By Cynthia Stacey
Jambo, and if I began last week in a cheerless mood, I feel worse today, not simply cheer ’less’, but anti-cheer, and anti-everything, especially ‘human elephant slayers, and their ‘protectors’.
I’m talking of a disclosure that didn’t even rate a media headline, although it’s about an ‘Armageddon’, defined by the dictionary as “… a battle between good and evil… the end of the world.” Or in this case, the end of the elephant world in Africa, or parts of it. Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu addressing civil society organisations on the 24th April said “…that the ongoing illegal trade will result in the extinction of this species by 2025”. Maybe they later convened for coffee chatting pleasantly, but not angrily at the shocking revelation, since anger is considered impolite in Tanzania, though this is an issue requiring a great deal of impoliteness!. In stating the obvious, Nyalandu said “the decline in the rhino and elephant population is due to poaching attributed to the rising demand for ivory, exacerbated by poverty…” What he’s not allowed to say of course is… ‘and the Chinese lust for ivory’, since much of the poached tusks go directly there. So however delicate the diplomatic balance, hard line dialogue with the Chinese is needed, as is stronger bi-lateral law enforcement, between the ‘supplying’ nations and the ‘recipient’ ones. Though more important is the proviso that Tanzania makes investment from China, and other involved countries, conditional on their reducing ivory demand in their domestic markets. Because quite simply, kill the demand, and you kill the trade also. In January last year, responding to questions on the 21 wildlife officials suspended for alleged involvement in poaching, Minister Nyalandu, then Deputy Minister said “…they’ll be taken to court…and pending investigations might be sacked if the charge is proved”. ‘MIGHT’ be sacked, if quoted correctly, was feeble in the extreme, and like others before him in this job, his unemotional reporting of the slaughter statistics in the national parks, makes it sound like the weather report! Developing countries have many priorities, but saving an endangered species is the TOP one, unless the need to protect those at ‘the top’ takes precedence or gets in the way. But speculation apart, sometime over the last half decade, alarm bells should have rung in government circles over the rapidly escalating poaching, placing it at the forefront of the national agenda. On April 30th 2013, Kahama legislator James Lembeli obviously thought likewise when he told parliament that this had reached such alarming proportions, it should be declared a national disaster. Predictably, it wasn’t. In January of the same year, Chadema MP Peter Msigwa said high profile figures and politicians were involved in the game parks massacres, and that many impounded trophies around the world originated in Tanzania. Two months later, This Day newspaper reported “Conservation activists blast Tanzania for massive elephant slaughter, saying it had become the biggest suppliers of smuggled tusks, due to corruption and lax government controls. Today, exactly two years on, the scenario appears even bleaker, with Minister Nyalandus apocalyptic statement almost a forgone conclusion. An article in notable magazine The Economist on the 8th November 2014, begins ”Across Africa the illegal slaughter of elephants is accelerating at such a pace, that it threatens to exterminate whole populations. The worst of this butchery takes place in Tanzania, the biggest source of illegal ivory. Every third poached elephant in Africa dies on the watch of Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete. His government has made some public efforts to fight poaching over the past year…but tuskless carcasses still keep turning up.” It says a contributing factor is government failure to investigate or prosecute high level offenders closely connected to the ruling party. So perhaps Minister Nyalandu knew exactly why he said those officials … only ‘might’ be prosecuted, and they were just the little guys…think how untouchable the big ones are! The Economist goes on to say that “…state corruption runs through Tanzania’s illegal ivory trade from savannah to the sea. At the bottom are hired helpers often recruited from the armed forces, and if caught are transferred to new posts rather than fired…police have been known to escort convoys of illicit ivory… and the head of regional crime discovered his own deputy was directly involved in the smuggling operation, along with senior officials in the city. No one has been prosecuted”. Lack of prosecutions are not what the Minister for Natural Resources is currently defending on the recent front page of a local daily newspaper, headed ‘Nyalandu slams secrecy claims in elephant slaughter report’. This refers to a UK television programme revealing the extent of massacres in the country’s national parks, which the government received in January, but haven’t yet released. Conservationists say embarrassment could be a likely reason…but should that be combined with shame. Shame that the states’ refusal in revealing the big players could have been a major factor in the decimation, or should that be future annihilation, of the nations famous animal heritage. The Economist writes that…”Khamis Kagasheki, internationally respected former Minister responsible for wildlife protection, last year promised to name and shame those engaged in this menace…rich people and politicians who’ve formed a sophisticated network.” As we know, within months of saying this, he was gone, because of abuses committed by soldiers and policemen involved in the crackdown on poaching, known as the ‘Tokomeza’ operation. A convenient leave taking for the big time poachers…and their government protectors… So yes Minister Nyalandu you’re correct, possibly there will be no elephants by 2025… and JMK can leave office remembered by those potent words from The Economist “Every poached elephant in Africa dies on the watch of Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete.” But how much better had it been “every threatened elephant in Africa is saved on the watch of Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete”…Jakaya honey…is it too late?!