By Sylivester Domasa
The government has said new strategies to combat rhinoceros and elephant poaching are already in place.
Elephants and rhinos are among the big five game animals of Africa. Others are buffaloes, leopards and lions. The government’s comprehensive strategic plan to counter poaching is expected to come out next month.
In addition, the government intends to among other things redeploy military actions in the ant-poaching operations. Poaching is rampant in Tanzania and the country’s Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) estimates - for instance - that at least 10,000 elephants are being killed every year.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with this paper yesterday, Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Lazaro Nyalandu, said amid ongoing wildlife management plan, the government has prepared a comprehensive strategic plan to counter poaching.
“I cannot make it public now … there are several options that we ought to use and these include military personnel,” he said briefly adding that the entire plan will be revealed next month.
However, he declined to divulge more information on the issue of re-deploying the military and the strategy in general.
The infamous Operation Tokomeza that was halted had included military operations but when it resumed some time last year, the military was left out.
Nyalandu was reacting to a series of queries that also followed during a presentation of papers at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) recently. The papers dwelt on ownership, management and sharing of natural resources: who gets what, how and when? The papers were researched and presented by Dr John Jingu, Prof Hamudi Majamba, Prof Godius Kahyarara and Dr Christine Noe.
According to Prof Majamba, of the School of Law who made an analysis of the controversial anti-poaching operation codenamed ‘Operation Tokomeza’ told the delegates that military actions were vital in anti-poaching operations.
He said the operation Tokomeza included army operations which were mishandled and as a result three cabinet ministers resigned. According to him military operations in the fight of game animals are still being deployed worldwide.
He cited South Africa, Botswana, Cameroon and Ghana as few African countries which deploy military personnel in anti-poaching missions.
“When poachers had to use sophisticated military weapons, there is no way ordinary game wardens can react against … and this is when the army comes-in,” he said. Military actions should continue to preserve and protect wildlife, he insisted.
Operation Tokomeza is the second operation after the 1989-Operation Uhai to include military actions to protect elephants. The population of elephants had decreased to nearly 30,000 from over 110,000 elephants in 1976.
The researcher warned however that as the government moves in to combat poaching a number of issues including prosecutions, illegal routes, legislations, kangaroo courts, and media reporting among others on poaching issues has to be revisited.
In October 2013, President Jakaya Kikwete ordered more than 2,300 security personnel from Tanzania’s People’s Defence Force, local police and special anti-poaching militias, and wildlife rangers to step up enforcement of a ban on elephant and rhinoceros poaching, which has been growing in recent years. But in November, Kikwete was forced to end the campaign, dubbed Operation Tokomeza, under heavy criticism.
“The anti-poaching operation had good intentions, but the reported murders, rapes and brutality are totally unacceptable,” Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told the parliament in December the same year.
Pinda said wildlife poaching has reached alarming dimensions in the country’s national parks, especially Selous Game Reserve, whose elephant population has dwindled from 55,000 to 13,000. During the final two months of last year, the government estimates 60 elephants were killed in the country, compared to only two in October, when the operation was effective.
Presenting a report on the abuses in parliament, the chairman of the committee, James Lembeli, said his team proved beyond doubt that members of security forces spread terror and committed “untold” atrocities against innocent civilians.
Lembeli said victims included local government leaders who were humiliated in makeshift interrogation camps in front of their constituents. According to Lembeli, the raids forced some people to abandon their homes for fear of being harmed.
The scandal has led to the sacking of four government ministers – of tourism, defence, livestock development and home affairs – for failure to rein in the ministries they were leading.
Lawyer and human rights activist Issa Shivji criticised the military involvement in a civilian operation, saying the way the operation was implemented was a great shame on Tanzania.
Professor Shivji called for a swift investigation of the alleged abuses and said criminal charges should be brought against security personnel who took part in the operation irrespective of their rank.
“It’s not only the shame, it’s a big tragedy to the nation which requires a collective assessment of the people to ask ourselves, where are we going? What prompted security organs, which have the mandate to protect lives, dignity and respect of the people to act [so\ irresponsibly?”
Dr Jingu challenged the government to have clear and proper strategies to address issues of natural resources which also include the exploration of oil and gas.