A dark picture of greed, corruption and betrayal is emerging behind the scenes, amidst the high tension at the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting underway in Geneva, Switzerland.
By press time yesterday, Botswana and neighbours, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa were staring defeat in the face, in their proposal for future sales of their substantial ivory stocks.
Another proposal, for Zambia’s elephants to join those from Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa on Appendix II where trade is theoretically possible, was also looking impossible.
Two-thirds of the plus-180 states that make up CITES are required to pass a proposal and reports from Geneva are that a group of African countries have ganged up against Botswana and her neighbours to defeat all proposals around relaxations of trade in elephant products.
Ahead of the votes on the proposals, which were due after press time, Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Senegal as well as Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon and Sudan amongst others had clearly revealed their hand against Botswana and her neighbours.
The same African states have a counter proposal which seeks to list all African elephants on CITES highest Appendix under which no trade whatsoever is possible. The counter proposal is due to be voted on today (Friday).
On proposals from Africa, the rest of the world is generally split between Nigeria and its fellows on one hand and the southern African bloc which includes Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Analysts have explained that Southern Africa is abundant in wildlife such as elephants, while the rest of the continent has been decimated by poaching and corruption. Despite the disparities, African states insist on a one-size fits all approach for Africa’s wildlife at CITES and have spoken out against splitting proposals to recognise Southern Africa’s uniqueness.
The African states say this is because wildlife is migratory and leaving some countries “unprotected” would eventually lead to devastation of populations there.
Botswana and her neighbours, however, have argued that their ongoing high conservation standards allow them the room to benefit more from wildlife resources.
“Southern Africa, unlike east, west and Central Africa, largely self-finances its national conservation efforts and needs to eke value out of species such as elephants,” a member of the Botswana delegation told Mmegi on condition of anonymity this week.
“The rest of Africa is heavily dependent on donors, who include animal rights groups and who often dictate national wildlife management policy.
“Botswana formulates its wildlife management policy independent of donors and according to national principles such as consultation and research. However, some of these other countries’ budgets are funded by organisations that dictate the terms.”
In Geneva, Botswana is represented by a team led by Tourism Minister, Kitso Mokaila and senior officials, alongside several wildlife and conservation NGOs. The local NGOs are split between those who support Botswana’s proposals and those who do not.
Mmegi is informed that ahead of the votes, NGOs from all over the world, including militant animal rights groups, have been canvassing in Geneva, lobbying states on the proposals to be decided on.
While the canvassing is common at CITES meetings, with even Botswana delegation holding a screening of a film to show the impact of elephants on the community, sordid details have emerged this year.
An African journalist in Geneva this week claimed to have witnessed an animal rights NGO dishing out bribes to delegates from an unnamed African country, in order to secure votes in favour of the NGOs agenda.
“At a local hotel here yesterday, The Source witnessed several African delegates frantically phoning animal rights groups to make payments for their hotel accommodations,” wrote Emmanuel Koro, a Johannesburg-based environmental journalist in new newsletter, The Source.
“One of them already had his accommodation paid for by (name withheld).
“Without money from wildlife some African countries wildlife management decision-makers are vulnerable to Western animal rights manipulation.
“They even struggle to pay for their food and accommodation to attend CITES meetings.”
Delegates from Nigeria and Senegal in particular have been passionately shooting down any requests for amendments to key proposals from Southern Africa. Earlier in the week, the same group of states voted against a proposal which would have prioritised community empowerment in wildlife management. Botswana and other southern African states supported the proposal.
Earlier yesterday, Nigeria and her fellow states successfully argued for the tightening of trade in giraffes arguing that the tall animal’s numbers were endangered in Africa. Botswana, Namibia and South African unsuccessfully argued that their own giraffe populations did not require tightening of the listing and that their own conservation strategies were actually promoting population growth.
Nigeria and others,
CITES members such as the US, EU and others said the proposal was beyond CITES authority and would overstep sovereign lines. Individual states, they said, had to take that decision.
The stark differences amongst African states was clear at Thursday afternoon’s vote on tightening trade in giraffes. While southern Africa was clear that its giraffe populations were well managed and stable, Nigeria and its team insisted on a one-size fits all approach; the tightening of giraffe trade for all of Africa.
The vote also highlighted rising tensions in Geneva, as armed security filled the conference hall where the vote was taking place. The proposal was passed by 106 votes to 21.
“The vote on giraffes was ridiculous,” a member of the Botswana team told Mmegi.
“There was armed security in the voting hall for some reason.
“It felt intimidating and we suspect this is something cooked up by the animal rights NGOs.
The developments in Geneva will disappoint President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who recently expressed hope that Africa would not bare its divisions to the world. Masisi recently lobbied both Angola and Kenya ahead of CITES, although he acknowledged the deep gulf in differences.
“As friends, as fellow Africans and pan-Africanists we (Botswana and Kenya) resolved to huddle in our differences and rather communicate them internally in Africa amongst ourselves and never go out and fight outside,” Masisi told journalists.
“We remained clear in our resoluteness to not allow international NGOs or national NGOs and non-state actors to so penetrate us as to divide us because we have the resource, they need the resource.
“At CITES you will not see a Botswana/Kenya fight despite the differences we have.”
Angola, the other state Masisi lobbied, is unique. The country falls within the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) which runs across Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and contains the world’s largest continuous population of elephants by far.
However, Angola has a “handful” of elephants due to decades of civil war and is reportedly not supporting her neighbours at CITES.
Tamar Ron, an independent international biodiversity expert and part time consultant to Angola’s Ministry of Environment of Angola, says the focus should on thinking regionally and globally about species such as elephants.
“My own opinion is that the proposal to include all elephant populations on CITES Appendix I would best enable all range-states to combat the existing elephant poaching crisis,” she told Mmegi, stressing that hers was not necessarily the Angolan government’s position.
“We must recognise that elephants migrate over large areas.
“The KAZA elephant population should be regarded as a one population, and not as individual country’s populations.
“Botswana and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, suffer most of the pressure from the concentration of the KAZA elephants on their side of the border, while Angola and South-West Zambia still need to substantially increase their elephant populations, to rehabilitate the species’ historical presence in these countries.”
She added: “For Angola, this is critical, as the country wishes to diversify its economy and to initiate developing thriving eco-tourism as an essential national and local economic driver.
“On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that the ivory illegal trade is controlled by sophisticated international criminal syndicates.
“For them, it is easy to identify where the enforcement weaker links are, and that is where the poaching pressure would be highest.”
Ron however said the cry of those countries and communities who suffer most of the burden and pressure, cannot stay unanswered.
“Therefore, I personally think that if the CITES will revert to reject the downslisting proposals or to adopt the counter proposal, a serious solution must be sought at both regional and global levels to the funding of those countries and communities who carry the burden,” she said.
“We should all stop the “elephant wars” amongst range states, and between range states and non-range states, and with the involvement of all sorts of organisations and interests.
“Rather, we should make a joint global effort to protect this iconic species that means so much to so many, recognising that their conservation must go hand in hand with creating real conditions for improved lives, livelihoods and opportunities, for those who co-habit with them.
“They can no longer be left out of the equation.”
For now, however, the “elephant wars” continue in Geneva as African brother takes on African brother.