When at the CITES Conference of Parties in Doha in March 2010 Tanzania’s request to sell a significant amount of ivory from their 100+ ton stockpile was defeated narrowly by a plenary vote, the country was swift to blame a coalition of ‘enemies’ led by arch rival Kenya for the setback. Regular government mouthpieces in Dar es Salaam at the time were swift to vow ‘revenge’ and to bring the application back for the next COP 16 in Bangkok or at a subsequent meeting, ignoring the report filed by the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka which had recommended to reject the application over a number of serious failures in living up to commitments and requirements by CITES of member states.
The spat with Kenya was however not over when it became known that a former natural resources and tourism minister, one Ezekiel Maige, had allegedly made comments not fit to be reprinted when Kenya’s then president Mwai Kibaki on 20th of July 2010 set more than 5 tons of ivory on fire in a highly significant gesture that Kenya put conservation before potential profits which the sale of their own ivory stockpile could generate. Maige, who was present at the occasion at the KWS training centre in Tsavo East, belittled the Kenyan effort with alleged utterances that burning ivory for Tanzania was not an option when money could be made by selling it.
Again, regular mouthpieces from Dar at the time engaged in propaganda that Tanzania would not be deterred to seek permission for a one off sale of ivory and what happened next in that country was the unfolding of the worst slaughter of elephants in living history.
While the Tanzanian government last year, when Ambassador Khamis Kagesheki held the office of minister, formally abandoned their and withdrew their application to CITES to sell some of their ivory, poaching between the time COP 15 took place in March 2010 in Doha and COP 16 in Bangkok in March of last year wiped out tens of thousands of elephant in Tanzania, arguably encouraged by the lukewarm stand of government whether to seek or not to seek permission to sell, and an utter lack of political will to confront not just the poaching gangs on the ground but to expose and dismantle their network of middlemen, financiers and accomplices, many with allegedly connections into the highest levels of government.
A parliamentary report adopted in Dodoma last year speaks of up to 30 elephant being killed for their ivory – opposition figures back then claimed that the real number was far greater – and the latest elephant census in the Selous and in Ruaha confirmed that indeed poaching gangs had mowed down the elephant population in an ‘Elecide’ of hitherto unknown proportions. Figures now available for the Selous, the world’s largest game reserve, show that from an estimated population of between 65 and 70 thousand elephant in 2007, the census carried out late last year confirmed just over 13.000 elephant left, with similar reductions in the Ruaha National Park.
Reality finally dawned on the powers that be in Tanzania what has been going on under their very noses, aggravated by the strength of global sentiments and finally put into appropriate words when the Daily Mail in the UK tore into the charade of professed conservation measures in Tanzania vis a vis the real situation on the ground.
Major embarrassment hang in the air, just days before President Kikwete was to attend the London Conservation Conference last week, leading to a flurry of last moment activities to escape a proverbial lynching at the conference by making hasty concessions and Tanzanian officials literally falling over themselves in making a series of promises of renewed efforts to stem poaching and join hands with the global conservation fraternity to finally take the fight to the poaching gangs in their national parks and game reserves.
President Kikwete, interviewed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour while in London, now for the first time acknowledged that any notion to sell the 100+ ton stockpile held in Tanzania was clearly out of question, and that within weeks, perhaps even days, his country would make public their new position of what to do with it. He further acknowledged that Tanzania would put itself in an awkward position if the country would pursue any form of sale of the stockpile, a total reversal of prior government policy as explained earlier on in this article, when Tanzania in a clearly misguided way blamed Kenya for their failure in Doha to get the approvals they sought instead of reading the writing on the wall that an epic battle was shaping up to save the African elephant while they sat on the proverbial fence. Word from Dar es Salaam has it on good authority that government will in coming days engage in extensive consultations with tourism and conservation stakeholders, including parliament, to map out the way forward but it is expected that a major gesture may be made in the not too distant future to destroy perhaps as many as 25 tons of ivory in order to regain the initiative vis a vis a global movement which, bolstered by the outcome of the London Conservation Conference last week, is in any case not ready to accept anything less but the complete destruction of such ivory stocks by governments around the world.
Conservationists in Tanzania, Eastern Africa and across the world will be pleased to note the change of heart and direction by Tanzania, but some sources contacted over the weekend were swift to demand yet more changes from the Tanzanian president in regard of conservation measures: ‘He has to take the Lake Manyara soda ash factory off his agenda, he has to finally consider to a Southern bypass around the Serengeti and drop these ludicrous plans to build a highway across the migration paths of the big herds, or else the wildebeest numbers will drop just like the elephant numbers dropped when he sat in State House and did very little to prevent their slaughter. He should also sensibly leave the Selous alone and stop Uranium mining there, and the building of a dam at Stiegler’s Gorge. There are other sites for mining and our wildlife heritage should not be put in added danger by poisoning, besides the hail of bullets they are facing by poaching gangs. The Coelacanth marine park near Tanga is another issue high on our agenda. If Bagamoyo is developed into a major new port, there is no need for that shallow bay to be dug up for a port, more so as nearby Tanga is much more suitable to deep water operations. And for good measure, let him restore Tanzania’s application to recognize the Eastern Arc Mountains as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, if we see such fundamental changes we can believe that there will be a future for our country’s conservation efforts, if not, it would only show that the very very bad publicity he got over the elephant poaching ahead of the London meeting has resulted in but one change, related to elephant but nothing else’ wrote a regular source from Arusha.
Watch this space to see how this latest twist in the tail of the long running story of ‘The Corridor of Destruction’ will play out, and what, if any concrete action, will be taken by the powers that be in Tanzania in coming days and weeks.