Gaborone - The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has made known its views about the just-ended meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that was held in Switzerland.
In a strongly worded communiqué that was issued by the Tanzania delegation on behalf of SADC member states, the southern African regional bloc did not have kind words for CITES. From the onset, Tanzania made it clear that the communiqué was issued on behalf of Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, including Tanzania. Tanzania is currently the chairman of SADC.
The Tanzanian delegation said the declaration was made to express the grave concern that SADC had with regards to the implementation of the decisions of the convention.
“As members of the global multilateral system and democratic, representative governments, we are obliged to ensure that we meet our commitments to all those international agreements and declarations to which we are signatories, as well as responsibilities to our citizens,” the Tanzanian delegation said.
Recognizing that CITES is one of the oldest wildlife and trade agreements, the Tanzanian delegation said SADC members states were obliged to give it due consideration but within the context of subsequent and contemporary agreements and declarations to which it bore relevance.
“We contend that CITES, in form, substance and implementation, is not aligned with other international agreements of equal weight and arguably greater relevance to the challenges of today,” the Tanzanian delegation said.
These agreements, the Tanzania delegation said, emphasize the principles of sovereignty over the use of national resources; inclusive, equitable development through the sustainable use of natural resources; and recognising that rural communities living with wildlife have inalienable rights over the use of their resources.
The agreements recognised that in today’s world of rapid changes in climate and land use and the accelerating pace of transformation of wildlife habitat, the survival of wildlife depended on the perceptions and development needs of people living with wildlife.
“The way CITES is currently operation is contrary to its founding principles. Today, CITES discards proven, working conservation models in favour of ideologically driven anti-use and anti-trade models. Such models are dictated by largely western non-state actors who have no experience with, responsibility for, or ownership over wildlife resources,” the Tanzanian delegation stated.
The result had been failure to adopt progressive, equitable, inclusive and science-based conservation strategies.
“We believe this failure has arisen from the domination of protectionist ideology over science decision making within CITES. This anti-sustainable use and anti-trade ideology now dominates decisions made by many states who are party to CITES,” it said on behalf of SADC.
It stated further that states were increasingly influenced by the dominance both at meetings of the decision-making structures of CITES and in their run up by protectionist NGOs whose ideological position had no basis in science or experience and was not shared in any way by the member states of SADC and their people.
The Southern African countries said they have observed with great discomfort the polarised discussions on African charismatic large mammals at the just ended Conference of Parties (CoP 18).
“It is very disturbing to see the North South divide across the African continent rearing its head again. We are further concerned that positions of some parties appear to be based on national political considerations aimed at catering to the interests of national, intensively lobbied constituencies, as opposed to proven, science-based conservation strategies,” the Tanzanian delegation said.
It said this undermined the SADC states on whom the responsibility to manage species fell and its ability to do so effectively. As it is currently implemented, SADC member states observed, CITES undermined the rights of people living in rural areas of SADC states to have access to and use in a sustainable manner the natural resources present in their communities that were required to enjoy adequate living conditions and the right to participate in the management of these resources.
“The consensus expressed through CITES by the majority of states undermines our region in our efforts to secure social and environment justice through the sustainable use of our natural resources. In doing so, it is compromising our ability to meet obligations and responsibilities to other multilateral agreements and to our peoples,” SADC member states said.
According to SADC those who bore no cost of protecting the region’s wildlife, nor bore any consequence for decisions of CITES on its species, voted without any accountability against working conservation models in southern Africa.
“To this end, we have had to invoke measures such as announcing a dispute, the first time ever in CITES. As members of the global community we fully appreciate the importance of multilateral negotiations, such as those that take place within CITES, in identifying and collectively working towards solutions for the greater good of humanity,” SADC member states said.
SADC said it has been a committed party to CITES since its inception or its accession to it and would wish to remain so.
But the region could no longer ignore the glaring shortcomings and threats to its national interests and its commitments to the broader multilateral context.
“The time has come to seriously reconsider whether there are any meaningful benefits from our membership to CITES,” said thee SADC member states.