Zimbabwe cannot be faulted for trying to make the Cites see reason, a commodity that apparently is now at a premium within the global watchdog for endangered animal species. Well, at least as far as noble requests on commercial ivory sales from southern Africa are concerned.
Last week we reported on these pages Zimbabwe’s latest attempt to get the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to lift its global ban on the trade of registered raw ivory.
Together with Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, the country has written to Cites intending to have the ban suspended at the earliest by June, when state parties meet for the biennial conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The biggest question though is, what are the chances of success for Zimbabwe’s newest proposal? It’s only three years ago that Cites rejected by an overwhelming majority another attempt by the southern African countries to have the ivory blockade removed.
Since the last Cites conference in South Africa in 2016, not much has changed in terms of how the global body perceives issues to do with ivory sales, for whatever reason. As a matter of fact, the anti-ivory crusade continues to get even stronger, with sympathy-seeking marketing stunts such as the public incineration of confiscated ivory gaining in popularity.
The most promising feature of Zimbabwe’s latest application centres around a legality that previous elements of the ivory restrictions under Cites “are no longer relevant or not appropriate,” especially in view of the expiry of the nine-year moratorium on commercial ivory sales in 2017. Outside that, everything else basically remains constant.
Now, while the optimists from Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa hope for the best outcome, it is equally critical to consider the options that might be available for these four countries to liquidate their stockpiles of ivory in the event that the new proposal is turned down again.
To illustrate these potential but not impossible options, I’ve decided to revisit an argument that I have promoted in the past, moreso given that it applies now as it did at the time I first ranted about it nearly three years ago.
Both Zimbabwe and her peer nations have expressed great disappointment at how the Cites system has been politicised and hijacked by a few wealthy charlatans to the former’s disadvantage. There is little doubt the four countries’ faith in the system has been greatly diminished, which makes for an alternative case.
How Zimbabwe, and other like-minded countries, react to this existential threat, as now regrettably represented by Cites, will be crucial. A radical alternative may include a complete or partial break-away from the Convention.
In this scenario, countries backing the trade in ivory may create their own market, supported by bilateral instruments and agreements that do not only legitimise trade outside of the Cites, but ensure it is sustainable, transparent and accountable – with all trade statistics made public.
Or the ivory proponents could stick around in Cites, and hope to force change from within. While change this way is highly unlikely, it seems likely nations will opt for this route.
Former Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri has hinted as much in 2016 when she said: “To us the value of those tusks is very high; therefore, we shall wait until an opportune time to sell.”
In the current scheme of things, those countries stuck with tonnes of ivory, and willing to sell to raise money for conservation, have a limit in options. Cites isn’t what it used to be, it has ceased to represent the foundational values of its pioneers.
It is difficult to see the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ever reforming to suit Zimbabwe’s ivory demands. The opportunity for legitimate trade is closing with each passing year, with countries like Kenya burning over 100 tonnes of ivory in public, just to prove the point elephant tusks are worth less except for the purposes of driving poaching. Just how long Zimbabwe will continue to wait for the “opportune time to sell” is anybody’s guess.
Inside Cites, that dream could be a nightmare come true. As far as ivory trade is concerned, the Cites has failed to be neither progressive nor pragmatic. And that’s not benefiting Zimbabwe — a country that almost self-funds its entire wildlife work (one of the best conservation success stories across Africa) – any bit.
Other countries often receive generous payouts from outside — and still fail in conservation. We do not expect nations like Kenya, which has received over $150 million for wildlife conservation over the next decade, to appreciate Zimbabwe’s need to sell its ivory.
Talking to countries like Kenya within the precinct of the Cites isn’t going to produce results any different from what we have already seen.
Perhaps it is high time authorities began to consider options outside the Convention, and, possibly re-evaluate its membership.
God is faithful.