When the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) resumes its ordinary sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, next week, MPs will pour over a report on the House’s oversight activities on poaching in the region.
A report by the standing Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Wildlife is not yet out but recent indications point to a disturbing wave of ivory smuggling, bringing to question the efficacy of regional efforts to curtail the crime.
Despite some considerable progress following the first-ever regional anti-illicit trade conference, in 2010, the East African Business Council (EABC) acknowledged that a lot “remains to be done to win the fight against illicit trade.”
The term, illicit trade, broadly comprises both the trade in illegal goods and services, as well as instances where normally legal goods are traded illegally, affecting all aspects of global social and economic lives.
Recently Rwanda National Police (RNP) revealed it was holding and investigating 10 people, including four Guinea-Conakry nationals, arrested as they attempted to traffic elephant tusks through the country.
According to the Deputy Commissioner for Public Relations and Media, Chief Superintendent of Police Lynder Nkuranga, the suspects were arrested “separately” with about 80 kilogrammes of partially processed Ivory, as they attempted to use Rwanda as a transit route to Asia.
Reports indicate that three-quarters of illegal ivory makes its way to China, while Vietnam is the largest market for rhino horn.
CSP Nkuranga says preliminary investigations indicate that the tusks were smuggled from Tanzania, although the suspects claim that they got them from the DR Congo.
“Rwanda can’t be a transit or destination for illegal trade or safe haven for criminals,” Nkuranga said.
“We have a mandate under both local and international legal instruments, to protect the world’s elephant population and wildlife in general; Rwanda National Police is committed to implementing these legal tools and it is part of the RNP’s international cooperation to fight cross-border crimes.”
In March, Rwandan courts sentenced three Guineans and a Rwandan to six years in jail for trafficking nearly 88kgs of ivory.
That same month, nearly 4,000kgs of ivory were seized in Uganda.
Earlier this week, media reports from Uganda indicated that Rwandan businessman, Emile Kayumba, was remanded to Uganda’s Luzira prison in connection with illegal dealing in ivory.
Without a common EAC zero-tolerance approach, however, the future of the region’s elephants and its tourism industry are insecure. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that EAC governments lose over $500 million annually in tax revenues due to the influx of counterfeit and pirated products.
This figure does not include several other forms of illicit trade, otherwise, total tax revenue losses from illicit trade would be larger.
Uganda loses an equivalent of $1.4 billion – almost 5.5 per cent of its GDP – with Tanzania estimated to lose about $1.5 billion in revenue to counterfeits.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) estimates a loss of more than $500 million to illicit trade and its estimated government loses more than $350 million.
In April, Kenya burned 105 tons of ivory – the largest-ever ivory burn – and 1.35 tons of rhino horn in public show of the country’s determined intent to eradicate poaching.
In April, a nonprofit group Okoa Tembo wa Tanzania (Save Tanzania’s Elephants) published a letter signed by 30 influential Tanzanians demanding the destruction of all ivory stockpiles.
Okoa Tembo wa Tanzania is campaigning for three specific government actions for the protection of elephants: including the arrest and prosecution of the major ivory traders in EAC’s biggest country, and to use the country’s historic friendship with China to end the latter’s domestic ivory trade as “a matter of urgency.”
Tanzania reportedly has vast warehouse stores with thousands of tusks accumulated over the last two decades, holding more than 90 metric tons valued at over $50 million. The country is said to have lost around 85,000 elephants to poaching between 2009 and 2014.
Asian criminal gangs reportedly conspire with corrupt regional officials to traffic vast quantities of ivory and, the trading is reportedly so pervasive it even involves high-level diplomatic visits.
An investigation by a Swiss anti-organised crime watchdog says officials attached to the North Korean embassies in southern Africa were taking advantage of their immunities to ferry illegal ivory, rhino horn and other banned wildlife goods, and may have passed through ports in Kenya and Ethiopia.
The July 2016 report, “Beyond Borders: Crime, conservation and criminal networks in the illicit rhino horn trade,” indicates that “diplomatic bags”, which are legally immune from scrutiny, are the mode of choice.
Among others, the reports says that in May, a Vietnamese national was detained at Maputo Airport before he could board a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi with 22.4kg of rhino horn stuffed in his bags.