We target small fry in war against poaching and drug trafficking (Kenya)


By Maina Kiai, Daily Nation

Date Published
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is easily the shining light of this regime.

Combining grace and determination, she has appealed to Kenyans with the quiet dignity with which she carries herself and the issues she has chosen to engage with.

Her determined run in the London Marathon, using her status to raise funds for mobile clinics in every county is admirable, allowing us a glimpse of the effort and determination that it takes to participate in such a gruelling event. Of course there are some who saw sponsoring her as a way to get into the better books of the regime, but the cause is noble.

But it is her role as Patron of the Save the Elephants campaign that stands out. For saving elephants is not just an environmental and economic matter.

It is also a role that necessitates standing up to corruption and impunity, the indispensable siblings of poaching.

Make no mistake: wildlife poaching is a well-planned criminal activity, with similar networks and protections as those afforded to drug smuggling and corruption.


It is not simply, as Kenya Wildlife Society (KWS) would like to tell us, a matter of “human-wildlife” conflicts, even as they acknowledge that more than 60 elephants have been butchered this year, following on from the 384 killed in 2012.

Ivory poaching — like drug trafficking and corruption — is lucrative, with the illegal global market at about $1.5 billion (Sh130 billion). A typical elephant carries about 10kg of ivory, with a street price of about $100,000 (Sh8.5 million) per elephant.

And because most customs agencies do not have specialised detection systems as they do for illegal drugs, it is estimated that what is seized is just 10 per cent of the ivory shipped across the world.

With these sorts of figures, you can be sure that this is not about small poachers doing small business. This is big time crime in every way.

It is not easy to ferry these huge elephant tusks from parks and conservancies to the airport and the port of Mombasa for shipment to China and Thailand, which are the destinations of choice.

Ivory smuggling means a good number of people must be involved. From KWS staff, to police, to customs officials, to the crew in airlines and ships, the chain is a long and expensive one.

And it needs not just a lot of money to grease palms but also a good deal of power and influence to hush things up.


These are essentially the same channels that drug traffickers use, minus the KWS warders.

They are so protected that even our international partners — such as the Australian Navy that recently intercepted Africa’s largest drugs shipment in our waters — have so little trust in our system that they prefer to dispose of drugs seized than hand them over, certain that doing so will mean that the drugs remain on the market.

It is instructive that the people we have seen taken to court on poaching charges are always at the lower end of the criminal chain. They are the ones suspected of actually killing the elephants.

We have not seen the brokers, the truckers, the financiers and the masterminds ever arrested and charged.

And just like with terrorism and grand corruption, the masterminds behind poaching are highly connected and certain of their impunity. The last time we witnessed such an onslaught against our wildlife was in the 1970s, when Jomo Kenyatta was in power.

Then, like now, the masterminds were a chosen few who were untouchable.

Yes, the First Lady has recently taken a back seat on saving elephants, wildlife and our environment, but that could be due to her focus on the marathon.

With the marathon done and dusted, let us hope that she will soon be back to take on poaching and shame those who demean her — and us too — by denying our children and grandchildren their rightful legacy of abundant wildlife and nature.