By The Star, Kenya
Stakeholders from across the continent gathered at the inaugural Africa Wildlife Economy Summit in June. The summit was convened by the United Nations, together with the African Union, and hosted by President Mnangagwa in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Set within the National Park and soundtracked by the thunderous roar of Victoria Falls, four presidents, UN and AU executives and a plethora of stakeholders deliberated on a new deal for communities in realising value and benefits from wildlife.
Wildlife is an important and irreplaceable element of the natural environment. Like all things created on earth, including human beings, wildlife has intrinsic value established by its creator. However, in the age when materialism dominates all spheres of life and continuous destruction of nature seems to be an unavoidable consequence of development process, the concept of intrinsic value becomes too abstract and hard to conceive.
As a result, scientists and conservationists all over the world are trying to save biodiversity by communicating the value of wildlife through ideas, which are more understandable for majority of people. For most African countries, the value of wildlife is not something theoretical, but something very practical that impacts on people’s lives. Wildlife industry is among the greatest contributors to the national economies of many African states, mainly through wildlife-related tourism. It is obvious that environmental and economic stability in Africa will greatly depend on the well-being of its wildlife resources.
One key outcome of the summit was a declaration by communities from across the continent that called for practical steps to achieve the “new deal”. Key proposals by over 40 community representatives from 12 African countries were: recognising community rights over ownership, management and use of wildlife resources; ensuring a full and fair share of benefits from the wildlife economy flow directly to the communities; and perhaps most importantly, changing the development model from doing things for communities to financing well-governed communities to do things for themselves.
However, the term “community” was often used almost synonymously with “traditional”. In less than 50 years, mega infrastructural projects, urbanisation and technological advancements will see huge populations living adjacent to wildlife areas. These citizens of the future will be highly educated, urbanised and exposed to technology. They will no longer be interested in security and improved grazing rangelands as their share of benefits from the wildlife economy. They will demand equity as equal and legitimate players in the wildlife economy.
Additionally, key development partners announced billions of US dollars in funding for innovative community projects that would provide communities with benefits such as infrastructural development, access to health care and education. The provision of such public services is the mandate of governments in exchange for the payment of taxes by their citizens. Designing projects that provide these services fosters aid dependency and robs citizens of the opportunity to be to be legitimate participants and respected beneficiaries of the wildlife economy, and perhaps even more dangerously encourages the plunder of public resources.
Despite the summit being heralded as an AU-led initiative, the only presidents present were from four countries in the SADC economic bloc. It was interesting to note the lobbying by southern African governments for the abolishing of the ban on key wildlife products and in particular ivory and rhino horn. The calls for the legalisation of trade were proposed as a pathway to support local communities to benefit from the wildlife economy. This is despite concrete scientific evidence that the one-off sale to China and Japan in 2008 led to a sharp increase in poaching across East and Southern Africa.
Countries are now gearing up for the CITES COP 19 meeting in Geneva in August. Kenya has put forward a proposal together with other African countries to transfer the African elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from Appendix II to Appendix I, thus affording those populations complete protection from hunting and sale.