DREAM DEFERRED . . . As Africa’s disunity on ivory trade widens

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Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - Calls for Africa to unite on efforts to convince parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to legalise commercial ivory trade took a beating recently when Botswana, Kenya, Uganda and Gabon added their signatures to the petition to ban international ivory trade.

Botswana’s former President Ian Khama, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Gabon’s President Ali Bongo recently signed a petition with close to 1.1 million signatures calling for the European Union to close its ivory trade.

They signed the petition during the Giants Club summit recently in Botswana’s tourism town of Kasane. They joined 32 countries to sign the million-signature petition demanding that the EU ends its ivory trade.

The Giants Club is an initiative of Space for Giants, which is an international conservation organisation headquartered in Kenya and operating in Botswana, Uganda and Gabon.  

Its mission is to protect Africa’s elephants and the landscape they occupy forever. The Giant Club unites visionary leaders of all the countries it operates in, enlightened heads of major businesses operating in Africa, global philanthropists, key influencers and leading wildlife protection experts. 

The summit gathers members to hear innovative ideas on how to protect elephants and their landscapes before negotiating finance and securing political will to expand the reach of those ideas.

Reports indicate that while China, Hong Kong and other key players have already implemented or announced ivory bans, the EU is yet to follow suit.

The petition, organised by citizens’ movement, Avaaz, calls on EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella and EU heads of government to close Europe’s domestic trade in ivory, end all ivory exports, and support efforts to ban the global ivory trade.

Namibia and Zimbabwe, which were in support of a commercial trade in ivory during a CITES meeting in South Africa in 2016, had proposed the removal of all restrictions on trade in elephant and elephant products.

South Africa also supported the proposal by the two SADC member states while Botswana, which was also in support of the call, later backtracked and joined a counter-lobby mounted by, among others, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria.

Botswana is home to more than a third of the elephants left in Africa and unlike many of its Southern African neighbours, it has banned trophy hunting.

Namibia and Zimbabwe, which also have a huge population of elephants, are of the view that the elephant population in Southern Africa has increasingly led to human-wildlife conflict, especially in rural communities.

They have also argued that they should be allowed to dispose of their ivory stockpiles, which have accumulated over the years from natural elephant deaths, and that the proceeds should be used to support wildlife conservation efforts. 

Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe wanted the 2016 CITES conference resolution to be amended to allow international trade in raw ivory for commercial purposes to resume. The amendment requested that this decision be authorised by the CITES Standing Committee if certain criteria were met by the respective exporting and importing states.

Namibia and Zimbabwe had also proposed that their elephants be removed from CITES protection listings altogether. But CITES upheld the ban on ivory at the conference.

The president of the United States, Donald Trump, lifted a ban on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, a ban that was put in place by former President Barack Obama.  

But Khama used the event in Kasane to condemn the recent move by the Trump administration, accusing it of encouraging poaching.

Khama praised China for implementing a ban on their domestic ivory trade earlier this year and called on Britain and the EU to do likewise.

“When you look at the other countries coming on board, for example, China. I think they are setting a wonderful example to follow, whether it's the UK or the European Union,” he said.

Space for Giants, which was behind the Giants Club Summit, protects Africa’s elephants from immediate threats like poaching while working to secure their habitats forever in landscapes facing greatly increasing pressures.

“We use innovative, proven interventions to confront acute issues like the ivory trade and long-term challenges such as balancing the needs of wildlife and growing human populations.

“We seek solutions rooted in the wisdom of people who understand wildlife best, because they study it, or live alongside it, or both. And we understand long-term success depends on creating economic and social benefits for the people who share their environment with wildlife,” the organisation said.

Max Graham, CEO of Space for Giants, which was co-hosting the summit with Botswana’s Tlhokomela Trust, said the EU must follow China “and say no ivory is for sale”.

“We’ve long argued that all ivory markets should be closed because any ambiguity over whether you can buy it or can’t drives confusion and criminal networks make billions of dollars a year exploiting that confusion,” said Graham.

“European officials told us they couldn’t ban ivory because African leaders didn’t want them to,” said Bert Wander, campaigns director at Avaaz, the organisation that is spearheading the petition.

“Now we’re going back to them with these presidents’ signatures and asking them if they have any other excuses. 

The truth is there are none – the rest of the world is turning its back on the ivory trade. Why not Europe?”

The EU is the world’s biggest exporter of legal ivory and presides over significant trade. It exported 1,258 tusks in 2014 and 2015 alone, more than the previous eight years combined.

It has since advised governments only to export worked ivory, rather than raw tusks, but this legal trade is thought to increase demand and act as a cover-up for the illicit ivory trade, which is allegedly fuelling Africa’s elephant poaching crisis.

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