest conservation landscape, encompassing national parks, game management areas, communal conservancies on farm land – and a great deal of wildlife, including 75% of Africa’s elephants and 18% of its lions, in an area of 520,000 square kilometres.

But the huge elephant herd has had its downside.  The human-wildlife conflict has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, destruction of crops and environmental degradation.  Surely, Southern African countries must be allowed to manage their wildlife resources in the best way they see fit.

As Namibian President and SADC chairperson Hage Geingob aptly put it at the elephant summit recently, “we should not be victims of our success in conservation and the West must humble itself and learn conservation from us instead of lecturing us on what we ought to do”.

We therefore call for a unity of purpose among African countries who must speak with one voice on ivory trade.  Granted, we know some African countries are under pressure from the powerful western lobby, and some have even burnt their ivory.  But we believe Africans need to look through the smokescreen and give this issue careful consideration.

As we have said before, no African elephant range country wants to see a depletion of its elephants through poaching.  All they seek is for ivory to benefit the people in which this resource is found.  There is no reason why African states beg for aid from western capitals when they are sitting on vast natural resources, including ivory, that can be sustainably utilized for the benefit of their peoples.

We reiterate our call for more African leaders to voice their support for trade in ivory trade. We note that while countries and political leaders play politics, it is the communities that live alongside elephants and other wildlife that continue to suffer.  In Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe there is widespread human-wildlife conflict as a result of the increasing elephant populations.

Contrary to widespread fears that allowing ivory trade will result in increased poaching activities, we believe a lift in the ban on trade in ivory and elephant products to allow for controlled trade will have a more positive impact on those communities as the funds would be channeled towards conservation efforts. 

Besides, sound wildlife management has resulted in tourists flocking to these SADC countries which have created huge wildlife parks such as the KAZA and the Great Limpopo Transfontier Park, in the process bringing in the much-needed foreign currency.  It therefore defies logic that these countries would sit on their laurels and watch their elephant populations being depleted by poachers!

Allowing controlled trade would result in the countries raising enough resources to support the fight against poaching and at the same time developing communities living alongside wild animals.

The “one size fits all approach” on the elephant trade ban is retrogressive and is not good for Southern African countries.

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