The Sunday Mail
Langton Nyakwenda recently in VICTORIA FALLS
As delegates trooped out of Elephant Hills, the splendid hotel overlooking the mighty Zambezi River which hosted the inaugural United Nations-African Union Wildlife Economy Summit last week, they left a very big elephant in the room.
The clearly unanswered question was how Southern African — home to over 60 percent of the world’s elephant population and over 20 species of animals — could sustainably transform its wildlife and tourism industry into a multi-billion dollar industry, especially in view of the current ban on the trade in ivory.
It is believed that disposing the current stockpiles will give African countries the wherewithal to satisfactorily support conservation efforts.
Independent research indicates that while Southern Africa’s wildlife economy is worth over US$3 billion, it can, however, grow 10-fold in the coming years and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
There was general consensus among Southern African leaders who attended the Victoria Falls Summit last week that the wildlife economy could only grow if the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) abandons its “one-size-fits-all” approach.
CITES, which has banned sale of ivory, hosts the 18th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP) in Geneva, Switzerland, in August.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi, President Hage Geignob of Namibia and President Edgar Lungu of Zambia, who attended the Wildlife Economy Summit Victoria Falls, are currently pushing for the “unfair” ban on ivory trade to be lifted.
Zimbabwe currently sits on an ivory stockpile worth US$600 million, which President Mnangagwa believes could sustain the country’s conservation efforts for the next 20 years.
While reiterating the country’s commitment to adhere to CITES rules, the Head of State and Government expressed concern over the convention’s one-size-fits-all-approach.
“I have a sense that this conference has understood our appeal…the need to cooperate between the conflicting approaches on wildlife,” President Mnangagwa told the media soon after the summit.
He also stressed the need for Africa to speak with one voice at international forums such as the upcoming CITES meeting in Geneva.
“This summit has occurred at an opportune time as we approach the forthcoming 18th session of the CITES, as we prepare to engage the rest of the world.
“It is crucial that Africa consolidates its common position to achieve sustainable wildlife utilisation and conservation.
“We have no choice but to be united. Let us speak with one voice at international fora as the African continent so we can be heard for the benefit of our communities who cohabit with the wide range of wildlife species found on our African continent,” said President Mnangagwa.
The country also made a commitment to adhere to CITES’ rules and protocols.
“We remain committed to the adherence to CITES protocols and rules.
“We are gravely concerned, however, by the one-size-fits-all approach. Banning of trade is creeping into the CITES decision-making process.
“We call upon the institution to resist the temptation to be a policing institution, but instead to be a developmental organisation to promote conservation communities and sustainable utilisation of all wildlife resources,” said the President.
Should CITES lift the moratorium on the trade in ivory, the country has the potential to generate more than $500 million that can be readily channelled to mitigate poaching and improve the livelihoods of communities who live close to animals.
President Mnangagwa said: “The creation of appropriate nature-based economies is paramount in this new dawn of sustainable resource utilisation.
“Communities which are host to the wildlife deserve more speed, realistic and responsive interventions. We must thrive to achieve equitable and fair distribution of revenue derived from nature and wildlife-based economies.”
There is, however, hope that CITES could relent. CITES secretary-general Ms Ivonne Higuero last week indicated that there was need for frank discussion on the current embargo.
“As secretary-general and hearing these proposals, I must say it is time that there was an open discussion about these issues,” she said.
Ms Joyce Msuya, deputy executive director (United Nations Environment Programme) reckons that a wildlife economy is a powerful and central tool for economic growth.
“Our countries (Southern Africa) are home to the most beautiful places on earth and the future of our planet treasures rest with us all.
“A wildlife economy is a powerful and central tool of economic growth, poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation. It is central to the efforts our continent and our leaders to improve the quality of lives of millions of people.
“We believe that wildlife and wide spaces of Africa will survive only if the people who live closest to them are their stewards and I am delighted this dream is shared across Africa,” she said.
“From Zimbabwe to Botswana, from Rwanda to Zambia, we have powerful examples of the success we can achieve when wildlife and people are able to live and thrive in harmony.”
A local wildlife expert Dr Christopher Mabeza believes that last week’s indaba provided a platform to right the wrongs of some “draconian pre-independence policies” that do not speak to the real circumstances facing African countries.
“As stated in the President’s address during the recent wildlife summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe has about US$600 million worth of ivory and rhino horns stock.
“The availability of funds from wildlife utilisation can also compensate local communities for the draconian wildlife policies of the pre-independence era that left rural people high and dry after being forcibly removed from their land to pave way for game reserves,” said Dr Mabeza
“People-based conservation can be seen as a gateway to secure livelihoods for local people who bear the brunt of crop destruction by wildlife, leading to disquiet in human-wildlife interaction,” he said.
A well-travelled wildlife enthusiast, Mr Keith Vincent of Wilderness Safaris, says Southern Africa has the privilege of being the only place on the earth where wildlife population is actually increasing.
“In 1960, we had 2 million animals in Southern Africa, now we have 20 million. Southern Africa now has a 2-to 3-billion-dollar economy, which creates about 300 000 jobs, but the question is why can’t we increase this economy to US$30 billion,” he said.