27 June 2007

Zimbabwe: Country Accused of Trading Ivory for Military Hardware From China

Over the last few years Robert Mugabe has pursued the so-called "Look East" policy which increased trade between Zimbabwe and China. It has now been revealed that Interpol and the wildlife watchdog CITES are looking in all directions for evidence of illegal deals between the two countries, which involved tons of ivory and military hardware. According to The Zimbabwean newspaper this week, Zimbabwe has been secretly bartering tons of ivory with China in exchange for rifles, bullets, anti-riot gear and other military hardware.

The sale of ivory has been prohibited for years now by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which has 171-member countries. Just last week in Geneva, CITES relaxed this regulation and agreed to grant 4 countries a one-time sale to get rid of some ivory in stock. Zimbabwe is one of them. But The Zimbabwean report revealed that China was already receiving ivory from Zimbabwe in contravention of the CITES ban.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said around June or July last year, 30 tonnes of ivory were sold to China from Zimbabwe. Rodrigues expressed shock at this saying there was no need for more military equipment in a country that is not at war. The environmental activist did however see anything positive in the one-time sale approved by CITES last week. He explained that Zimbabwe has about 26 tonnes of ivory stockpiled. After the sale, a 9-year CITES moratorium comes into force and it will be easy to then monitor the activities of the Zimbabwe government. During that period, there will be no ivory sales allowed in all member countries.

Rodrigues also revealed that poaching activities have risen sharply as the economy deteriorates. Desperate villagers are killing wildlife for food in order to survive and there is visibly less wildlife on the ground. 100 elephants were killed in order to feed ruling party supporters during Independence Day celebrations last year. Out of 14 Conservancies, Rodrigues said only one is left because the rest were demarcated as part of the government's disastrous Land Reform programme.

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