Reports that there is further disunity in Africa over efforts to convince parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to legalise commercial ivory trade took a beating recently when Botswana, Kenya, Uganda and Gabon added their signatures to the petition to ban international ivory trade make very sad reading.
We recently reported that former Botswana President Ian Khama, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Gabon President Ali Bongo signed a petition with over a million signatures calling for the European Union to close its ivory trade.
This comes at a time Southern African countries ? Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe ? are stuck with stockpiles of ivory worth billions of dollars because of non-committal by the international community on the ivory ban.
While we are not surprised by Kenya’s move given that the East African country has for a long time been opposed to ivory trade, we were taken aback that Botswana has broken ranks with fellow SADC member states to support the ban on ivory trade.
We note that while countries and political leaders play politics, it is the communities that live alongside elephants and other wildlife that continue to suffer. In Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, there is widespread human-wildlife conflict, as a result of the increasing elephant populations.
Contrary to widespread fears that allowing ivory trade will result in increased poaching activities, we believe a lift in the ban on trade in ivory and elephant products to allow for controlled trade will have a more positive impact on those communities as the funds would be channelled towards conservation efforts.
Zimbabwe is a case in point where the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) has scored successes in conservation efforts, allowing communities to benefit from wildlife products. In turn, those communities jealously guard the wildlife and will brook no poaching.
Now Zambia and Zimbabwe are knocking on the doors of the United States and other relevant authorities to ascertain reports that the ban to export ivory to that country has been lifted. This followed reports last November that US President Donald Trump was considering lifting a Barrack Obama-era ban on the import of sport-hunted trophies of elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The fact that there is no firm commitment from the US government means that it, too, could be succumbing to pressure from activities who are campaigning against the ban. Yet lifting the ban would have far reaching economic consequences for the SADC countries, which are sitting on ivory stockpiles worth close to a billion dollars, a figure that would go a long way in developing these countries.
It is our view that the issue of ivory trade should be resolved once and for all and for the benefit of all parties concerned.
There are sound conservation efforts in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe which have seen the elephant population ballooning to unstainable levels, hence the rise in human-elephant conflicts and a huge impact on the environment.
Besides, sound wildlife management has resulted in tourists flocking to these SADC countries which have created huge wildlife parks such as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) and the Great Limpopo Transfontier Park, in the process bringing in the much-needed foreign currency. It therefore defies logic that these countries would sit on their laurels and watch their elephant populations being depleted by poachers!
Allowing controlled trade would result in the countries raising enough resources to support the fight against poaching and at the same time developing communities living alongside wild animals.
The fight against the ban on the trade in ivory and elephant products needs all SADC countries to come together and convince CITES and other parties that this is beneficial to their communities. United they stand, divided they fall.