27 November 2013

Tanzania: Stop This Sham Fight Against Elephant Poaching


THE fight between the government and elephant poachers appears to be an amusing battle, but one that the culprits appear to be winning hands down to the chagrin of the nation's younger generation.

It is a skirmish raging in the country's jungles, across rivers and lakes to the streets of urban centres, mostly in the highways and alleys of the country's commercial centre of Dar es Salaam and right across the Indian Ocean to the capitals of Tanzania's chief international trade partners in the East.

Indeed, a war it is that is marked by amazing scenes. Such a spectacle as East African governments and Tanzania in particular are having in their frantic fight against poachers make the fight even more humorous. But the humour does not take away the pain destined to hurt the country for a long time to come.

It is a pain that is cutting deep into the very economic jugular vein of the nation while some people in positions of power and who could stop it, sip tea with a half cake in air conditioned offices or a five-star hotel by the seaside. In 2010, Tanzania seized a 90-tonne stockpile of ivory it from poachers in the country.

The size of the pile alone shows how determined poachers are and the sure way the tuskers' community is going - extinction. That ivory stockpile was what the government had for the previous over three decades seized from various sources. Somehow, sometime the government had also intervened more illegal ivory.

More of the trophy had likewise been handed over to the authorities. In the end, the government found itself with a stockpile of ivory it thought best to sell as the only way to make up for the tourist loss to some extent.

Kenya criticized the move as potentially encouraging to poachers, who would consider buyers of that illegal trophy a sure market. Incidentally, the north-eastern neighbour of Tanzania had likewise found itself with such a stockpile but eliminated it otherwise.

In the late 1980s, the then Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi torched tens of hundreds of tonnes of ivory tusks, whose value was then estimated at $1 million, in an official gesture of commitment to eradicating elephant poaching. Then again, sometime in July 2011 Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki set on fire nearly five tonnes of ivory worth of $16 million.

It was all an effort to drive home the country's determination to exterminate poaching of tuskers. It was quite contrary to what Tanzania would have done.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism at the time (2010), Ms Shamsa Mwangunga, said there was no way Tanzania could burn its ivory, valued at 20 billion shillings. Of course, having lost the elephants from which the tusks came, the argument was understandable.

Academicians too joined the fray, saying burning seized ivory as Kenya had done and advised Tanzania to, was a futile gesture to discourage poachers and elephants would continue dying. At the July 2011 ivory burning, President Kibaki, who torched the pile, said: "We cannot afford to sit back and allow criminal networks to destroy our common future."

The exercise was a show of determination to fight criminals who threatened to eliminate elephants in East Africa and particularly, Tanzania, decimating considerably revenue from tourism. Tanzania, like its East African neighbours, has done everything in its power to protect elephants from poaching apparently though, to no avail.

Only recently minister Kagasheki said the ivory seized on recently in Dar es Salaam was from the house of three Chinese traders, who reportedly did a smokescreen business of importing garlic from China and exporting marine products from Tanzania.

The haul seized was 706 elephant tusks a huge haul that shocked the country. "It means 353 elephants were killed to get all those tusks," said Mr Kagasheki. Despite the government's determination to protect elephants, the poaching crime goes on. The pace at which it increases is dreadful and the species is without doubt an endangered one.

About five years ago there were 50,000 elephants in the Selous Game Reserve. Mr Kagasheki says today that number has dropped to around 15,000. Questions abound why so many elephants continue to be killed in the midst of the government's declaration of an all-out fight against tusker poaching.

Observers argue that the law has no teeth good enough for the crime; and if it is biting at all, it is not sinking the teeth into the body of everybody involved in the crime, but doing so discriminately. To some extent the argument is justified.

Shortly after seizing 706 recent haul of elephant tusks some have code-named the Chinese tusks, Zanzibar security officials seized a 40-feet container with 1,000 pieces of ivory at the Zanzibar main port. The consignment was reported to be destined for the Philippines from where it would go to China.

All this shows the complexity of elephant poaching. Such an elaborate plan and the length of the route means people involved in the business are financial stalwarts backed by strong politicians. The argument that the judicial dog is afraid to bite some people in spite of their alleged guilt involvement in the crime has a basis.

More consignments have been intercepted at the Dar es Salaam Port on their way out. However, while their destinations were known, their origin was unknown. Lack of that information leaves a lot of head-scratching and observers smell a rat. The rat is some big person in the government, some say.

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