By Emmanuel Koro, Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist and author who writes independently on environmental and developmental issues in Africa. Published in December 2022.
How does the Humane Society International Wildlife Policy Specialist, Ms Manon Dené also working for IFAW, Franz Weber Foundation and The Ocean Foundation get the power to be listened to by Western African delegates all the time before an important CITES COP19 vote? Oh, she is also presented on her Linkedin profiles as EU and West & Central Africa specialist. She speaks French and English. Do you get it now… what she is doing in all the three photos?
It’s now well-known that vote-rigging is taking place within the CITES decision-making framework that is presided over by the CITES Secretariat.
For the past few years, especially after the overwhelming and totally unjustified vote against their proposed once-off sales for the stockpiled ivory at the 18th CITES Conference of parties in Geneva, Switzerland in 2019, the wildlife-rich and elephant over-populated SADC countries have complained vociferously in the media but not directly and formally to the CITES Secretariat about vote-rigging within the CITES decision-making framework.
Barking up the wrong tree
Sadly, complaining in the media about vote-rigging and not directly and formally to the CITES Secretariat is barking up the wrong tree. It’s no different from the fallacy of engaging a private security company to prosecute a thief whom one has caught red-handed, instead of handing him/her over with evidence to the state police that has the legal mandate to arrest and prosecute such culprits.
This is the ironic approach that SADC countries have over the years been taking towards vote- rigging in CITES decision-making framework. They complain in the media and not to the CITES Secretariat that has long declared itself as having the powers and mandate to deal with vote-rigging offenders.
Call it fear to prosecute those who harm you and your wildlife. Alternatively, call it ignorance by the complainants – not knowing who to approach for help. The reality is that the complainants who are SADC countries have never really met together formally to discuss how best to address vote-rigging within the CITES decision-making framework. They continue to complain in the media. This helps expose the culprits but does not solve the vote-rigging challenge.
“Fraud, rigged elections, sold votes bought by the Europeans,” said former Botswana Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Onkokame Mokaila, describing the stolen election overseen by the UN CITES reacting to the over 81% votes against the SADC countries ivory trade bid at CITES CoP 18 Geneva, Switzerland.
Speaking in support of SADC countries’ ivory trade proposals, representatives of the Southern African Government SADC chairperson then, Tanzania urged CITES to reward and not punish, them for their conservation success.
The Southern African delegates expressed shock and disappointment at the vote against SADC countries’ bid to trade in ivory cast by East and West African countries that have been formed into anti-sustainable use African Elephant Coalition (AEC) force, through the financial support of Western forces. Each time these forces and countries spoke they declared their links with the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) before the vote. In turn before the AEC and Kenya voted they would also declare similarly that they would vote against sustainable use. By implication, they apparently confirmed that they had long been paid bribes by Western animal rights groups and countries to vote against sustainable use. That’s clear vote-rigging.
Disillusioned SADC Region
Without literally saying that there is vote-rigging within the CITES decision-making framework in its closing statement at CITES CoP18 which statement the current SADC Chair Mozambique echoed at CoP19, Tanzania the then SADC Chair at CoP18 said, “Today, CITES discards proven, working conservation models in favour of ideologically driven anti-use and anti-trade models. Such models are dictated largely by non-State actors who have no experience with responsibility for, or ownership over wildlife resources. The result has been failure to adopt progressive, equitable, inclusive, and science-based conservation strategies. We believe this failure has arisen from the domination of protectionist ideology over science decision in making within CITES.”
Tanzania continued: “This anti-sustainable use and anti-trade ideology now dominates decisions made by many States who are party to CITES.
“States are increasingly influenced by the dominance both at meetings of the decision-making structures of CITES and in their run up by protectionist whose ideological position has no basis in science or experience and is not shared in any way by the Member States of SADC and their people.
“This conservation model is based on entrenched and emotive rhetoric and discourse, backed up by intense lobbying, as opposed to science. Foremost amongst these ideas now dominating CITES is the unfounded belief that all trade fuels illegal, unsustainable trade, ignoring clear evidence to the contrary.”
CoP18 Vote Rigging Scandal Resurfaces at Panama City CoP19
With same animal right groups fundraising industry influenced vote-rigging pattern having spilled into CITES CoP19 in Panama, Mozambique the current SADC Chairperson issued a similar closing statement that SADC delivered at the August 2018 CITES CoP18. This suggests that the veiled vote-rigging complaints that former SADC Chairperson Tanzania made at CITES CoP18 fell on deaf ears. No doubt, the protest statement that Mozambique made at CITES CoP19 in its capacity as the chairperson of SADC also fell on deaf ears.
Therefore, more animal rights groups influenced vote-rigging shall sadly continue in 2025, at CITES CoP20 whose venue is yet to be announced.
“In conclusion, I would like to emphasise our desire to see Africa united,” said SADC Chairperson, Mozambique, hinting at the neo-colonial-style and needless divisions in Africa, caused by the animal rights groups fundraising industry through the formation of the anti- trade AEC group of African countries, comprising West Africa, including Kenya from East Africa. “We need to find common ground and speak with one voice for the good of local communities and for the conservation of our biological diversity.”
The AEC, including Kenya rejected all the SADC countries’ proposals to trade in ivory, rhino horn and live elephants. Influenced and totally controlled by the animal rights groups fundraising industry the AEC and Kenya also stunningly voted against the rural communities’ involvement in CITES decision-making framework. Incredible! This was arguably a total sell out of one’s own people at the command of the animal rights groups fundraising industry paymasters. Surprised by such a position made by Kenya and the AEC, this report writer stood up and to take photos of the delegates of Kenya and Mali who spoke the most against rural communities’ inclusion in the CITES decision-making framework. The delegate of the Government of Mali shied away from the camera, but he was still captured and can be clearly identified from a side view. Drama broke out when the head of Kenya’s delegation Dr Patrick Omondi was being photographed. He loudly protested being photographed and pointed a finger at the photographer saying, “I know what you are write.”
How could Dr Omondi speak publicly against his own African rural communities and other rural communities world-wide’s involvement in CITES decision-making framework and then choose not to be seen by the communities that he sold out. One can only conclude that Dr Omondi voted against his conscience at the command of the powers that be and later regretted it.
Quite frankly, it can be argued that there is nothing more embarrassing than voting against the very same people whose voices and views we as Africans have always wanted to be heard and be seriously considered in the CITES decision-making framework. Again, another animal rights groups fundraising industry influenced vote-rigging was the conclusion made by disappointed supporters of communities during the post-vote corridor talks. Sadly, such talk of like-minded people without confronting the culprits will have no impact towards helping bring communities into the CITES decision-making framework.
Vote-rigging Questions CITES Secretariat needs to answer before SADC countries can formally provide evidence
Can vote-rigging in the CITES decision-making framework ever be stopped?
Will the CITES Secretariat ever act decisively to punish the vote-rigging Western animal rights groups fundraising industry and some CITES member countries from the West, that support the animal rights groups because they need the votes of millions of their anti-use movement followers; come local political election time? These are same Western states that finance CITES, such as the USA (top financier) followed by the European Union (EU), Canada and the UK. So, can the CITES Secretariat afford to bite the hand that feeds it? Also, can it afford to act against countries such as the USA and BINGOs that formed and funded its establishment and are now largely in charge of its financial wellbeing?
It really remains to be seen if the CITES Secretariat can ever act against vote-rigging.
Furthermore, the CITES Secretariat curiously doesn’t ask member countries to sign declaration forms as part of their registration for each CITES CoP meeting and Standing Committee (SC) meeting, asking them to swear that they weren’t sponsored by a private organisation or another party etc. This was revealed by the CITES Communications Advisor, Mr David Witbourn in his answers to the media questions from this report writer, answering on behalf CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuerro.
Therefore, it can be argued that this suggests the CITES Secretariat apparently lacks proactive and pre-emptive action against vote-rigging.
Asked what punitive measures CITES would take if a party or observer NGO was found guilty of vote-rigging, Mr Whitbourn said, “…any evidence would be fully investigated, and any necessary action taken.”
Meanwhile, we remain in the dark regarding what “any necessary action taken” means.
CITES cannot exclude Parties, but it could exclude them from the Sponsored Delegates Programme (SDP). Concerning NGOs, a motion could be presented to reject their application as “observer” at CITES meetings.
How SADC Countries Can Demand CITES Secretariat Action Against Vote-rigging
The vote-rigging findings provide an opportunity for SUCO – or even better a Party to CITES, or a group of SADC countries – to challenge CITES to now act decisively against vote-rigging, based on the commitment made by Mr David Whitbourn, CITES Secretariat Communications Advisor in his answer to this report writer’s media questions on vote-rigging, that if vote-rigging evidence were to be presented to the Secretariat it would be “fully investigated…. and any necessary action taken. “Mali has ironically presented vote-rigging evidence against itself.
The following is how a submission to CITES Secretariat complaining against Mali’s damning vote-rigging evidence could be structured:
Paragraph 9. of Resolution Conf. 17.03. URGES governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and private bodies which, instead of using the possibility to provide funds to the Sponsored Delegates Project, decide to fund the participation in CoP meetings of representatives from other Parties (for example by covering travel or accommodation costs), to inform the Secretariat about such funding before the relevant CoP meeting and CALLS upon the Secretariat to publish this information before the meeting.
Paragraph 10. of Resolution Conf. 17.03. SIMILARLY URGES Parties whose delegates did not obtain funding from the Sponsored Delegates Project but benefited from self-funding or funding from another government, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, or private bodies for their participation in a CoP meeting to inform the Secretariat about such funding before the relevant CoP meeting and CALLS upon the Secretariat to publish this information before the meeting.
During the CoP19 Closing Ceremony, the Distinguished Delegate from Mali acknowledged having received financial assistance for CoP19 and earlier CoPs since 1994 from BINGOs named in this report and the Government of Israel.
In the CITES report that lists contributors to the Sponsored Delegates Project (SDP) for CoP19, Sponsored Delegates Project | CITES there are no indications of funding being provided to Mali by NGOs either by Mali itself or the NGOs, as requested by Conf. 17-03.
It appears that both Mali and the mentioned NGOs are in violation of the provisions of Resolution Conf. 17.03. We therefore request that the matter be investigated and provide indications of the “appropriate action” taken.
CITES Secretariat Continues To Say It’s Ignorant About Vote-rigging
“The CITES Secretariat is not aware of any vote-rigging taking place in its decision-making framework,” said Mr Witbourn.
Rewind to CoP19 interview with the CITES Secretary-General, Ivonne Higuero, the same statement was made by her that ‘the CITES Secretariat is not aware of any vote-rigging taking place in its decision-making framework.’
This writer had started investigating vote-rigging at CITES CoP18 before the interview with the CITES Secretary-General in Geneva at CITES CoP18. Therefore, he was not convinced that there was no vote-rigging within the CITES decision-making framework at the August 2018 CITES CoP18 in Geneva, Switzerland. As soon as he arrived in Switzerland and checked into a hotel while seated in a hotel reception area, vote-rigging alarm bells went off! The Director of Malawi National Parks was begging an animal rights NGO to pay for his accommodation telephonically. On the other end of the telephone was a young woman who sounded Western saying, “Oh, I am sorry that they have not paid for you. I will use my credit card to pay for your hotel accommodation.”
Within minutes the Malawian man was booked in.
The next day in Geneva when all SADC countries where meeting to drum up support for the vote for a once-off ivory trade, Malawi was conspicuous by its absence. Now you know how vote- rigging is done within the CITES decision-making framework.
About three years later at the 2022 Panama City CITES CoP19, the same Director of Malawi National Park openly revealed to the SUCO delegation that if he votes in support of sustainable use the animal rights groups in his country would have him fired. That’s vote-rigging! Malawi’s wildlife conservation is now heavily funded by animal rights groups that include the International Fund for animal Welfare, popularly known as IFAW. The Peace Parks Foundation also funds wildlife conservation in Malawi.
How and When Vote-rigging Happens
There is no doubt that vote-rigging occurs long before a vote is taken at CITES meetings. It is done by sponsoring wildlife management costs for a country as is happening in Kenya and in Malawi, paying government delegates’ airfares, hotel accommodation, honoraria or having the children’s university fees paid, secret lumpsum cash payments and being invited to workshops where they are coached on how to vote prior to CITES meetings.
How Does the CITES Secretariat React to Mali’s Self-Confessed Vote Bribes from Bingos?
In its closing remarks at CITES CoP19 the head of the Government of Mali stunningly confessed to having received vote bribes from BINGOs that include the following:
- “Foundation Franz Weber;
- Born Free Foundation;
- Species Survival Network;
- IFAW and;
- The Israeli
The Mali Government delegate admitted on behalf of his country and its President, Colonel Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta that the above-mentioned organisations not only supported him for his costs to attend CITES CoP19 but even other CoPs dating back to 1994. He continued to acknowledge other funders he did not mention by name. In thanking his paymasters, he also referred to his friends in the AEC that comprises West African nations. This suggest that the AEC members are apparently receiving similar support that Mali has continued to receive from the BINGOs dating back to 1994.
But for now, its Mali through its own public confession that CITES should ideally act against, based on the evidence provided that is available from all video platforms of the CITES Secretariat. All the CITES CoP19 proceedings were captured and stored on CITES’ video platform.
Therefore, this report challenges the CITES Secretariat to react or act against Mali’s public revelations that it was funded by BINGOs to attend CITES CoP19. This is the hard evidence that the CITES Secretariat said it needs to act against vote-rigging. We wait in anticipation for appropriate action to be taken against the Government of Mali.
“Any evidence of any matter which may contravene the Convention, should be submitted to the Secretariat and it will be investigated. We believe the CITES Secretariat is held in high esteem by the Parties to the Convention and we, daily, work to be worthy of that esteem in the support and advice we offer,” said Mr Witbourn before Mali’s confession that its attendance at CITES meetings since 1994 have been supported by BINGOs, including the Government of Israel.
Mali has ironically submitted evidence against itself. It remains to be seen what appropriate action the CITES Secretariat is going to take against it.
Why Vote-rigging Might Never Stop
Vote-rigging might arguably never stop.
It’s a fundraising business for the animal rights groups fundraising industry. They vote largely and almost exclusively against international trade in live megafauna such as elephants and rhinos and their products such as rhino horn and ivory and then lie to their millions of members and followers worldwide, that they have ‘saved’ African elephants, the white and black rhinos from international trade threat. Lies! Anti-use and anti-trade votes don’t help stop poaching but ironically fuel it.
Nevertheless, they use such lies to in turn ask their followers for donations. Their followers respond by donating almost US$1 billion dollars annually to this animal rights fundraising industry.
Sadly, the followers don’t know that funding the prevention of use and trade in wildlife, including its products disincentivises conservation. If they don’t benefit from wildlife, SADC rural communities who suffer the costs of living with these majestic animals would rather have them poached. Such little-known Western animal rights fundraising industry influenced trigger of poaching makes this industry worse than poachers. Why and how? It keeps both the poachers and illegal international ivory and rhino horn trade syndicates in business. Also, to be blamed for this are Western Governments that support the unjustified anti-trade propaganda. In the same camp of such culprits are animal rights groups captured West African nations who call themselves AEC, including Kenya from East Africa and lately Malawi from the SADC region.
What’s The Way Forward SADC Countries?
It’s currently unclear what action SADC countries plan to take against vote-rigging within the CITES decision-making framework.
They are currently licking their fresh wounds of the painful and needless CoP19 rejection of their deserving proposals for trade in ivory, live elephants, and rhino horn.
Since the embarrassing and unwarranted rejection votes they received at CITES CoP19; where arguably both their sovereign and human rights to benefit from international trade in ivory, rhino horn and live elephants totally disappeared – the SADC countries have become uncomfortably quiet.
No one knows the next move they can take. A pull-out from CITES or something innovative to trade innovatively, using whatever loopholes they can identify using the SADC and international legal minds. Whatever it is, it feels like they are likely to pull a wild card on CITES, particularly the anti-trade animal rights fundraising industry.
Zimbabwe reportedly wants to exit CITES
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe was recently quoted on SABC Television News as planning to exit CITES.
Disappointingly, the IFAW Vice-President, Zimbabwean national, Dr Jimmiel Mandima, was quoted on SABC Television News discouraging Zimbabwe from ditching CITES. One wonders if someone is apparently using IFAW as the spokesperson for Zimbabwe.
It’s not the job of IFAW to discourage Zimbabwe, a sovereign nation, not to pull-out of CITES. Then in turn promise insecure and unsustainable and demeaning IFAW cash handouts to pay for its elephant management. Yet, as explained by the country’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Victoria Falls, June 2019 Africa Wildlife Economy Summit, Zimbabwe’s ivory stocks “are worth over US$600 million and can finance the country’s wildlife management for the next 20 years” before any replenishment is needed. IFAW and no other donor has that kind of cash. Zimbabwe has it in its ivory stockpiles that should now be valued at more than US$600 million, more than three years later in December 2022.
SADC rural communities co-existing with wildlife want their presidents to pull out of CITES
The call for not only Zimbabwe but all wildlife-rich and elephant overpopulated SADC countries to pull-out CITES started after the August 2019 CITES CoP18. All SADC rural communities protested, calling upon their presidents to pull-out of CITES.
Upon learning that SADC countries’ proposals to trade internationally in ivory, rhino horn and live elephants had been rejected again at the November 2022 CITES CoP19 in Panama City, South Africa’s Makuya-based African Community Conservationists chairperson and resident of elephant over-populated Makuya wildlife producer community, next to the iconic Kruger National Park, Ms Esther Netshivhongweni phoned this writer, protesting the needless loss of the vote to allow SADC countries to trade in their stockpiled ivory. She called upon SADC countries to without delay, pull out CITES. “This doesn’t make sense Emmanuel to keep getting a no-vote for international trade in ivory, yet we are elephant over-populated and deserve to trade,” she said. “We no longer have time to negotiate with people who don’t have wildlife. We just must make sure that we use our wildlife, including elephants more sustainably and no one is going to disrupt that.”
Yet, in its SADC closing statement that is by far watered down compared to the one delivered by Tanzania when it was SADC Chairperson at CoP18, Mozambique the current SADC Chairperson is still surprisingly talking the language of diplomacy that has died with the advent of vote-rigging within the CITES decision-making framework.
“We stand ready to engage further consultation with our African brothers and sisters,” said Mozambique as if it doesn’t know that it has lost one of its closest neighbours Malawi to the animal rights fundraising industry.
Malawi was conspicuous by its absence from all SADC strategic meetings at CITES CoP19 with its director of National Parks having told SADC delegates that if he votes for trade in ivory, rhino horn and live elephants he would be fired by BINGOs he returns home. Fired by BINGOs not the Malawian Government. That’s absolute BINGOs state capture and vote- rigging!
Mozambique continued: “We also welcome engagements with UK, the USA, the EU, Japan, China and other states who are keen to work with us towards conservation and sustainable use of natural heritage and the goal of a united Africa.”
Call for urgent SADC Meeting
At a time when we have seen the ‘death’ of diplomacy within CITES, SADC countries need to hold an urgent meeting to be attended by heads of states and ministers of environment and decide to take a wildlife sustainable use management decision that pleases their people and secures a future for them and their wildlife.
If vote-rigging continues within the CITES decision-making framework, it’s the SADC countries that lose, together with their wildlife.
The rigged votes against ivory and rhino horn trade, including live elephants and everything in between, including the restrictions on hunting, starves the legal markets of the much- sought-after commodities. This in turn triggers poaching and an increase in illegal international ivory and rhino horn.
Therefore, the votes against sustainable, legal, and strictly controlled international wildlife trade trigger illegal activities. Such animal rights fundraising industry influenced, and rigged votes help to keep the bad guys in business.
On the other hand, they disempower wildlife-rich and elephant over-populated SADC countries from exercising their constitutional, sovereign, and human rights to take control and benefit from their own wildlife. It’s a violation of constitutional, sovereign, and human rights for SADC countries.
Sadly, the champions of human rights who make media headlines-grabbing outcries when one person is killed in political violence in Africa don’t make the same noise when the rights of Africans are equally violated by the Western animal rights fundraising industry. These are double standards that should dismissed with the contempt that they deserve because they have no place in the progressive in the 21st Century. This makes the animal rights fundraising industry and the culprits that support them collectively worse than poachers! It also makes them worse than the perpetrators of deadly political violence.
It is because we are forbidden from culling our elephants and restricted from harvesting them through international hunting and trading in them and their products that we have so many of them. This escalates human wildlife conflict (HWC) and the killing of scores of people annually in the SADC region. Those who restrict wildlife use, ban wildlife trade through vote- rigging should by implication be held accountable for the increase in the HWC deaths. Sadly, they are not. What an injustice to the dead and bereaved families!
In the final analysis it is the SADC countries, together with communities that co-exist with wildlife in whose hands the fate of wildlife lies.
“We might not have the political power but ultimately, we decide on the fate of African wildlife,” said Dr Rodgers Lubilo the SADC Community Leaders Network Chairperson, telling off those who might not know that it’s the wildlife producer communities that hold the ‘keys’ to the life and death of African wildlife.
President of the Switzerland based-NGO, IWMC-World Conservation Trust and former CITES Secretary-General (1982-1990), Mr Eugene Lapointe agrees that when communities co-existing with wildlife don’t benefit from it, they will see no reason not to poach it.
They can change in land use from wildlife to agriculture or mining. This would wipe out wildlife in the SADC region.
“We have the power to remove wildlife and use the land for something else. If our communities don’t benefit, we will destroy wildlife. What can CITES meet to discuss in the future without wildlife?” asked Dr Lubilo.
Clearly, the animal rights fundraising industry has created an unprecedented wildlife management crisis in Africa that puts poachers and international illegal ivory and rhino trade syndicates in business. On the other hand, the SADC governments and private wildlife producers/ranchers continue to bear the costs of producing and looking after wildlife without benefits. Wildlife is now almost a nuisance in a region that owns it and should be benefiting from it.
SUCO and other conservationists’ challenge
The challenge for the Sustainable Use Coalition (SUCO) South Africa, working together with its wildlife conservation partners world-wide is to take the lead towards setting the agenda for reversing the unprecedented wildlife management crisis that has befallen the wildlife-rich SADC region. Let’s stop the nice guy approach and find out what works for the SADC region.
In the SADC region, we have already become victims of successful elephant conservation. We are now elephant over-populated but can’t sell live elephants and their products, including ivory. South Africa alone, has a healthy rhino population and multi-billion–dollar worth of stockpiled rhino horn that they can’t sell internationally, including live rhinos.
At a regional level, SADC countries’ elephant conservation success can be illustrated by the fact that they are elephant overpopulated. Sadly, they can’t significantly benefit from them. They can’t even cull them as a management measure. This situation shall soon turn into a bigger and more deadly disaster as elephants increasingly outstrip the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Soon they will collapse themselves and lesser species as food and water becomes less and less.
Well done in advance to the animal rights groups fundraising industry and Western countries that selfishly support them for local political gains, for causing such grand destruction of SADC elephants and their ecosystem!
Conclusion and Recommendation
It was during this century around 2018/2019 that the USA and China engaged in a dramatic trade war over the manufacture and market share of the Huawei cell phone.
During both the 20th and 21st centuries the wildlife-rich and elephant over-populated SADC countries have been denied international trade in their comparatively bigger-than-cellphone and more valuable natural assets (ivory, rhino horn, live elephants, and rhinos). Only about three SADC country presidents whom I shall not name for regional diplomatic reasons, made protest noises in the newspapers. Sadly, they did not formally engage the culprit Western countries to stop the scandalous CITES decision-making framework vote-rigging acts by the animal rights grooups fundraising industry that operate under their respective authorities.
If the animal rights groups fundraising industry loves wildlife so much, why don’t they today without any hesitation as they do to SADC countries in banning ivory, rhino horn and live elephants trade, tell the USA, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia and Iraq to stop producing oil that scientists say harms both wildlife and the environment through climate change? They won’t because they know there will be war literally; against them with significant consequences. But why do they continue to openly influence the votes against SADC countries’ bids to trade in ivory, rhino horn and live elephants and rhinos? Because SADC has continued to take a nice guy approach to the issue. That’s why they will never stop vote-rigging.
The future of SADC countries’ wildlife lies in the hands of each southern African. You have an important role to play now and in the future.
It’s time to come together. Stand up and be counted to do something to end the unfolding wildlife management crisis in Southern Africa, triggered by the animal rights groups fundraising industry and supported by some Western governments for selfish political reasons.
Wildlife-rich and elephant overpopulated SADC countries are urged to stop continuing to take the nice guy approach when addressing issues related to international trade in their wildlife and its products.