Published in The Nation newspaper on 18th April 2015
‘Hard Talk On Saturday’
Malawi made the headlines when it announced that it would destroy ivory confiscated from illegal traders. But, since it announced the postponement of the same, a number of questions are being raised, ranging from whether destroying the stockpile may end the problem, or whether the government has the capacity to safeguard it from theft. RICHARD CHIROMBO engages government spokesperson, Kondwani Nankhumwa. Excerpts:
There seems to be too much excitement over the issue to destroy the seized ivory. It is almost as if Malawi has won the battle against illicit trade in ivory. Should we say the war has been won?
By no means is stockpile destruction the only step on the road to safeguarding elephants and ending the current poaching crises. But it is a vital step in demonstrating the country’s commitment that the poaching of elephants and trade in ivory will not be tolerated.
What are we demonstrating? That we can announce plans to burn something and, then, postpone the plans at will?
Burning the ivory sends a strong signal on the World that Malawi opposes the illegal trade in wildlife, especially the trade in ivory, and that, in effect, ivory has no commercial value. By taking this great step, we are raising awareness of the devastating impacts of poaching to elephants and also the countries that are losing their wildlife. It also sends a clear message that Malawi, and Africa, is fighting back against illegal wildlife trade and shows that elephants are valuable part of their heritage rather than a commodity to be sold into Jewellery and trinkets.
How will Malawi benefit from destroying the stockpile?
Importantly for Malawi, you might wish to know that to put beyond reach by destruction is the best option where the ivory is under security risk due to high demand, but also it poses a breeding ground for corruption for those looking after it as this is a product that will have to be kept in perpetuity as it cannot be traded. The resources saved from keeping it will then be used to strengthen law enforcement to protect the live elephants in the protected areas.
How long did it take us to gather a pile of four tonnes of ivory?
This is ivory that has accumulated over years. Suffice to say that ivory trafficking and illegal wildlife trade has been escalating with recent evidence that organised international crime syndicates are targeting and exploiting Malawi as a source and transit route for illegal wildlife trade. Between 2011 and 2014, over 23 arrests were made at Kamuzu International Airport alone, with 69 pieces of ivory confiscated. In May 2013, the Malawi Revenue Authority intercepted 781 pieces of ivory.
Why can’t Malawi Sell the ivory?
Currently, there is a worldwide ban on international trade of ivory. The ban is enforced by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which came into force in 1989 and to which Malawi ratified. Furthermore, seized ivory cannot be legally sold, as per CITES regulations. This is consistent with procedures relating to other seized illegal products such as drugs, which are regularly destroyed. Therefore, Malawi could never sell the stockpiles. It can be sold if you are a criminal! Therefore, the ivory is in fact worthless to Malawi in terms of monetary value. The ivory has absolutely no commercial value.
Supposing the elephants were human beings, how many dead bodies would we have, say in mortuaries, right now?
How many elephants lost their lives? First of all, this is both worked ivory e. g made in bungles, among others, as well as raw ivory. It may be full tusks. Suffice to say it may not be very precise as to how many elephants were killed but put it to around 500 elephants. At the same time, let me caution you that all this ivory is not from Malawi. So, this does not mean that the estimated 500 elephants are all from Malawi.