BY EMMANUEL KORO
IT seems the ongoing appeals to the elephant overpopulated Sadc countries to establish an independent international ivory trading body, without being controlled by the United Nations wild trade regulating agency Cites are increasingly being listened to.
This follows the virtual meeting held by ministers of environment of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe last Friday, to discuss the setting up of an independent international ivory trading body without being controlled by the UN Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
Established in 1975, to regulate and never to stop international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, Cites has unfortunately been hijacked by the anti-international wild trade Western animal rights groups who also fund it, partially. The USA provides the biggest funding to Cites followed by the European Union countries.
Powerless within Cites, the Sadc countries got the anti-international ivory trade vote message loud and clear at the August 2019 Cites 18th conference of parties (COP18) in Geneva, Switzerland; when over 80% of the 183 member countries voted against their ivory trade bid. Yet, Sadc countries are elephant overpopulated and based on scientific evidence; deserve to trade in ivory because this would not have any harmful impact on the Southern African elephant population — the highest in the world.
At Cites COP18, the elephant overpopulated Sadc countries, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, submitted a joint proposal to trade in their thousands of tonnes of stockpiled ivory but were incredibly defeated by 81% no-votes, with only 19% supporting their proposal.
Zambia also lost heavily in its amended bid to have its elephant population down-listed from Cites Appendix I to II for only non-commercial hunting trophies and hides and leather from elephants killed in elephant-human-conflict, without trade in raw ivory. That proposal was not accepted, 82% to 18%.
Amid claims that such meaningless no-ivory-trade-votes against Sadc countries that deserve to be allowed to trade in ivory because they are elephant overpopulated, it emerged that the voting system in the UN agency Cites “is rigged”.
Western animal rights groups have continued to rig Cites votes through among other things paying inducement money to East and West African representatives of the African Elephant Coalition countries.
The coalition was formed and funded by Western animal rights groups. Delegates from East and West African countries were seen at Cites COP18, in numerous and suspicious compromising meetings with Western animal rights groups. Some of them openly admitted in interviews, that they received cash handouts from animal rights groups.
They were also frog- marched into televisions interviews and told in typical puppet fashion what to say in committees and how to vote; briefed by young Western people — embarrassingly young enough to be their own grandchildren.
Then after the Sadc ivory trade proposal was defeated, the very same delegates were seen celebrating with Western nationals. Evidence of WhatsApp strategic communications between western delegates and government officials from East Africa, including Kenya is available.
Godfrey Harris, managing director of the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute, said the rigged Cites voting system includes, “bribing the leadership of former colonies through board memberships, speaking honoraria, luxury travel, training scholarships and other gifts”. He said fixing the voting to favour Western policies should be treated as racist.”
Speaking on behalf of the disappointed Sadc countries as the chairperson of Sadc, Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism director of Wildlife, Dr Maurus Msuha released a politically charged statement.
“We fought for political independence and we now have it,” he said. “The next fight for us is the fight for the right to use our resources for the development of our own people. This needs political pressure from our governments who should say that we don’t need this anymore (being denied our sovereign rights to trade in our wildlife products).”
Faced with another overwhelming vote against international trade in ivory at the next Cites meeting in about 11 months, to be held in Geneva again, following Costa Rica’s pull-out as the host country for lack of funds; Sadc countries have now decided to trade in their multi-million dollar stockpiled ivory without control of Cites.
“We discussed the possible establishment of something like the Kimberley Process,” Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and International Trade Mangaliso Ndhlovu said in reports published in the media this week.
“The idea (Kimberley Process) is for checks and balances and for that people to operate within the correct parameters.”
The Kimberly Process has been operational for the past 19 years and aims to reduce trade in illegal diamonds while promoting strictly controlled trade in legal diamonds.
The UN international wild trade regulating agency, Cites allows countries that are on reservations to independently trade in any species in protest of Cites trade restrictions on them.
Therefore, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are allowed to trade in live elephants and their products, including ivory. When the trade begins, it means that these four countries would effectively become non-Cites members for the elephant and elephant products trade only.
However, the four Sadc countries will remain Cites members for all other wild fauna and flora species controlled by the UN wild trade regulating agency.
While Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe should be applauded for the discussions to start the establishment of such an international ivory trade body, it is hoped that this does not end in hot air generating discussions only. The discussions to establish a Sadc independent international ivory trade agency were held before in Victoria Falls in 2019 and in Kasane Botswana at the May 2019 Elephant Summit. Nothing came out of it. It is really up to Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe to make the international ivory trade happen.
Cites has accepted their reservations position on the elephant. Therefore, it is fair that Cites allows countries that feel unfairly restricted to trade in resources that they have in abundance to do so, independently.
South American countries have already set an excellent precedent of trading internationally in the species whose Cites international trade restrictions they were unhappy with. They traded in vicuña fur. Before 1980, this animal of the vicuña camelid family was almost extinct due to poaching triggered by unmet worldwide demand for vicuña wool.
The trade benefited vicuña producer communities of the Andean natives who learnt the need to sheer rather than kill the animals for their hair. This helped the species to recover across South America’s Andean region.
The Cites Plants and Animals Committee later complimented them for this successful international trade model that improved the conservation of the vicuña. This proved that the animal rights movement tell lies that strictly controlled and sustainable international wild trade drives species to extinction species. The truth is that trade incentivises species conservation as it did with the vicuña.
The international ivory trade elephant conservation results should be the same for trade in the African elephant and its products as the four Sadc countries intend to engage in sustainable international trade in ivory and use the money for elephant conservation.
Right now most Sadc countries have very poor budgets to pay their game rangers, let alone office staff of their wildlife management departments. Zimbabwe has already made public statements that it has inadequate funds to run its Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, including paying game rangers.
Therefore, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe’s move to start international trade in ivory without further delay can raise money and pay for its game rangers and save the African elephant and other wildlife from poachers.
Meanwhile, former Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general and ex-CEO of the elephant-overpopulated Kavango Transfrontier Conservation Area, Dr Morris Mtsambiwa said in a recent interview that as long as Cites commercial trade restrictions continue, Sadc countries should strongly consider non-commercial sales of rhino horn as these products can fetch good prices on the international markets by following the pattern of current illegal trades.
“Funds raised would then be used for wildlife conservation and also to pay for the high storage costs of large quantities of stockpiled rhino horn and ivory in Southern African countries.”
Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes and has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.