Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT : Of CITES, elusive spirit of African unity | The Herald 30 AUG, 2019
The just-ended UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) which was held in Geneva, Switzerland, brought to the fore the sharp divisions between pro-sustainable conservation approaches of most SADC countries and those against it in the Western countries.
CITES wrapped up its 12-day meeting on regulating animal trade, with agreement on new provisions for elephants and giraffes, sharks and rays, among others, at a highly-charged conference. A number of measures meant to protect wildlife and support global conservation were adopted.
This UN treaty regulates trade in over 35 000 species of plants and animals and has a list of sanctions for those who break the rules and strategies to enforce laws to prevent illegal trade. Participants from 169 countries revised a string of trade rules meant to stop excessive fishing, hunting and harvesting of threatened species that include valuable trees found on the African continent, as well as animals and marine life that are endangered or facing extinction.
Giraffes, which have seen a decline of up to 40 percent in the past three decades were listed for additional protections while the parties also established the CITES Big Cat Task Force with a mandate to improve enforcement, tackle illegal trade and promote collaboration on conserving tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars and leopards.
Parties discussed ways to support governments in the developing world with wildlife management and rules enforcement.
It is this part that saw divisions between the SADC countries who wanted trade in ivory and ivory products to be permitted to raise revenue to benefit local communities.
The countries believe, ivory trade can help generate income to sustainably manage elephant populations. Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe submitted a joint proposal to trade stockpiled ivory, but lost the vote to support their proposal.
Angered by this, President Mnangagwa threatened that Zimbabwe could pull out of the CITES as the Treaty continued to punish SADC countries by denying them their sovereign rights to trade in ivory and rhino horn. Namibia too has threatened to pull out of the Convention.
The region might mourn over the defeat at CITES, but the biggest casualty was AFRICAN UNITY. African countries are still divided and are not speaking with one voice on matters of interest to the continent.
All plans for a united and integrated African continent are lost in official rhetoric, buried in documents and decisions. What happened at CITES all make it difficult to believe that we as Africans are making any progress in terms of a unified Africa.
Since the creation of the African Union (AU) in 2002, all talk has been towards a more unified Africa. However, lack of unity at major international fora still shows how Western countries still dominate and influence major global decisions on trade, politics and economics.
All this has quashed any hopes of one, united Africa, without trade or political barriers and a Africa that speaks with one voice on matters of continental interest. Some eastern and western African blocks voted against SADC countries at the CITES.
This lack of unity on continental approaches to wildlife management and trade has caused a structural logjam on matters pertaining to the sustainable use of natural resources and sovereignty in Africa. In future, will SADC move to support other African countries that may want to push a certain agenda?
There are no easy answers to this. And it seems, the just-ended CITES meeting provides useful lessons on the tragedy of African unity. It has proven that the spirit of African unity is still elusive.