CITES repeated 19th century colonisers' mistakes

Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes

The managing director of a Los Angeles-based NGO says the recent CITES’ rejection of Southern Africa’s ivory proposals continues a racist approach endemic in the global body. GODFREY HARRIS* delivered a fiery address that discomfited many

The Ivory Education Institute is dedicated to an understanding of the historic, practical, and artistic uses of ivory.

For CITES — an organisation that pays an enormous amount of lip service to the scientific basis for its decisions — getting you and your colleagues facts about this unique material is a difficult task.

One participant here even told me that he really didn’t care what I said, what I wrote or what I thought about anything to do with ivory.


He didn’t want to know about the abundant number of animals that contribute to the pool of ivory or the various special uses of ivory over the years.  We have won.

There is nothing you can do. Ivory is finished as a substance for any use or purpose.

I hope not. It has a continuing role to play in our culture. I trust there are still people in this room who relish the chance to think rather than rearrange their prejudices.

This was a less productive CoP than many think.  The agenda was too long, the interventions of parties too numerous and unproductive, the lack of back and forth debate too obvious, and the committee chairs too parsimonious in seeking the views of observers.

Because of these reasons, I have a question for the Western delegates here.

 - What gives you the right to repeat the colonial mistakes of the 19th century? How dare you dictate to Africa — or other former colonial areas — how they should manage their natural resources?

 - There seems little difference between the millions spent to corrupt Africa’s leadership and the arrogance that Bismark, Rhodes, Livingston, Kruger and others brought to Africa with their version of (Western) civilisation, their favoured style of religion (Christianity), and their form of economics (government-protected capitalism).

 - Bribing the leadership of former colonies through board memberships, speaking honoraria, luxury travel, training scholarships and other gifts is wrong. Using these mechanisms to push poor nations to accept Western attitudes and beliefs about how wildlife should be treated is as racist an approach as any white nationalist expresses.

Thank you Mr Chairman for this opportunity to give you and your colleagues the truth about CITES as some of us have come to see it.

 *Harris is the managing director of the Ivory Education Institute, a Los Angeles-based NGO established in the mid-1990s to share information about ivory. The above is an address he gave at the closing plenary of the CITES CoP18 which ended in Geneva on Wednesday.

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