, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 27 – Ahead of the September Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meet in Johannesburg at which Kenya will lead the charge for a total ban on ivory trade, United Nations Environment Programmes Executive Director Achim Steiner has called out African governments for not speaking in one voice.
His sentiments echo those made to Capital FM News by CITES Secretary General John Scanlon, on the day Kenya set alight 105 tonnes of ivory, to the effect that securing a total ban on ivory trade would be a tall order given the dissenting voices on the continent.
“If you can’t agree on a position, the rest of the world isn’t going to take you seriously and will keep prescribing solutions. You need to take a step back, sit around the table and come up with a home grown solution,” Steiner said on Friday, just days after a South African court sanctioned trade in rhino horn.
Eastern and Southern African countries are divided on the best way to combat poaching with countries such as Kenya pushing for a total ban on ivory trade while countries such as Namibia advocate for regulated trade.
Even the question of the best way to handle ivory stockpiles is divisive and played out during Kenya’s most recent ivory burn. Botswana boycotted the event describing it as pointlessly destructive and with their environment Minister Tshekedi Khama arguing that there were better ways to send out the message that it ivory was, “beyond economic use.”
“We believe we should preserve and protect whatever remains of these creatures as a reminder of how mankind’s greed leads to the extinction of our planet’s flora and fauna. We cannot burn the shame associated with this and hope it will disappear in smoke,” he said in an opinion piece published by the Independent.
At the torching ceremony last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya – unlike Namibia and Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa – would not seek to profit from its stockpile of ivory.
“I have been asked severally,” he testified, “that we are making a fundamental mistake in destroying this ivory because for Kenya, a poor country, it makes better sense to put the hundred and fifty odd million dollars that they claim this ivory is worth, on the market and use it to develop our country… but Kenya is also a very rich country in terms of the heritage that God has given us and we intend to protect it.”
Just how far Kenya is willing to go to protect it and at what cost is another question altogether.
During the Giants Club Summit that preceded last month’s ivory burn, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Ali Bongo of Gabon admitted that they were hard pressed to put the environment ahead of the developmental needs of their electorate on account of the political cost.
“I’ve been told that if I value elephants more than people, then maybe I should ask them to vote for me in the next elections,” Bongo said.