African countries join forces against illegal trade of wild species

7 May 2015

African Heads of State, experts and policymakers, gathered for the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa from April 27-30 in Brazzaville, Congo, stressed the urgent need to coordinate efforts in the fight against illegal trafficking of natural species in Africa. The event resulted in an Africa-wide draft strategy and related action plan to reduce, and possibly eliminate the illegal trade in wild animal and plant species.

An Africa-wide Strategy

In the Conference Final Statement, the African governments reaffirmed the need for a unified strategy to help Africa in the fight against illegal trading of species and products from the wild fauna and flora. The Draft Strategy developed during the Conference, which outlines the key elements of such a unified strategy for the 2015-2024 period, is a real first across the African continent. The Strategy and its Action Plan will continue to be developed in consultation with African nations. Progresses in the area are expected to be reviewed in June, during the biannual meeting of African leaders to be held in South Africa.

“An African strategy developed by the African Union and its Member States, and focused on the needs of the continent is an extremely important step forward,” said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP. This is essentially also the message delivered at the Conference by the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, who declared, "Our duty is to work together, as a continent, to safeguard our unique biodiversity for present and future generations and to craft strong collective solutions to address this calamity." The African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Rhoda Peace Tumusiime also welcomed the development of a "clear roadmap toward a strategy that is strong, Africa-owned and Africa-led." 

Key components

The stated objective of the Strategy is to prevent, reduce, and eventually eliminate illegal trade in species and products of wild fauna and flora. From a practical standpoint, it revolves around 7 specific objectives: (1) Increase political commitment; (2) Increase capacity, knowledge and public awareness; (3) Improve governance and regional cooperation; (4) Enhance engagement with consumer states to reduce demand for illegal products; (5) Promote economic development and local community livelihoods through sustainable use of wild fauna and flora; (6) Reduce and possibly eliminate the economic and security impact of environmental crime; and (7) Increase the capacity of source and transit states in detecting illegal activities, particularly at borders.

The Strategy seeks to generate responses and coordinated action from African states in combatting the illegal trafficking of natural species, starting with the enhancement of their legal and institutional frameworks and the implementation of existing laws at the national and international levels. As such traffic is the result of transnational organized crime networks, no country can face it alone inside its own borders, and strong collaboration is imperative, as John Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), pointed out.

In particular, the Strategy aims to operationalize decisions made in other international forums, and to raise funds to support the fight. Importantly, particular emphasis is also placed on the essential role of local communities, whose involvement in managing those issues is absolutely crucial. Finally, it is interesting to note that, while the strategy obviously addresses the issue of the origin of such environmental crimes, it also focuses on transit countries and final destinations of illegally traded specimens. In this regard, the participants recommended holding a joint conference with consumer and transit countries in Asia, in order to agree on a joint action to eliminate the supply, demand, trade and illicit consumption of wildlife products from Africa.

A strong message

As the host country for the Conference, the Republic of Congo took the opportunity to send a strong message. "Forests and wildlife are part of our common heritage, but they are disappearing at an alarming pace," warned President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Many conference participants also echoed these concerns and sense of urgency, like Daudi Sumba of the African Wildlife Foundation, who declared in his speech: "Given the catastrophic situation with the illegal wildlife trade, the strategy adopted in Brazzaville provides an important opportunity for Africa to move quickly to action. "

In a clear symbolic gesture, the Republic of Congo took advantage of the Conference to burn its entire stock of seized ivory, all powered by a blaze of hardwood timer also seized in the fight against illicit trade. An act intended to reflect the political determination of the continent in its fight against environmental crimes.

"The destruction today of the ivory seized by the Republic of Congo will attract global, regional, and national attention and should serve to raise awareness against the devastating effects of illegal ivory trade and wildlife trafficking, while demonstrating the collective determination of Congo, and the entire global community, to put an end to it," said John Scanlon (CITES).

The four-day conference, with the theme “Safeguarding the African Biodiversity for Sustainability and Global Peace,” was organized under the leadership of the Republic of Congo, in partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC), and with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the African Development Bank (ADB), the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

ICTSD reporting; « Les décideurs d'Afrique développeront un plan conjoint pour stopper le commerce illégal des espèces sauvages », UNEP, 27 mai 2015 ;  « Regional Cooperation, Working with Demand Countries Key to Ending Wildlife Crime, Say African Nations », UNEP, 30 mai 2015 ; « Congo Republic burns its entire stockpile of seized ivory », UNDP, 30 mai 2015.

Crédit photo : Stephen Miller/Ministère congolais de l'économie forestière.


This article originally appeared in Passerelles.

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