By Gadiosa Lamtey, The Citizen
The second phase of a regional training, involving Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, that seeks to upskill enforcement officers in fighting illegal wildlife trade is currently underway in Dar es Salaam as international organizations buttress their efforts to combat maritime trafficking of wildlife between Africa and Asia. The past training programs were conducted in Mombasa, Kenya and in Arusha, Tanzania with the last one scheduled to be held in Uganda in October, 2022.
The Conservation Commissioner of the Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFS), Prof Dos Santos Silayo, graced the opening session of the five-day multiagency training in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday.
The regional training has drawn participants from enforcement agencies namely wildlife, forestry, police, prosecution, customs and other bodies from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
Prof Silayo said that one of the key challenges to effective law enforcement in Africa is the deficiency of knowledge and skills among law enforcement personnel.
This, he said, was largely due inadequate cooperation among states and agencies and insufficient resources to proactively safeguard the environmental heritage against illegal exploitation.
To effectively mitigate the negative effects occasioned by wildlife crime, said Prof Silayo, there was a need to pragmatically enforce the applicable laws and regulations and make them as stringent as possible to ensure that such training programs are instrumental in bolstering the law enforcement capacity of the agencies in addressing these potent threats in Africa.
He affirmed that Tanzania had made significant strides in curtailing wildlife crime and promoting conservation during the past few years. He highlighted some of the notable achievements made by the country including amending its laws to enhance penalties for wildlife related offences that currently attract jail sentences of up to 30 years as well as strengthening cross border wildlife security.
The Assistant Director at the Tanzania Wildlife Division who doubles as Chairman for the National Taskforce for Anti-Poaching (NTAP) in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Robert Mande lauded the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and the collaborating partners for convening the regional training programs.
He said the programs would go a long way in strengthening the law enforcement capacity of member states to the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora, a regional environmental treaty.
Sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Grace Farms Foundation (GFF), the training is a brainchild of the LATF, Grace Farms Foundation (GFF), the US Department of Homeland Security (HSI), the University of Washington, the Global Wildlife Program and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
“This is why we are here as a partnership of LATF, US Department of Homeland Security – HSI and its Global Trade Division, UNDP, USAID, University of Washington-Seattle, and GEF. We want to optimize our resources and impart relevant skills on how to surmount this challenge,” said Mr Rod Khattabi who formerly worked under the US Department of Homeland Security (HSI) Federal Agent and currently the Chief Accountability Officer and Justice Initiative Director at Grace Farms Foundation.
He underscored that illegal wildlife trade is among the largest transnational organized crimes, often operated by well-organized criminal syndicates all located in different towns, regions, countries and continents.
The Director of LATF, Mr Edward Phiri, exuded confidence that upon completion of the training sessions, participants will have what it takes to reduce and ultimately eradicate maritime trafficking of wildlife between Africa and Asia.
“The solution to this lies in sound and even more importantly best practices in cooperative law enforcement, which are critical to proactive, well-planned and more purposeful operations” he said.
Mr Phiri reiterated that during the training, participants will among other things share their expertise, knowledge and experiences in criminal intelligence and investigations as well as the evolving modus operandi of wildlife and forest law offenders.
In addition to Mr Khattabi and Mr Phiri, the other instructors in the ongoing session are HSI Senior Special Agent (HSI Houston), Mr Jose Goyco, Professor Samuel Wasser from the University of Washington, Salimu Hakimu Msemo, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), United Republic of Tanzania, and Stephen Terrell, Principal Legal Officer, Asset Recovery Agency at the Assets Recovery Agency of Kenya.
Tanzania is one of the seven (7) member states to the Lusaka Agreement composed of Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho, Liberia, Zambia, and Congo Brazzaville and three signatories namely Ethiopia, Eswatini and South Africa.
Available data depicts that illegal wildlife trade is among the four most lucrative illicit trafficking globally and estimated to be worth up to $23 billion annually, and counting.
Wildlife criminals target elephants, rhinos, pangolins, various bird species, timber and other assorted plants for smuggling out of Africa to a number of destinations in Asia.