How SADC votes were 'stolen' at CITES

SADC states with significant ivory stockpiles will have to keep waiting PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
SADC states with significant ivory stockpiles will have to keep waiting PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

GENEVA: The US$600 million Western animal rights groups ‘industry’ is widely believed to have used its financial power to bribe ‘weak’ East and West African countries to vote against Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries’ proposal to start international trade in ivory.

The three elephant over-populated SADC countries, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe submitted a joint proposal to trade in thousands of tonnes of stockpiled ivory. But they were incredibly defeated by 101 (81%) no-votes, with only 22 votes (19%) supporting their proposal.  That vote 81% to 19% - that’s the smoking gun.

It suggests that animal rights groups had long rigged the votes that were cast last week at the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), in Geneva, Switzerland.

How can three elephant overpopulated countries that contribute more than 70% of the world’s total elephant population receive 19% of the total vote in their bid to trade in ivory? That is the question defeated governments and communities were asking after the vote.

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. Not accepted: 82% versus 18% accepted.

Observers and CITES CoP18 said the heavy losses collectively suffered by SADC countries are suspicious and would forever be contested. They dismissed the UN CITES voting process as “tainted rigged and not free and fair.”

Reacting to the vote, Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Kitso Mokaila said: “I am flabbergasted, disgusted, demoralised, incensed and we totally have no faith in CITES whatsoever.” “Fraud, rigged elections, sold votes bought by the Europeans.” 

He declined to disclose the collective action that SADC countries would take following the CITES election result. “We have 90 days to do something that’s got to be done and that is what should be done. Let’s consider it,” said Mokaila amid speculations of a possible SADC CITES pullout.

He also noted with surprise that countries such as Angola had voted against SADC countries’ ivory trade bid, despite the good meeting that Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi held with the Angolan President João Lourenço to convince the country to do “what’s important.” 

President Masisi also held a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta for similar reasons but Mokaila said he was not at liberty to publicly disclose the outcome of that meeting. 

Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta warned CITES member countries that the real threat to elephants are rural communities that don’t benefit from them and suffer the costs of living with wildlife through crop destruction and killing of their loved ones.

He argued that failure to reward communities for conservation success as CITES member countries are doing through a vote against ivory trade, is an unfortunate and dangerous recipe that forces communities to develop negative attitudes towards wildlife. 

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality industry, Munesu Munodawafa said that CITES was known as an organisation where decisions are based on science, but the result against elephant overpopulated SADC countries suggested that CITES decisions were no longer based on that.

“Decisions in CITES are now being made on the whims of people with financial resources,” he said.

“One typical example is that we command more than 70% of the world’s elephant population but we are being denied the rights to trade in our stockpiled ivory by 32 countries who do not have a single elephant.” Meanwhile, president of Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, Dr Emmanuel Fundira said SADC countries face a bleak future, but have demonstrated that they are capable of sustainable management of their elephant population.

“I don’t want to think we should give up,” said Dr Fundira. “There is a possibility for SADC to declare this CITES election null and void.  “As you can see there are quite a lot of consultations that are going to happen now in terms of the way forward.  “There is a proposal at the moment to review CITES because there is a deviation from CITES process and vote rigging should be one of them.”

The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Moses Chinhengo said that SADC countries needed to meet and decide on the way forward.  “Whether SADC stays or pulls out of CITES is going to be a government decision,” he said. “Personally, there is nothing to persuade me that SADC should remain in an organisation that acts against our interests.”

Speaking in support of ivory trade, representatives of the South African government urged CITES to reward and not punish SADC countries for their conservation success. They expressed shock and disappointment at the vote against SADC countries’ bid to trade in ivory by East and West African countries that have grouped into the anti-sustainable use African Elephant Coalition forces, through the financial support of Western forces.

At CITES, the SADC rural communities that share the land with wildlife, including elephants but continue to be denied benefits, helplessly watched as their countries lost an ivory trade bid that would have brought them conservation and rural development benefits.

“CITES for me is a rotten organisation and the UN needs to look into this rigged voting process,” said a representative of the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO), Maxi Louis.  “They claim to be a scientific organisation that bases its decisions on science, but they are not even looking at science.  “I have lost faith in this institution and I would like our government to know that we are wasting our time and taxpayers money by remaining in CITES.”

A Botswana rural communities representative and a member of the Ngamiland Council of NGOs, Gakemotho Satau said the ‘stolen vote’ had made him lose trust in CITES.

“My proposal is that SADC countries should just denounce or pullout of CITES because the voting is not based on science. I am not happy with the voting process and its outcome.”

Observers who spoke on condition of anonymity said the sharply divided vote against the ivory trade had once again confirmed that African countries continue to be divided by Western forces.

The division, they said, brings memories of the ways in which the continent was partitioned into Western countries’ economic and political colonies at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference.

“In Berlin they used military force but at CITES CoP18 they used dollar power. The interests are still the same; to divide and manipulate Africa for financial gain,” an observer said. “The vote against ivory will bring Western animal rights groups massive financial donations from gullible Western people to whom they have always successfully lied to for the past 44 years that when you ban trade you save elephants and other wild species.

“The truth is that when they ban trade they ironically create demand for ivory, resulting in an increase in elephant poaching, a crisis that they selfishly create.  “This is done in order to continue benefitting from African elephants by again asking for donations.”

Curiously, in her official CITES CoP18 opening remarks, the CITES secretary general, Ivonne Higguero expressed optimism that CITES would facilitate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Ironically, the rigged vote against SADC countries’ ivory trade will further trap SADC countries in rural poverty as money, observers said.  “Without trade in ivory, the African elephant cannot pay for its upkeep and protection but Southern African countries are still obliged to look after it,” an observer at CITES said.

“This forces SADC governments to divert their ever scarce financial resources to elephant conservation and not human development.  “They then use for elephant conservation treasury money that was originally set aside for poverty alleviation, provision of clean drinking water and road construction as well as school and hospital construction in rural areas.”

*Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa. This article is published with his express consent

Editor's Comment
Botswana needs proper rehabilitation centres

Our sister publication The Monitor earlier this week carried a story on serious human rights abuses being meted on people who have gone for rehabilitation at a boot camp in Kgatleng. Allegations cite verbal and physical abuses, children being stripped of their dignity and shaved in front of others. While the abuse came to light after a suicide incident of a 23-year-old, Botswana Institute for Reintegration and Rehabilitation of Offenders’...

Have a Story? Send Us a tip
arrow up