By Christine Muchira
African Heads of State, government representatives and experts are gathering at the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa where they will develop a common roadmap to end wildlife trafficking on the continent.
The Conference will seek to advance the first-ever Africa-wide strategy and action plan to tackle the illegal trade in wild fauna and flora, to be further considered at the next African Union Heads of State Summit later this year.
The four-day event is organised under the leadership of the Republic of Congo, in partnership with the African Union Commission, and with support from the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the African Development Bank, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, among others.
“Forests and wildlife are part of our common African heritage but are disappearing at an alarming pace,” said His Excellency Denis Sassou Nguesso, the President of the Republic of Congo.
“We have a duty to work together, as a continent, to safeguard our unique biodiversity for present and future generations and to craft strong collective solutions to address this calamity,” he added.
The value of wildlife crime, comprising fauna and flora, and including logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, amounts to many hundreds of billions of US dollars a year, according to estimates of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNEP and INTERPOL.
Wildlife trafficking destroys biodiversity and ecosystems, undermining development and eroding livelihoods for millions of African citizens. It also creates insecurity, fuelling conflicts and corruption, depriving countries of their assets, compromising the rule of law and dividing societies.
“By the end of this event, we envisage to have a clear roadmap toward a strategy that is strong, Africa-owned and Africa-led,” noted Her Excellency Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, the AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture. “The document will aim to galvanize collective action across borders and it will offer practical, home-grown solutions towards decisively eliminating poaching and illegal wildlife trade.”
Following the Brazzaville conference, the draft strategy and associated action plan will be further developed in consultation with all African Member States, and progress on the strategy will be reviewed when the continent’s leaders gather at their bi-annual meeting, this June, in South Africa.
“An African strategy developed by the African Union and its Member States, and focused on the needs of the continent is an extremely important step forward,” said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP.
“Its development will require full engagement of Member States, and its implementation will require enhanced and sustained international support, strong information networks, better public advocacy and accountability, as well as adequate laws and mechanisms to fully address the problem.”
The International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa builds on the momentum and outcomes of the 2014 London and 2015 Kasane High Level Conferences on Illegal Wildlife Trade, and comes on the heels of the 23rd African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, which urged African nations to apply zero tolerance approaches, to take action to strengthen laws and policies, and to engage communities to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and related criminal activities.
“Trafficking in wildlife and forest products poses serious security, environmental, and development challenges,” said Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator. “Addressing rural poverty, strengthening governance and the rule of law, and eradicating illicit trade in wildlife are key to addressing these threats and are essential for achieving Africa’s vision for sustainable development.”