By Paula Kahumbu
“My fellow Kenyans, poaching and the destruction of our environment has no future in this country. The responsibility to protect our environment belongs not just to the Government, but to each and every one of us”. - President Uhuru Kenyatta
The 1989 ivory burning by Kenya is undisputedly the most powerful conservation symbol the world has ever seen and led to the successful international ban on trade in ivory. Despite the challenge that we are currently facing, Kenya now stands at the nexus of being an agent for change: historically, geographically technically, and now, politically.
In a recent article in this newspaper, I contrasted the words of Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya to the actions I witnessed in a court of law in which a Vietnamese ivory trafficker was fined less than one per cent of the value of the ivory he was smuggling. One week later, a Chinese man facing similar charges met the same fine.
Attending court was a horrifying experience – I witnessed firsthand the self confessed criminals responsible for the destruction of Africa’s majestic wildlife being set free to continue their deadly trade.
My article was aimed at provoking readers to cross the threshold of the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, and accompany me into grimy underworld of wildlife crime.
I described the pain of sitting for hours on a hard wooden bench in unventilated heaving courtrooms and the relief when our case was announced after an hour in which our file could not be found. I wanted readers to become the despirted law enforcement agents who repeatedly witness their work coming to naught as wildlife criminals are hastily dispensed of by dispassionate magistrates, and unleashed back onto the streets.
It occurred to me that day how incredulous it is that the government of Kenya has makes such enormous investments in anti-poaching and customs controls; thousands of armed rangers, sniffer dogs at ports, vehicles, aircraft and helicopters, when the penalty for wildlife crime is less than a slap on the wrist. More....