By Khephren Fanga
The Ouesso Court has sentenced three men involved in an ivory trafficking network to an extremely weak sentence.
Despite the law of the Republic of Congo enabling judges to sentence traffickers to up to five years in prison, the Ouesso Court has rendered a decision with no prison sentence, not even a suspended sentence. They were all condemned to pay a 1.000.000 francs CFA fine with additional 500.000 francs CFA fines for each of them.
Fines like this are pathetic given the nature of the ivory crisis in the world today. South Africa recently sentenced a rhino horn trader to 77 years in prison. This is a reaction to the catastrophe in which South Africa is losing more than one rhino per day, especially along its long border with Mozambique.
Congo is victim to the same threats for its elephants but worse. According to a study over a five-year period, Congo may have lost up to an average of 3 elephants per day. The forest elephant population is thus being hit extremely hard. It is estimated by scientists that almost 2/3 of the forest elephant population, unique to Central and West Africa, has been eliminated.
The Congo has made some exemplary sentences, especially in northern Congo, where numerous ivory traffickers and ivory poachers have been sentenced to up to 5 years in prison. Unfortunately, in recent months, the court in Ouesso has taken a dive in its attitude towards poaching. Gabon has yet to sentence any trafficker to more than 6 months in prison due to the fact that it has the weakest laws in all of Central Africa. Often it is clear that external politics do not match action on the ground.
Ouesso is notorious for corruption relating to ivory poaching. In 2011, four Ecoguards (Park Rangers) were sentenced to 2 years in prison each for their involvement in an ivory trafficking network. Many authorities have been implicated in illegal wildlife trade, ranging from ivory to bushmeat traffic. This type of unsustainable exploitation is an insult to the broader goal of sustainable development in Republic of Congo.
Congo is currently under scrutiny at CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, as a country of secondary concern. A National Ivory Action Plan has been recommended.