Africa must speak with one voice and promote a common African position on the unsustainable and illegal trade in wildlife products at CoP18 – the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CoP18 will take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in May 2019. A common African position was called for at a meeting of experts held in July 2018, in Luanda, Angola, within the framework of the African Union (AU)’s African Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa.
A common position would recognise a united stance on the issue, with all AU member states then supporting that stance. ‘This would mean one African country [holding the chair of the AU] or a regional economic bloc spearheads an agreed position that is beneficial to the whole continent. Any opposing views are obliged to recognise that one position,’ Edward Phiri, Director of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, an inter-governmental body on wildlife crime, told ENACT.
CoP17, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2016, adopted ground-breaking decisions on corruption, cybercrime, traceability and demand reduction. CoP17 also tightened the protection of endangered species and promoted community and youth participation in conservation efforts.
At CoP17, African positions were divided on various issues. For instance, proposals by a number of Southern African countries directly opposed those presented by a group of mainly East African countries, coalescing under the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), which called for a total ban on the ivory trade to save elephants from imminent extinction. The AEC represents over 20 African countries where the majority of African elephants can be found.
The CoP17 decisions led to a ban on the open, legal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, and imposed strong measures to control domestic ivory markets – mostly in southeast Asian countries like Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.
Typically, decisions are the outcome of a system of global votes. A common African position would unite the continent behind a single interest.
Ahead of CoP18, Southern African countries are preparing to develop a regional common position on ‘the management of environment, natural resources and wildlife.’ For its part, the AEC maintains that the only solution to end the crisis caused by poaching and illegal trafficking, is to completely ban all trade in ivory. There is need for agreement on a common position to address the plight of all increasingly endangered African species and on holistic management of wildlife.
The secretariats of CITES and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, facilitated regional meetings ahead of CITES CoP17 to enable countries to discuss and agree on their positions. These two institutions, as well as regional economic communities and other inter-governmental bodies, are key to the success of Africa’s collective response to the illegal wildlife trade.
Together with inter-governmental institutions such as CITES and INTERPOL, the practical experience that these institutions bring would be invaluable in guiding the continent to better collaborate in its conservation efforts.
Deo Gumba, ENACT Regional organised crime observatory coordinator – East and Horn of Africa, ISS