The East African

Why Africa should not celebrate ban on ivory markets

Researchers say there is no scientific evidence linking burning of ivory to reduction in poaching.

Kenya burned 105 tonnes of ivory, which was valued at $15 million in 2016. It was the largest single ivory burn globally. FILE PHOTO | NATION

By GERALD MBANDA

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IN SUMMARY

• Countries that have elephant and rhino populations should be supported in order to protect these species, rather than being subjected to treaties that only seem to serve foreign interests.

China, which for a decade has been the world’s largest ivory market is hailed for its recent ban on ivory trade and shutting down more than 150 factories and shops dealing in ivory products.

Unfortunately, but not surprising, African countries supported the move, claiming it will end poaching and protect elephants and rhinos.

China’s decision came as a result of persistent pressure from Western conservation groups and governments under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

African countries have the largest elephant population in the world, led by Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. These countries have previously refused to burn ivory, and researchers say there is no scientific evidence linking burning of ivory to reduction in poaching.

The countries mentioned have tonnes of ivory worth millions of dollars that would support their economies but the countries are not allowed by the Cites convention to sell them. Yet, the same convention does not outlaw trophy hunting.

Under the Cites convention, African countries have since 1989, been urged to burn all ivory confiscated from poachers as a way of protecting rhinos and elephants.

In 2016, Kenya burnt 105 tonnes of ivory valued at $15 million — the largest single ivory burn globally. This was carried out at a time when a number of wild life conservation projects were underfunded and ironically turning to  Western countries for support.

Kenya has been burning ivory since 1989, but poaching has not stopped. It seems to me that Africa is still subjected to pre-colonial and neo-colonial treaties like Cites which do not serve the continent’s interests.

Treaties

Countries that have elephant and rhino populations should be supported in order to protect these species, rather than being subjected to treaties that only seem to serve foreign interests.

It is possible for Africa to get commercial value out of ivory, which is referred to as “white gold,” through legal channels while at the same time protect rhinos and elephants. Africa needs ivory dollars to support conservation efforts, build health centres, schools and ultimately end poverty.

The Cites policy of ending ivory markets mimic the sentiments of the 1980s when the World Bank and IMF urged a structural adjustment programme in Africa.

It resulted in countries being plunged into a debt cycle where they needed to take on more loans to pay debts that they couldn’t use for development.

The Zambian government, for example, is said to have spent 35 times more money on debt repayment than on both primary and secondary education, between 1990 and 1993.

Nigeria which borrowed $5 billion in 1978 had paid back $16 billion by 2000 (more than three times what it borrowed), but still owed 31 billion.

Conservation measures

African countries that have embraced modern conservation measures and new technology such as drones to fight poachers have seen impressive results.

Community-based conservation methods that educate and economically empower local communities also help deter poaching. Measures to curb corruption among game rangers and tough laws to prosecute poachers are also great ways of ending the vice.

Governments should also take action to stop human-animal conflicts by fencing game parks.

Africa should be bound to international treaties that benefit the continent’s people, and I believe it is not too late to advocate for the reversal of CITES action and re-open legal ivory markets.

Gerald Mbanda, is a journalist based in Kigali. Twitter: @GeraldMbanda