Emmanuel Koro Correspondent
Divisions among Africans countries were signed and sealed at the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885 that partitioned Africa into colonies under different Western European governments’ control. The Berlin Conference regulated European colonisation and trade in Africa. Even in cases where Africans try to unite Western powers always want to divide them, in order to exploit them.
Today, Africa has never recovered from such divisions even in the area of wildlife conservation and trade in its wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horns. African countries are made to oppose one another for no good reason. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Western animal rights groups and some Western countries continue to successfully influence West, North and East African countries to oppose SADC countries’ bid to trade in ivory and rhino horn — even to hunt elephants and rhinos.
This year, SADC countries have made proposals to trade in ivory, rhino horn and hunt rhino to the UN Convention on International in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). The final decision will be made at the CITES 18th triennial meeting that will be held in Geneva, from August 17-28, 2019.
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 in 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. These opposition countries include Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Togo.
Although the population of white rhinos in Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) is listed on Appendix II, an annotation currently prevents international trade in rhino horn. Eswatini has proposed the removal of this annotation so that it can sell an existing stock of 330kg of rhino horn and then 20kg per year from non-lethal harvesting. Namibia proposed to transfer its population of white rhinos from Appendix I to II with an annotation solely for the sale of live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations and for hunting trophies, with all other specimens to remain on Appendix I.
Zambia proposed to downlist its elephant population from Appendix I to Appendix II to permit sales of registered ivory stocks to CITES-approved buyers as well as some specified non-ivory trade.
Meanwhile, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe would like to trade in registered ivory stocks to CITES Secretariat-verified partners as well as some specified non-ivory trade. They proposed to do this by amending an annotation that, although their elephant populations are listed in Appendix II, currently disallows trade.
However, all these SADC countries’ proposals have already been opposed by nine fellow African countries, before they even get debated at CoP18 in Geneva, Switzerland, this month. Despite this opposition on the African continent, SADC countries should not give up the fight to be granted their sovereign rights to trade in their ivory rhino horn and even to hunt their white rhino as Namibia proposes to do. The Southern African countries have viable elephant and rhino populations compared to Western animal rights influenced fellow African countries that are unjustifiably opposing their pro-sustainable use proposals.
Despite this opposition from fellow African countries, SADC countries might just get the support they need from other CITES member countries. This has happened before.
For example, in 1997 and 2000, recognising that some Southern African elephant populations were healthy and well managed, CITES member countries agreed to downlist the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to Appendix II. In 1999 and again in 2008, sales of registered stocks of government-owned ivory from these countries were authorised to China and Japan.
However, one of the major criticisms against the temporary and not permanent permission to trade in ivory and rhino horn is that the few cases when CITES permits ivory sales for SADC countries do not bring great hope for achieving sustainable development in Southern Africa, through use of wildlife. This is a missed opportunity for the achievement of sustainable development in the SADC region, for which CITES member countries that continue to unjustifiably vote against trade in ivory and of course rhino horn should be held accountable.
Is CITES Undergoing Reforms?
Interestingly, in the press release that the CITES Secretariat released this week, almost 10 days before the 18th CITES triennial meeting, the Secretariat has announced ambitious plans that could reverse the failures that it has been associated with for the past 44 years. Among them, the need to involve the voice-less, almost forgotten and “powerless” rural communities in the CITES decision-making process.
“The conference will also consider opportunities to enhance the role of indigenous, local and/or rural communities in CITES decision-making processes and how to further strengthen collaboration with other biodiversity-related conventions,” said the CITES Secretariat press release.
Despite being considered as one of the major stumbling blocks towards achieving sustainable development by 2030 in SADC countries because of its continued blockade of trade in ivory and rhino horn, the CITES Secretariat is surprisingly saying it will come up with measures to help achieve this, just 11 years away from 2030 — a UN set deadline deadline for achieving sustainable development worldwide, including Africa. What a welcome sustainable development magic bullet, if that ever happens.
The CITES Secretariat said that it was going to present for discussion and adoption at CITES CoP18 in Geneva, a Strategic Vision Post-2020 that aims to ensure that, “by 2030, all international trade in wild fauna and flora is legal and sustainable, consistent with the long-term conservation of species, and thereby contributing to halting biodiversity loss”.
It also highlights CITES’ role in contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
It remains to be seen whether or not these proposed changes are at long last a CITES Secretariat admission that the continued ban of trade in wildlife products for the past 44 years have dismally failed to stop rhino and elephant poaching as well as illegal rhino horn and ivory trade.
It has always been argued that the ban in ivory and rhino horn has not saved a single rhino and elephant, neither has it helped to stop both illegal rhino horn and ivory trade. The truth is that the ban in these products fuels demand.
Therefore, CITES should in its new signs of reforms go further to adopt a new strategy that admits that trade not aid will save the African rhinos and elephants. It should abandon the one-shoe-size-fits-all approach when deciding on which countries deserve to trade in their wildlife products. This means they should exclusively use each country’s elephant and rhino population as a yardstick to grant it permission to trade in rhino horn and ivory. The same goes for decisions on granting hunting quotas for elephants and rhinos, etc.
Sadly, the CITES press release did not announce any planned reforms to investigate and stop the vote rigging scandals aimed at preventing trade in ivory and rhino horn at any cost; within the CITES decision-making framework that many conservationists worldwide (including those from Africa) have complained about for years with no action being taken against the culprits (Western animal rights groups).
It is such reforms that can restore CITES’ credibility that has continued to be damaged by the Western animal rights groups’ anti-use agenda to the detriment of elephant and rhino conservation as well as the African people’s socio-economic well-being.
Without trade in ivory, rhino horn and without hunting, Africa cannot generate revenue to look after its wildlife. Consequently, African governments are forced to divert funds from central treasury budgets that were meant for poverty alleviation programmes and use them for wildlife conservation.
This means that it is always going to be very difficult for affected African countries to lift themselves out poverty as funds meant for the improvement of human life continue to go to wildlife conservation because wildlife continues to fail to pay for its own upkeep. When funds meant for building schools, hospitals, roads and dams are used for wildlife conservation it means Africa remains paralysed in poverty.
Currently, most SADC rural communities sharing their land with wildlife are showing signs that it is too late to achieve sustainable development by 2030. They go barefoot, poor, hungry, and hopeless, without clean drinking water, decent healthcare or adequate educational facilities. They suffer these conditions because African wildlife can’t pay for itself while the ban on ivory and rhino horn trade, and limitations on hunting, remain in force.
Therefore, one wonders how the CITES Secretariat hopes to achieve sustainable development in Southern Africa as long as the ban on international trade in rhino horn and ivory is still in force, with hunting markets being cruelly shut down.
Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.