Posted on | april 13, 2011 | No Comments
The 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15) of the Conference on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) simply known as World Wildlife Trade Talks took place in Qatar’s humid capital of Doha in March. In these talks, unlike the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, where Africa adopted a common position, disharmony among African neighbours reigned supreme.
Nowhere was this divergence of opinion felt as strongly as within the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (COMESA) blocs. Kenya took an opposing position on elephants vis a vis her regional bloc members Tanzania and Zambia.
Both Tanzania and Zambia had put in proposals seeking to down-list their elephant populations from Appendix I to Appendix II, paving the way for Dar es Salaam and Lusaka to offload their 90 and 21 tonnes of ivory stockpiles respectively.
As expected Kenya stuck to her 20-year-old protectionist position, which rubbed her erstwhile neighbours up the wrong way.
Why did the EAC and COMESA members risk friendly relations at CITES?
Kenyan President MwaiKibaki waived his own Executive Order banning his entire Cabinet from travelling abroad until a new Constitution is well on its way in place to allow an exception to the rule which saw Noah Wekesa, the Wildlife and Forestry minister, travelling to Doha.
This was testimony of how important CITES is to Nairobi. In other words, the range countries of East, Central and southern Africa are major players in the multi-billion-shilling global wildlife trade (both legal and illegal).
While many people would want to think that the wildlife trade is all about elephant tusks, the reality is that it is much more than this and has surpassed human trafficking, and almost caught up with gun-running and drug trafficking. The International Police Organisation (Interpol) defines wildlife crime as the “taking, trading, exploiting or possessing of the world’s wild flora and fauna in contravention of national and international laws”.
Conservative estimates put the global trade in animals, plants and their by-products at a mind-boggling US$159 billion annually!
A dossier released in 2006 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC) — a wildlife trade monitoring network — and entitled “The International Wildlife Trade and Organised Crime” revealed: “It is estimated that the global trade in animals, plants and their by-products is worth a total of around US$159 billion a year.
Although the scale of the illegal trade is difficult to estimate, it is clear that the rewards it offers to unscrupulous, illegitimate traders, businesses, organised criminals and major organised crime groups are very high indeed and probably second only to the drugs trade in terms of the potential levels of profit on offer.
These rewards are made possible by a market for wildlife species and derivatives which is fuelled by a range of factors, including fashion, the desire for luxury goods (including caviar and furs), traditional medicines, low-cost or rare timber and the personal obsessions of specimen collectors.”
The trade in flora and fauna is obscenely lucrative, so much so that the dreaded Mafia (both Russian and Italian), the Chinese Triads, the Japanese Yakuza and the Central American drug lords are deeply enmeshed in it.
The dossier also notes that these hardcore criminal organisations are using the highly profitable wildlife by-products by converting existing routes for illegal businesses in arms, drugs and human trafficking for those seeking a better life in the West.
The report asserts: “The smuggling of rare and exotic specimens is fuelled by market demand from collectors, endangered species especially of tropical birds, reptiles, amphibians and orchids are sought by collectors for their aesthetic appeal, breeding potential and rarity.
CITES-listed and other species protected by law command higher prices than those not protected, so illegal specimens will find a market among collectors prepared to overlook the means by which the specimens are obtained, and the environmental consequences of their actions. Specialist collectors exist for all wildlife parts, dead specimens, insects, skulls, birds and eggs.”
This dossier has now been followed up by a comprehensive online investigative study undertaken by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) since 2004 which culminated in a highly illuminating report dubbed “Killing with Keystrokes: An Investigation of the Illegal Wildlife Trade on the World Wide Web” published in 2008. In this report IFAW found out that the Internet has become a fast growing marketplace for wildlife species.
Following up on IFAW’s report, with its official newsletter CITES Issue 19 under the banner headline “Investigating the Internet Wildlife Trade” the Conference reckons: “The Internet has revolutionised the way we exchange ideas, information and merchandise. Understandably, this pervasive and powerful technology has become the world’s largest marketplace, one that is always open for business.
Unregulated, anonymous and unlimited, the Internet provides endless opportunities for criminal activity and transactions. Increasingly, it is the means by which the illicit trade in wildlife is conducted.
The illegal wildlife trade is having a devastating effect on animals, ecosystems, and the communities that rely on them worldwide, making it one of the major wildlife conservation challenges of our generation.” A look at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (equivalent of the Kenya Wildlife Service) records reveals that Kenya is the largest exporter of baboons to the United States.
The East African Community countries are a major player in the wildlife trade, both as a major source and as a conduit of species.
This explains the bad blood. While officials in Nairobi have continuously downplayed the icy relations with Dar and Lusaka, with KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich asserting, “Our relationship with Tanzania is good and we deal with several cross- border issues”, the real deal is that Dar and Lusaka are angry.
However hard Nairobi may try to downplay the Doha talks effects on EAC/COMESA relations, the fact is they are strained and the sooner they embark on healing the better it will be for the regional economic bloc’s smooth operations devoid of sibling rivalries
AUTHOR: Wanjohi Kabukuru
E-MAIL: wanjohi [at] positiveoutcomes.org