By Erick Kabendera
In Kiswahili tokomeza means terminate. When the Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete launched Operation Tokomeza, with its shoot-to-kill orders to deal with elephant poachers, he wasn’t mincing his words.
In the later part of the twentieth century the same policy had been the key initiative in temporarily stopping the decimation of East Africa’s herds after Kenya was forced to adopt the same extreme measure. Introducing it to Tanzania was one no country could take lightly.
But a crisis point had been reached. As the President warned the country’s MPs, the population of elephants had been decimated, now standing at just the 15 per cent of the 350,000 there were some 20 years ago. Even four years ago there were believed to be twice as many elephants as there are today.
The country’s porous borders, absence of customs at most exit points, lack of enough scanners at the country’s biggest port and poor ocean patrols have led to the country becoming a poaching hub.
“It is very hard for us to know who is involved in the highest level of poaching before ivory is taken to the market because these are people with ivory processing factories and they collect ivory from all over the world,” said Tanzania’s Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry’s Principal Game Officer, Karamaga Canisius. “We don’t have specific names due to lack of a mechanism to trace containers.
“For example, a container is loaded in Tanzania with ivory, shipped to South Africa where more ivory is loaded, shipped back to Tanzania on transit and then heads to Dubai and so forth. Most seizures from Africa seem to have come from Tanzania because of how the network operates. But it is clear that most of the consignments are destined for Asia, especially China and Vietnam.”
Civil society activists and opposition politicians have complained of slow prosecution of poachers who have been taken to court even when all the evidence has been provided. Rumours abound about powerful businesspeople with high political connections to be the masterminds of ivory trade.
Unsurprisingly this is something Karamaga would not comment on. “We have for years hosted refugees from DRC, Rwanda, Somalia and other neighbouring countries who smuggle in weapons which are in return used for poaching,” he stressed. “But the biggest challenge for us in intensifying the anti-poaching campaign is having enough game wardens and weapons to fight poachers.” More....