Understand the Voices of the African Rural Communities Co-existing with Wildlife

By Emmanuel Koro

BOTSWANA rural communities have warned the United Nations (UN) secretary-general António Guterres and his staff that international wild trade restrictions will make the UN fail to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals(SDGs) in Africa.

“The international trade bans in ivory and rhino horn, restrictions on international hunting and threats to ban it as well restrictions on wild trade in general, will make the UN fail to achieve UN SDGs in Africa,” said Chieftainess Rebecca Banika, who represents Botswana’s Chobe district at the House of Chiefs that advises Parliament.

“There is no way that the UN can achieve poverty alleviation and incentivise wildlife and habitat conservation, without allowing Africans to trade internationally in their ivory and rhino horn and also hunt wildlife. Therefore, UN should totally stop dreaming about achieving SDGs in Africa by 2030.”

Banika, whose community is located 100km from Botswana’s iconic Chobe National Park, known to have the earth’s largest elephant population that can be found in a single national park, was reacting to the UN  international wild trade regulating agency Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)’ ongoing animal rights groups influenced international ivory and rhino horn trade bans.

She was also responding to the ongoing animal rights groups’ pressure on the British government to ban trophy hunting imports from Africa. Banika also protested the ongoing moves by the animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States that are now using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to call for a worldwide ban on all forms of wild trade, citing unproven fears of the spread of diseases such as the coronavirus from animals to humans.

The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

However, Banika, together with other Botswana rural communities, have told the UN boss and his staff that “they are joking” if they think they can achieve SDGs in Africa without allowing international wild trade.

“African people will remain poor if they can’t fully benefit from their natural resources and they will have no incentive to conserve them without benefits,” Banika said.

The Botswana rural communities co-exist with wildlife on which they pin their hopes to end poverty through international wild trade revenue. They also want to use international wild trade revenue to conserve wildlife and its habitat.

“The negative impacts and outcomes of restricting African countries and rural communities from benefiting from international wild trade and international hunting include the UN failure to achieve its SDG goals in Africa,” said the executive director of Botswana Council of NGOs, Siyoka Simasiku in an interview at the Kasane Wildlife Consultative Forum this month.

“Trade restrictions sadly leave communities behind in the UN SDGs development agenda that the UN says  must not leave anyone behind.”

Siyoka largely blamed the Western animal rights groups for misleading and negatively influencing CITES member countries to continue voting against international trade in ivory and rhino horn.

“So there is a need to understand the voices of the African rural communities co-existing with wildlife, not those of people living in air-conditioned offices (animal rights groups), using us and our wildlife to raise money,” he said.

“By banning international wild trade, the Western animal rights groups and countries are collectively creating an illegal wild trade market from which poaching and illegal wild trade syndicates profit while African governments and communities together with their wildlife continue to be harmed by such actions.”

Meanwhile, Siyoka has warned animal rights groups and Western governments to stop forcing African people and governments to radically resist international wild trade restrictions, including ivory and rhino horn trade bans; by considering oil and coal mining in their national parks that can be easily traded without restrictions.

It is against this background of insufficient benefits from wildlife that Zimbabwe recently grabbed international media headlines for attempting to introduce coal mining in the iconic Hwange National Park.

Elsewhere, Namibia is currently undertaking oil explorations in the beautiful Okavango Delta — a wildlife-rich and “untouched” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation world heritage site.

Banika said she strongly supports the need for international hunting, international trade in ivory and rhino horn, in order to achieve the UN 2030 SDGs.

“Through the use of natural resources we will create employment and income for educating our children,” she said.

“The international wild trade will also generate income for environment and wildlife conservation. There is no way we can run away from the need for  international ivory and rhino trade, including different types of international wild trade.”

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, Isaac Theophilus , said the COVID-19 pandemic had presented a strong case for the international ivory and rhino trades because most of the countries have exhausted their wildlife conservation funds and the COVID-19-hit tourism industry can no longer support wildlife and habitat conservation.

“Tourism is doing badly and can no longer fully fund wildlife and habitat conservation. Therefore, we urgently need international trade in ivory and rhino horn to be used as the alternative sources of funding for wildlife and habitat conservation in Africa.”

Elsewhere, University of Florida’s professor Brian Child speaking virtually from the United States said the Western animal rights groups influenced CITES member countries, which has sadly continued to “reward wildlife conservation failure and punish wildlife conservation success in Africa since 1975”.

“As Africans, we need to make our own money from wildlife because no one is ever going to give us enough money to look after it,” Child said.

“Therefore, international wild trade is important. We are a US$2 billion wildlife economy in southern Africa, excluding ivory and rhino trade.”

The African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) is held annually in different countries in Africa on a rotational basis, to discuss urgent and important wildlife management issues, including international hunting and wild trade in general.

This year, it was held in Kasane, Botswana, a popular tourist haven right next to the elephant over-populated Chobe National Park.

One of the major announcements made at the AWCF this year was that for the first time, the 16 Sadc countries will vote as a bloc at future CITES meetings in support of any Sadc country that qualifies to trade internationally in ivory, rhino horn, and any other wild trade.

Speaking virtually from Botswana, Sadc Secretariat Wildlife programme officer George Wambura said the next step is to put on the African Union (AU) agenda, the need for African countries to vote as a block at CITES meetings in support of any AU member country that qualifies to trade.

“The Sadc countries can always talk with other African regional organisations through our presidents,” Wambura said. “We can put the issue (Africa voting as a block at CITES meetings) on the AU the agenda soon. There is always room for this. Botswana is the chair of Sadc CITES taskforce.”

This initiative is fully supported by Botswana’s Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism minister Philda Kereng, who has vowed to help put it on the AU agenda.

“I can help move on the AU agenda, the need for Africa to vote as a block at CITES meetings,” Kereng said. “We are talking about building value-chains around the wildlife-based economy. International trade in ivory and rhino horn is, therefore, part of our agenda to ensure an A-Z sustainable benefits from wildlife. If we consider ourselves as a continent that must be heard and respected, then let’s become one Africa, one brand and succeed.”

Participants attending the Sadc wildlife consultative forums, who include Botswana’s ambassador to the United States Kitso Mokaila and Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the United States Tadeous Chifamba, urged the Sadc Secretariat to ensure that the AU block vote proposal is put on the AU agenda as soon as possible ahead of the next CITES meeting. The next CITES meeting (CoP19) will be held in Panama in November 2022.

“My appeal to the African Union is the need to cooperate and support one another when voting at CITES meetings,” Banika said.

Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes extensively on environment and development issues in Africa

Article source: NewsDay.co.zw

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