Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe are going to submit protest documents that will allow them to legally trade in their elephants, rhino and giraffes.
The three countries are declaring themselves independent of the controls exercised by the Geneva-based UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
They are joined in their protest by another five unnamed SADC countries whose proposals to trade in live wildlife and wildlife products were also rejected at the tri-annual CITES meeting in August.
These positions, known as “reservations”, will be made known to CITES by November 26.
They signify acceptance of the Final Draft Report that was released at the SADC meeting of Ministers of the Environment in Tanzania on Friday last week.
The report recommends that all SADC countries protest the decisions to restrict trade in species in defiance of compelling scientific evidence that suggests such restrictions are unnecessary and because of a rigged voting system at CITES COP18 in Geneva.
The SADC countries’ move is also in protest to the first-ever listing “as threatened” of the thriving giraffe populations of Southern Africa.
According to various articles of the Convention, a reservation over a particular species means that Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as the other five unnamed protesting SADC countries, would no longer have to adhere to CITES rules with respect to that particular species.
They would no longer be restricted from trading in the species and their products with other countries that also claim the same reservation, or non-members of the Convention.
“We agreed as a region that we will all deposit reservations on our three major species which is the giraffe, the elephant and the white rhino,” said Zimbabwe’s Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Acting Minister Nqobizita Mangaliso Ndlovu.
“We want to believe that this is the starting point for us as a block to register serious displeasure in the way we are being treated,” he said. “I think we will be heard. It is a very bold political statement that we have taken.”
For a long time, SADC rural communities have been urging their governments to protest CITES decisions by either pulling out or issuing an appropriate reservation.
“Botswana communities would like to welcome the protest documents to UN CITES by SADC countries,” said Mr Siyoka Simasiku, Executive Director for Ngamiland Council of NGOs (NCONGO).
“The SADC decision will ensure that Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme in Botswana yield meaningful tourism benefits to communities not only through hunting, but through other development projects.”
Mr Charles Jonga, director of the Zimbabwe CAMPFIRE Programme that promotes conservation and development in rural areas through wise use of wildlife and natural resources said SADC countries had taken a bold step in listening to the voices of their local communities.
Botswana permanent secretary in the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Mr Thato Raphaka, said his country will take reservations in protest of CITES COP18 decisions on the giraffe and elephant.
Asked if his country would make a reservation submission to CITES by November 26, Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, Mr Pohamba Shifeta said, “Yes, we will do the same.”
South Africa-based True Green Alliance CEO, Mr Ron Thomson said SADC countries “should take this move to its ultimate conclusion.”
If it did, it could create an African wildlife industry the likes of which the world has never seen before.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to be an African — a man of Africa — and to be of this new renaissance,” said Mr Thomson.
“For the first time, the whole world is being told just how bad and how corrupt CITES has become over the years.
“When an important block of nations (SADC) has rebelled against the treatment they endured from the Convention, the whole world should take notice.”
At CITES COP18 in Geneva, the elephant over-populated SADC countries — Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe — submitted a joint proposal to trade in their thousands of tonnes of stockpiled ivory, but were incredibly defeated by 81 percent no-votes, with only 19 percent supporting their proposal.
Zambia 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.
That proposal was not accepted, 82 percent to 18 percent.
Eswatini (Swaziland) lost its bid to trade in its stockpiled white rhino horn.
Observers and CITES CoP18 said the heavy losses collectively suffered by SADC countries were suspicious and would forever get contested.
They dismissed the UN CITES voting process as “tainted, rigged and not free and fair.”
Voting rigging is done in different manipulative ways.
Mr Godfrey Harris, managing director of the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute, said the rigged voting system includes, “bribing the leadership of former colonies through board memberships, speaking honoraria, luxury travel, training scholarships and other gifts.”
He said that fixing the voting to favour Western policies should be treated as racist.
Recently, western animal rights groups allegedly rigged CITES votes through, among other things, paying inducement money to East and West African representatives of the African Elephant Coalition countries.
The Coalition was formed and funded by Western animal rights groups.
Delegates from East Africa and West African countries were allegedly seen at CITES COP18 in numerous and suspicious compromising meetings with Western animal rights groups.
They were coached on what to say in television interviews.
Then after the SADC ivory trade proposal was defeated, the very same delegates were seen celebrating with Western nationals. Evidence of WhatsApp strategic communications between western delegates and government officials from East Africa is available.
But not all Western nationals are happy to see how the sovereign right of African countries to benefit from their wildlife has been fraudulently suppressed.
“SADC countries should throw the CITES COP18 resolutions out because of the overbearing approach of the West to African wildlife management and use, no matter the niceties of the Treaty (CITES),” said Mr Harris.
In a thunderous statement to the final plenary session of the CITES meeting, he asked: “What gives you in the West the right to repeat the colonial mistakes of the 19th century? How dare you dictate to Africa or other former colonial areas how they should manage their natural resources?”
Mr Harris added that there “seems little difference” between the millions spent to corrupt Africa’s leadership now and the arrogance that Bismarck, Rhodes, Livingston, Kruger and other colonialists brought to Africa with their version of civilisation (Western), their favoured style of religion (Christianity), and their form of economics (government-protected capitalism).
“We fought for political independence and we now have it,” said SADC Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism Director of Wildlife, Dr Maurus Msuha. “The next fight for us is the fight for the right to use our resources for the development of our own people. This needs political pressure from our governments who should say that we don’t need this anymore (being denied our sovereign rights to trade in our wildlife products).”
Delivering a SADC statement in his capacity as SADC Chair, Tanzania told the plenary session at CITES COP18 that the time had come to seriously reconsider “whether there are any meaningful benefits from our membership to CITES.”
Reacting to SADC countries’ unprecedented heavy losses in a CITES voting process President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced his country’s radical protest plan against CITES.
This triggered excitement at CITES CoP18 among the pro-sustainable use delegates from different parts of the world who view CITES as having continued to punish SADC countries by denying them their sovereign right to benefit from their wildlife.
“That’s the way to go (reservations and pull-out),” said Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, Shifeta. “We are not happy with CITES CoP18 and also not happy with CoP17. We have other partners who can help us to support our conservation by trading with us. We don’t want donations. We need and want trade. We are being punished at every CITES.”
Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.
By Emmanuel Koro