This week African Heads of State, government representatives and experts gathered in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, for the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa.

Their mission: to create the elements of the first-ever continent-wide strategy and an action plan to tackle the illegal trade in wild fauna and flora within and from Africa.

As highlighted in IFAW’s report Criminal Nature, wildlife trafficking destroys biodiversity and ecosystems, undermining development and eroding livelihoods for millions of Africans. It also creates insecurity, fuels conflicts and corruption, deprives countries of their assets and compromises the rule of law creating divided societies. The scale of crime has become so severe that according to recent research, between 2002 and 2013, 65 percent of the entire population of African forest elephants were poached for their ivory – at a shocking nine percent per year.

There are many conferences on the international calendar, but something about this conference stands out.

Old opponents on the elephant issue – such as Kenya and South Africa – are working together towards this common goal; both Francophone and Anglophone Africa are standing side by side with shared purpose.

An African strategy developed by the African Union and its Member States, and focused on the needs of the continent is truly an extremely important step forward.

This meeting was a political show of force, sending a clear signal that poaching of Africa’s natural environment can and will no longer be tolerated.

It hosted governments from 22 counties.

The presidents of the Republic of Congo and the Republic of Chad and the prime minister of Gabon, joined other senior government officials from around the continent.

A little context: The Conference comes on the heels of the 23rd African Union Summit held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea last June, which urged African nations to apply a zero tolerance approach to wildlife crime; to strengthen laws and policies; and to engage communities in a bid to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and related criminal activities. Additionally, a meeting of the  African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) held in Cairo in March called for the establishment of a strategy and action plan to build on the outcomes of the 2014 London and 2015 Kasane conferences on Illegal Wildlife Trade.

As his Excellency Denis Sassou Nguesso, the host and President of the Republic of Congo, stated: “Forests and wildlife are part of our common African heritage but are disappearing at an alarming pace. We have a duty 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.”

To show how seriously Congo takes this issue, President Nguesso also set fire to Congo’s entire stockpile of nearly five tonnes of illegal ivory in front of the Palais des Congress – the Parliament building – before a distinguished audience that included General Idriss Déby, President of Chad – a country that has suffered extreme levels of poaching.

Congo is a hot country, but the heat from the burning ivory was like nothing I have felt before. An expert told me that to properly burn ivory it must be at over 200 degrees Celsius. As the flames crackled and the ivory burnt, it sharply brought home to the audience the scale of this terrible crime.

Following the Brazzaville conference, the draft strategy and associated action plan will be further developed in consultation with all African Member States, and progress on the strategy will be reviewed when the continent’s leaders gather at their bi-annual meeting, this June, in South Africa.

Having attended the 2013 AMCEN meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, and worked to incorporate wildlife crime into the party’s final agreement, it has been pleasing for me to be in Congo this week to witness and participate in the discussions.

Given my work on the parallel process in the EU for an EU Wildlife Crime Action Plan and Conservation Strategy, it highlights once again the need for Europe to put in place and fully fund its own plan, and support Africa in its efforts.

The two strategies are complementary, and indeed cannot succeed without each other.


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Article source: IFAW

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