Poverty-stricken resource-rich Africa


Emmanuel Koro  02 OCT, 2020


Has Africa’s 11th hour escape from poverty arrived?

Rich but poor. Poor but rich. It’s unbelievable and ironic! This is the sad reality in Africa. Africa is resource-rich but poor.

Why has Africa continued to be trapped in this seemingly endless and undeserved poverty trap from the slavery, pre-colonial and colonial periods up to today? This is the most urgent question that needs to be addressed by every African and friends of Africa.

Something is very wrong and needs correction. Being poor but resource-rich is a frustrating and contradictory reality that needs to change soon.

The African continent has all the natural resources such as minerals and timber that the world needs and is willing to pay for. Wildlife and its products such as stockpiled ivory, elephant skins and rhino horn are in high demand. Ironically, the African continent remains frustratingly paralysed in poverty for many reasons ranging from greed, inequality, corruption and Western interference as well as exploitation.

The United Nations defines overall poverty as a condition that is characterised by lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods, hunger and malnutrition, ill-health, limited or lack of access to education and other basic services, increased morbidity and mortality from illness, homelessness and inadequate housing, unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. Poverty is also characterised by lack of participation in decision-making and in civil, social and cultural life (UN,1995).

All these poverty indicators are without a doubt sadly found in Africa, with no sign of their going away quickly.

Africa’s break from poverty through trade in its wildlife such as elephants and rhinos, including their products such as ivory and rhino horn, ironically does not lie in its hands. It apparently lies in the hands of Western animal rights groups that continue to prohibit the continent from fully benefiting from wildlife hunting, ivory and rhino horn trade. They do so by campaigning for the ban on trade in wildlife and its products, including shutting down hunting markets.

This unfortunate reality can easily be transformed into a fortunate one if only Western animal rights groups are stopped from promoting the misinformed and insane ban on trade in Africa’s wildlife and its products.

If the wildlife-rich African countries were allowed to trade in their stockpiled rhino horns and ivory, it would result in an economic boom. It would, most importantly, generate enough money for wildlife conservation, including the most poached and valuable species such as rhinos and elephants.

“It could prove to be the open-sesame (effective means of bringing the desired result) for an African wildlife industry the likes of which the world has never seen before,” said Ron Thomson, one of the world’s most outspoken elephant specialists.

Sadly, Africa’s opportunity to trade in its live wildlife and products such as ivory and rhino horn is, unlikely to happen as long as Western animal rights groups continue to sponsor the ban on trade in Africa’s products. Decisions on whether to trade or not in wild species are made through a voting system by over 183 countries that are members of the UN agency, CITES.

The influence of animal rights culture on Western countries is so great that the entire Western world, including Europe and North America – is apparently anti-trade in wildlife and its products. This has continued to limit Africa’s opportunity to trade in its abundant wildlife and products such as ivory and rhino horn.

Therefore, the continued ban on international trade in ivory and rhino horn has snatched out of the African continent’s hands, the potential and opportunity to generate revenue for wildlife conservation, employment creation and the general socio-economic well-being of its people.

This leaves wildlife-rich Southern African countries with almost no chance of ever getting support within the UN agency, CITES’, decision-making framework, to trade in their stockpiled ivory and rhino horn. One of their viable options to avoid the Western-influenced trade ban is to pull out of the UN agency, CITES. Thereafter, they should establish an independent Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) wildlife and wildlife products trading body. Until that decision is made, wildlife-rich and elephant-overpopulated Sadc countries shall continue to suffer from the needless poverty that is arguably imposed on them by Western animal rights groups and countries’ continued sponsorship of anti-trade bans.

The African countries suffer from the lack of an opportunity to trade in what they own in abundance. In sharp contrast, the Western animal rights groups celebrate their achievement to continue with the ban on ivory and rhino horn and also live rhinos and elephants.

A single auctioned rhino horn can cost about US$60 000 (R900 000) – enough to build an average African rural community clinic in areas where people co-exist with rhinos and elephants that also destroy their crops and homes. In some cases, these rhinos and elephants also kill their loved ones. But the Westerners are seemingly not worried about how their sponsored ban on ivory and rhino horn locks these communities into poverty. Instead, they celebrate the continued ban on trade in ivory and rhino horn. When they do that they are arguably celebrating African poverty and suffering. What a seemingly senseless and heartless Western celebration of African poverty!

Therefore, Africa’s needless man-made poverty is today at the heart of what needs to be done to improve both the continent’s wildlife conservation and human wellbeing.

The Western celebration of African poverty must be brought to an end. It’s a violation of African people and their governments’ rights to exercise their sovereignty to benefit from their wildlife through legal and well-regulated international trade.

The Western animal rights groups and governments know that without trade in ivory and rhino horn, and without hunting, Africa, cannot generate enough revenue to look after its wildlife. Despite this, they still ironically demand that African countries should increase their anti-elephant and rhino poaching budgets.

Where does the money come from when the ban on international trade in ivory and rhino horn continues to be enforced? We then see the Western animal rights groups applying a lot of pressure on African governments, forcing them to divert funds from central treasury budgets, meant for poverty alleviation and public infrastructure development programmes, and use it for wildlife conservation.

When money that was supposed to go towards funding programmes that ensure human wellbeing is diverted and used to look after wildlife it means animals are more important than people. It means where human rights are violated, animal rights are protected. It’s very wrong to neglect human rights while protecting animal rights.

Meanwhile, Africa continues to lose out. It suffers the needless indignity of being resource-rich but poor. Africa should fight to end this deplorable, unwarranted and frustrating poverty that is seemingly sustained and celebrated by the West through unjustified bans in international trade in ivory and rhino horn.

Accordingly, the ban on international trade in ivory and rhino horn is bad for African people and wildlife.

The people continue to sink into poverty as long as they do not benefit from their elephants and rhinos, as well as other wildlife. The elephants and rhinos also continue to be driven to extinction through poaching.

In short, their people, their wildlife and their economies are going down.

This removes any chance of ever achieving sustainable development in Africa. Let alone achieving the well-publicised UN poverty alleviation goal, by 2030.

Africa has endured a very long and frustrating period of apparent Western-influenced elephant and rhino ‘conservation’ without logic and sanity, since 1975 when CITES was established.

Even the Western princes, princesses, kings, queens, film stars and billionaires have been influenced to think that when you ban trade in ivory and rhino horn you can then ‘save’ the rhino and elephant. Nonsense.

There is no sound scientific as well as economic evidence that has ever supported such thinking.

One of Africa’s top conservation think-tanks Professor Emeritus Marshall Murphree categorically dismisses this Western animal rights-movement- driven myth that when you ban trade in ivory and rhino horn you automatically save the elephants and rhinos, respectively.

In his hard-hitting write-up published in The Conservation, in 2016, Professor Emeritus Murphree says, “Everyone agrees that the illegal ivory trade continues despite the international trade ban.” It (the ban on illegal ivory trade) has been an abject failure. CITES has had 27 years to evaluate the experiment and, far from being part of the solution to illegal elephant killing in Africa, the ban must be seen as part of the problem.”

Namibia’s respected CITES expert and SADC advisor on CITES trade regulations, Dr Malan Lindique agrees that the CITES bans on ivory and even rhino horn trade would never help stop elephant and rhino poaching.

“Only when the people begin to receive benefits from wildlife can they begin to value and conserve it, including elephants and rhinos,” said Dr Lindique.

Any well-educated economist from anywhere in the world would tell you that a ban in any commodity increases its demand and price. Therefore, a ban in ivory and rhino horn trade increases both their demand and in turn, poaching.

Another likely vote against ivory and rhino horn trade, including live elephants and rhinos awaits Africa at the next CITES meeting in less than two years.

Without being pessimistic, the events building up towards the next CITES meeting, CITES CoP19 in Costa Rica, in 2022, are not in favour of sustainable use.

The anti-use and anti-trade United Kingdom-based EPI Foundation announced in December 2019: “The EPI Foundation is pleased to welcome Costa Rica’s minister of environment and energy, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, as a member of “our leadership council.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Costa Rica, the host country of CITES CoP19 is seemingly getting co-opted into the Western animal rights anti-trade agenda, right from the start of preparations for CoP19.

“This appointment [EPI appointment of Costa Rica] minister of environment seems clearly aimed at influencing CoP19,” said Kenya-based experienced wildlife trade researcher who worked for the UN, IUCN and Trade Records Analysis In Fauna and Flora In Commerce popularly known as TRAFFIC, Mr Dan Stiles.

“There is no other reason to put a Central American on a “leadership” council that deals with African elephants. His job will primarily be to garner Latin American votes for those proposals that the EPI and their allies are aiming for.”

Therefore, all odds are sadly going to be against the elephant over-populated SADC countries’ bid to trade in their dust-gathering thousands of tonnes of ivory and rhino horn.

It is quite frustrating that this neocolonial type of anti-wildlife trade dictatorship continues to be used by former colonial masters of the continent, at the expense of sovereign African countries. Perhaps it is this observation that compelled Mr Harris of the USA-based Ivory Education Institute, to deliver one of the most powerful and disruptive speeches ever presented at CITES meetings, protesting against the Western countries’ neocolonial and eco-colonial tendencies towards Africa.

“I have a question for the Western delegates here,” said Mr Harris. “What gives you the right to repeat the colonial mistakes of the 19th century? How dare you dictate to Africa or other former colonial areas, how they should manage their natural resources? There seems little difference between the millions spent on corrupt African leadership and the arrogance that Rhodes, Kruger, Bismarck and others brought to Africa with their version of civilisation – Western. Their favourite style of religion – Christianity. And their form of economics – government protected capitalism.”

Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.