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The poster child for political symbolism

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There has been growing realisation over the last few years that the huge upsurge in wildlife crime, especially in Africa, is linked to major international crime syndicates and terrorist organisations, who use the proceeds to buy arms and ammunition, and to destabilise great swathes of the continent.

View Point with Wisdom Mdzungairi

Events in Nairobi, reportedly executed by Al-Shabaab, who have long been known to be behind some of the worst poaching in East Africa, especially in Kenya, bear testimony to this heinous crime.

The question is, why has it taken so long, and why has so little been done? Today, its countries in the North and East, but who knows Zimbabwe may be next given the increased sophisticated poaching incidents like the Hwange National Park cyanide incidents.

Elephants are still dying in their numbers and no clues as yet to what actually transpired. We still demand answers, and Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere should do the honourable thing by telling the nation who is behind this wildlife crime.

Indications are that it is an international poaching ring with connections in the corridors of power — who nobody knows — but, of course, various names are flying.

So the last few weeks should have been a time for self-introspection collectively for the country’s politicians to ensure they deliver a kind of Zimbabwe the people would want — free from corruption, self-indulgence, lust, wildlife crime etc.

Author PD Mehta once wrote: “A vast amount of suffering is due to our own lust, to our feverish pleasure-seeking and self-indulgence, to our greed and our ambition.”

And so, when it was discovered that poachers had killed over 80 elephants by poisoning water points using cyanide in the country’s flagship Hwange park, one hoped that the leadership would take the issue seriously by ensuring the matter was discussed at the just-ended 68th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

Did I miss something? Oh, I wonder! Only Tanzania and Gabon, whose countries have less, less numbers of jumbos, raised the matter as more serious than the politics of sanctions, sanctions and sanctions.

No doubt, it was a wasted opportunity for the country to seek financial help to save our wildlife that is facing the danger of extinction in the next 10-15 years in many ways than expected.

A wasted opportunity indeed for many other reasons not political.
All the same, Zimbabwe, and indeed the world, is beginning to wake up — that wildlife crime is fuelling wars and terrorism the world over. This is why poaching must be taken seriously by all who care about our future.

Yesterday, Kasukuwere was visiting Hwange for the umpteenth time to assess the damage made to the vast national park and mitigate the dangers posed by shortages of water for elephants and other game species. He should not just have endless visits, but seize the opportunity to fund-raise and ensure provision of water in the long term in not only Hwange, but all other major national parks around the country.

Nonetheless, efforts to combat illicit wildlife crime received a massive boost as leaders and a number of ministers at UNGA outlined the serious impacts of poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking particularly in Africa.

During the most important the year in international politics, governments chose to highlight illicit wildlife trafficking as a major threat to peace and security, the rule of law and global development.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo urged the appointment of a special UN envoy on wildlife crime as well as a UNGA resolution, a move that was supported by British Foreign Affairs secretary William Hague and German Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, as well as other Environment ministers present, of course, minus Kasukuwere.

Bongo said: “Illicit wildlife crime is no longer a simple environmental problem; it is a transnational crime and a threat to peace and security on our continent.”

Westerwelle highlighted that for Germany, “it is no longer a measure of securing endangered species, it’s about countering the spread of organised crime and preventing uncontrolled militarisation. This has become a problem of foreign and security matters.”

Wildlife trafficking is now more organised, more lucrative, more widespread and more dangerous than ever before as witnessed in the Hwange saga. It constitutes a threat to territorial integrity, security and represents an invasion as well as natural resources theft.

The high-level meeting on “poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking — a multi-dimensional crime and a growing challenge to the international community”, was hosted by Germany and Gabon and was attended by ministers and other high level representatives from Chad, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, the United States, Colombia.

How we wish we were represented at the highest level.

Could Zimbabwe have missed a golden opportunity to ensure it gets a fair share of the spoils to protect the endangered elephants at this once-in-a-year international convention? For how long shall we put elephants as a poster child for a failed experiment in our countries?

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