Ivory – battle lines being drawn over the trade in tusks ahead of CITES summit in South Africa

by Professor Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Ivory and elephants have for decades been very emotive topics among conservationists, wildlife departments and NGOs in states which have elephant populations and in Western countries which believe they have a right to tell others how to manage their wildlife resources. This has led to a constant state of verbal and media warfare over the international trade in ivory and the best approaches to conserving elephants. The arguments have centred on Africa’s elephants – the main source of illegally traded ivory.


Photo: copyright Keith Somerville. Madikwe, South Africa

On 24th September this year, South Africa will host the 17th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The regular CITES conferences have since the late 1980s been the main battleground for the competing camps when it comes to the relationship between the trade in ivory and the conservation of elephants. This year’s meeting in Johannesburg from 24th September to 5th October will be no exception. The trenches are already being dug and the opening skirmishes have taken place more than two months before the delegates gather.

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Africa’s Long Road and Current Developments

By Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Buhari and the Bulldozer gets to grips with graft – combatting corruption in Nigeria and Tanzania. A demonstration of the diversity but also shared problems of structure and agency in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa definition UN

Sub-Saharan Africa definition UN

This month my book on Africa’s post-independence histories is published by Hurst and Co, entitled Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent. It deals with the great diversity of post-independence political, economic, social and cultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, tracing elements of continuity and change from pre-colonial and colonial periods and how the evolution of the many and varied histories of African states demonstrate varying levels of conflict between structural factors and human agency and how amid their great diversity may also be found common structural challenges and forms of the exercise of agency. These seemingly contradictory aspects of the continent’s history are part of the rich mix of difference and shared experience, especially in relation to the widespread dependence on exports to fund formal economic activity and government spending and to the functioning of informal networks of power and patronage alongside weak formal state institutions. These facets of development are exemplified in recent elections in a number of states and post-electoral policies in two states – Nigeria and Tanzania.

Thirteen elections took place in Africa in 2015. The one in Burundi sparked violence as the incumbent sought an unpopular and arguably unconstitutional third term. Others saw the retention of power, often amid accusations of electoral fraud from defeated opponents, by sitting presidents and little change or no change in policies, empowerment of citizens or any shred of accountability of governments dominated by powerful patron/client networks. Nigeria and Tanzania were exceptions. In the former, the opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, in the first ever victory by a challenger in Nigeria’s history; in the latter, President Jakawaya Kikwete stood down after two terms and John “Bulldozer” Magfuli became the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate and defeated a strong challenge from the opposition candidate, Edward Lowassa.

Muhammadu Buhari 2015

Muhammadu Buhari 2015

Nigeria and Tanzania have very different political systems whose post-independence development have been a demonstration of the divergent histories of sub-Saharan African states. But despite the bloody, divisive and fractious nature of Nigeria’s experience since the end of British colonial rule in comparison with the relative peace, tolerance and unity of Tanzania, and despite the massive squandered oil wealth of Nigeria measured against the meagre natural resources of Tanzania, they have important similarities. Both are highly dependent on export earnings, foreign loans or aid to fund government budgets, both have seen the development of networks of patronage as means for politicians to develop and maintain support bases, and both have seen these networks rely on corruption, rent-seeking from export income and impunity in the face of weak state institutions to retain their clout, politically and economically.

Although their electoral experiences in 2015 were different, with Nigeria seeing the first ever electoral defeat of an incumbent president and Tanzania seeing yet another election in which the ruling CCM retained power, the elections brought about substantial changes in direction for the two countries. Former Nigerian military leader Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the issues of the Jonathan government’s failure to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents, its glaring incompetence in economic management and its corruption and cronyism. In Tanzania, Magfuli had stressed his past record as a minister in fighting corruption, and being the Bulldozer that cleared away obstacles to good and honest management.

John Magfuli "Bulldozer"

John Magfuli “Bulldozer”

In Nigeria, one serious and long-running source of corruption, patronage and power has been what is known as the security vote – the huge budget assigned from oil revenues to run Nigeria’s bloated military machine.  Conflicts from the Biafran War through the Niger Delta insurgencies to Boko Haram’s campaign in the north-east have enabled the armed forces and their political allies to devote huge sums to the military with little or no auditing of how the money has been spent or why, after decades of massive funding, the army remains poorly equipped and ineffective action against security threats.  Dozens of soldiers have been charged with cowardice or mutiny for failing to stop Boko Haram’s occupation of large swathes of the north-east.  Those accused defended themselves saying that they lacked modern equipment and even ammunition.

Now it is becoming evident why such a well-funded army may not have been able to arm its soldiers properly.  Buhari pledged to root out corruption and within months of being sworn in found huge levels of graft involving defence funds.  Charges of corruption and misuse of billions of naira allocated to paying imports arms have been levelled against some of the top officials of the last government.  They include President Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki; a former director of finance at the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu; an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamowei Dudafa; a former general manager at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Aminu BabaKusa; a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, and his son, Sagir Bafarawa.  Some of the funds, withdrawn in foreign currency, were said to have been used to fund the electoral campaign by Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party, while other tranches of money were used to buy expensive houses in Abuja for relatives of the accused. Nigerians await the trial with keen interest to see if the wall of impunity for senior politicians and officials is being broken down.

In Tanzania, the Bulldozer got to work fast after his October election victory.  Instead of celebrating in State House, the day after his inauguration he paid an unscheduled visit to a major state-run hospital.  Finding it in a dreadful state with total inadequate care for the patients, he fired the board and acting director there and then.  Soon after, he sent his new Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa, to the notoriously mismanaged and corrupt port in Dar es Salaam.  The premier found that taxes amounting totalling US$40million hadn’t been paid and the port authority and customs authorities were mired in corruption. Magfuli immediately suspended and arrested the Tanzania Revenue Authority’s Commissioner General and five top officials. He also sacked the head of the port authority and several  senior officials in the transport ministry.  In recent years, Dar es Salaam has become one of the major transit points for ivory, precious metals, gems and other illicit goods leaving East Africa for China and other Asian destinations, and the entry point for drugs.  Magfuli also suspended expensive independence day celebrations and instituted a day of work to clean up the streets, in which he took an active and highly publicised part.

These two developments in two very different states demonstrate both the vast differences in African states’ political and economic structures, but also areas of similarity in dependence on exports and the way that this can lead to the development of patronage networks, corruption and the exercise of power beyond the control of weak state institutions and legal systems.  Impunity may not be over for these informal patron/client systems, but in two countries a promising new start has been made.


Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; and teaches at the Centre for Journalism, University of Kent.  His book, Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent. Is published by Hurst and Co in January 2016; and he has just finished writing his next book on the history of the ivory trade in Africa.

No longer at ease – clouds on the horizon for Botswana’s conservation success story

by Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies*

Without belabouring the Chinua Achebe motif, Botswana’s conservation community is less at ease than it is used to being but the country is still far from seeing things fall apart. Botswana has long prided itself on its advances in conserving key habitats, species and implementing a tough but generally workable anti-poaching strategy. But clouds are gathering on the horizon, partly due to regional failures in controlling poaching and the trade in wildlife products, and partly as a result of the domestic reaction to the government’s own policies.

The clouds forming along Botswana’s borders result from incursions into areas like Chobe and Linyanti (home to Africa’s largest and most healthily expanding elephant populations) by poachers from Zambia. These have increased over the last few years. The domestic concerns centre around creasing numbers of cases of poisoning of predators and vultures in the Chobe Enclave, indications that local communities may be helping ivory poachers entering the country’s safari areas and national parks, and an increase in the last year or so in poaching by local communities for bushmeat. The poisoning is thought by Michael Flyman, of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), to be linked to elephant poaching and, in a small number of cases, to livestock protection. Animal carcasses, whether elephants or antelope, are poisoned, killing predators like lion and hyena but also jackals and vultures. The large-scale wiping out of vultures means that there are no flights of birds circling above kills to alert the wildlife authorities and Botswana Defence Force (BDF) anti-poaching patrols.

In four days tracking around the Chobe Enclave at the end of June, I saw no lions, hyenas, jackals or vultures, in an area that should be replete with them. Steve Johnson of the Southern African Regional Environment Program (SAREP) told me that increasing numbers of vultures and predators have been poisoned by those working with the poachers. He said this was going on along with the growth in the illegal bushmeat trade the region. What I did see was the clear sign of elephant poaching and the removal of tusks across the Linyanti river by boat into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. Driving along the edge of the Linyanti marsh my guide and I found the tracks of at least a couple of men dragging two round objects the same diameter as medium-sized elephant tusks.

Tusk drag marks leading down to Linyanti Swamp. Photograph courtesy of Keith Somerville

Tusk drag marks leading down to Linyanti Swamp. Photograph courtesy of Keith Somerville

The guide was convinced an elephant had been killed in the last 24 hours and the tusks dragged down to the swamp to be taken by mokoro to the Namibian bank. This was reported to the nearby BDF anti-poaching team, who operate in Linyanti with a harsh shoot-to kill policy for poachers. We failed to find the carcass of the elephant, with and no circling vultures to help us.

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Vanuatu and Tuvalu – inadequate response to human suffering

by Sir Ronald Sanders, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

People on the East Coast of the United States of America (US) and the Caribbean should consider how best they might lend a helping hand to the people of the islands of Tuvalu and Vanuatu in the Pacific whose lives have been shattered by Cyclone Pam that struck them on the night of March 13.

Image courtesy of Graham Crumb - Humans of Vanuatu.

Image courtesy of Graham Crumb – Humans of Vanuatu.

In the case of the Caribbean islands, it is a case of “there but for fortune go I”.

A category five Cyclone, called Pam, ripped through both Vanuatu and Tuvalu – two archipelagic countries consisting of several small islands and atolls – creating widespread destruction.  Damage was so intense that all the inhabitants of one of the Tuvalu islands had to be completely evacuated. They left behind everything they hold dear, and they now live in uncertainty about when they can return and how to start to reconstruct their lives.

The capacity of these countries to cope with ferocious cyclones, such as Pam, and the resilience to rebuild in the wake of huge damage, simply do not exist.   Both Vanuatu and Tuvalu are confronted with immediate humanitarian needs for food, shelter and fresh water.  Reports indicate that residents on some of the distant islands have resorted to drinking salt water.

The level of the immediate suffering can only be imagined by those who have not experienced the cruel conditions in which people are forced to live in the aftermath of natural disasters of this magnitude.

 The governments of Australia and New Zealand, which are the two most developed Commonwealth countries in the area, have been quick to help with humanitarian assistance.  But, the islands in the two archipelagic countries are so scattered that distribution of supplies is severely constrained, particularly as many have no landing strips.  Britain, too, has offered help amounting to £1m.  That money will be made immediately available to UN organisations and international aid agencies already working in the region.

But the lack of aid co-ordination has resulted in uneven assistance to the people of the islands, and in some cases to no help at all.   At the time of writing, the government of Vanuatu announced that food will run out on some islands within a week. The deputy chair of the National Disaster Committee, Benjamin Shing, has said the while the country appreciated the aid, the initial response could have been handled better.  He claims that the aid agencies are working on their own rather than in co-operation with the government.  He added that “in nearly every country in the world where they go in they have their own operational systems, they have their own networks and they refuse to conform to government directives”.

In the situation that Shing describes it is the already-suffering people who are hurt more as resources are duplicated or wasted in one area, and little or no help reaches others.

If, apart from Australia and New Zealand particularly, the response to the tragedy in Vanuatu and Tuvalu has not been impressive, the greater and more profound problem will be the rebuilding process.  These islands, like many in the Caribbean, do not have the capital formation in their own banking system to finance reconstruction.  They will have to turn to international financial institutions for help.   But, if the experience of the Caribbean is a measure of what they can expect, rebuilding will be a long and agonizing process.

Many Caribbean countries, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Dominica, lost more than 3 years of gross domestic product (GDP) in 24 hours when hurricanes devastated them.  Anxious to rebuild in the wake of such massively destructive hurricanes, the governments of these countries were forced into the commercial market to secure financing to rebuild infrastructure, even while their revenues were declining from decreased production.  Hotels closed, agricultural production ceased and manufacturing halted.  The result was an increase in the national debt and uncomfortable levels of debt to GDP ratios of more than 100%.

These countries had no option.  They either had to borrow to rebuild and re-start their economies or face soaring unemployment, increase in poverty and inadequate investment in health and education services.

Right now, Vanuatu and Tuvalu are rightly focused on alleviating the suffering of their people.  But, the bigger and more fundamental problem of rebuilding – and how to pay for it – already looms large.   Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has told the Tuvalu Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, that her government would support longer-term recovery and reconstruction efforts.   Vanuatu will also need that help.   Australia alone cannot provide it, nor should it be expected to.

 As Richard Bourne of the Ramphal Institute observed recently, “with erratic climate events and sea level rise it is time for the global community to take more seriously the growing risks for island archipelagos, especially low-lying atoll states in the Pacific and Caribbean. In a single year a storm can knock 10 per cent off GDP, and certain communities are already being withdrawn from shorelines where ocean levels have risen. This is a particular challenge for the Commonwealth, where the Ramphal Institute estimates that there are some ten independent and dependent territories which might be under water in 2100”.

 In its report to Commonwealth Heads of Government, “A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform”, the Eminent Persons Group of which I was a member had recommended that the 53-nation Commonwealth establish a disaster management capacity.  Unfortunately the recommendation was not implemented. The details of the mechanism are laid out in the report.  Suffice to say that the proposal sought to establish a rapid Commonwealth response to natural disasters; machinery for disaster preparation and mitigation; and the means to help mobilize concessionary financing for rebuilding.

Both Vanuatu and Tuvalu could have benefited enormously from such a disaster management capacity within the Commonwealth of which they are two of the smallest and most vulnerable of member states.  The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, called for Commonwealth help immediately after the destructive passage of Cyclone Pam, but the Commonwealth should be doing more at times of tragedy if it is to be relevant to the people of its member states.

Let us hope that the tragedy in Vanuatu and Tuvalu is a wake-up call.  Hurricanes in the Caribbean and cyclones in the Pacific are not going away.  They are clear and present dangers.

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

Forty-three years of Earth Day, and still no UN Ecocide Law

Indigenous Communities on the Banks of the Rio Negro, Amazon, Brazil

By the Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Earth Day was established in 1970.  In the same year, the term ‘ecocide’ was first recorded at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington.

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