Tag Archives: DRC

Home-grown corruption is killing Africa’s rhinos and elephants

Andreas Wilson-Spath, Daily Maverick
November 28, 2014
While the crisis is complex, with root causes in chronic poverty, the absence of sustainable economic alternatives and a burgeoning demand for wildlife products like ivory and rhino horn, the wheels of this multi-billion dollar industry are liberally greased by bribery and corruption at all levels of government in several African countries.
Even a cursory summary of the epidemic’s lowlights, makes for depressing reading:
Tanzania
Fast becoming Africa’s chief source of illicit ivory, Tanzania has lost two-thirds of its elephants to poaching since 2006. Collusion between corrupt government officials and criminal syndicates has been identified as the root cause. Game rangers provide critical information to poachers, police officers supply guns, Tanzanian Revenue Authority officers release containers of ivory for export, and ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party functionaries offer high-level protection for trafficking operations.
In 2012 a list of individuals involved in elephant poaching, including prominent politicians, was handed to President Jakaya Kikwete. The following year, four CCM members of parliament, among them the party’s Secretary-General, Abdulrahman Kinana, were named for their involvement. None of the individuals implicated have been investigated further or arrested.
In 2013, Tanzania’s Auditor General criticised the Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism’s Wildlife Division for the significant quantities of stockpiled elephant tusks that have gone missing while in its care and for under-reporting official poaching figures.
Earlier this year, police officers supplied poachers with weapons and access to the famed Selous Reserve, taking delivery of the ivory once five elephants had been killed.
A recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report notes that “the highest levels of the Tanzanian government” are ultimately responsible for the decimation of the country’s elephant population by failing to ensure that wildlife laws are enforced and by not achieving higher conviction rates when cases are brought to court.
Zambia
In 2013, Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts, dismissed Edwin Matokwani, the Director-General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) along with a number of his colleagues on the basis of malpractice and corruption involving commercial hunting companies.
In the same year, Defence Minister, Geoffrey Mwamba, was caught at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport with three large bags of elephant tusks. He was released without charge after claiming diplomatic immunity. The tusks were confiscated by ZAWA, but reappeared in the luggage of a Chinese diplomat at the same airport two days later. No further action was taken.
Mozambique
Poaching incidents reported to the Mozambican police and border guard are rarely followed up, cases are known to be squashed pending the payment of bribes, and offenders are released uncharged after a “deposit” of cash has been made.
A “web of official complicity” involving administrative, judicial and tax authorities in the northern provinces of Niassa and Cabo Delgado, including the Criminal Investigation Police, prosecuting attorneys and the courts, facilitates the industrial-scale elephant slaughter in the region. Government officials are known to have supplied poachers with high-calibre weapons, provided access to protected areas and smoothed the transportation of ivory and rhino horn out of the country.
In 2010, twelve elephants were killed in Mecula District using weapons supplied by police. The following year, eight Frontier Guard members were caught selling 350 kilograms of seized ivory. Instead of facing punishment, they were transferred to a different area.
Since 2012, several tonnes of ivory have disappeared from Mozambique’s official stockpile. High-level collusion by government officials is suspected.
The ruling Frelimo party stands accused of using the proceeds of ivory sales from more than 50 elephants poached in Niassa National Reserve with military equipment to fund its 2012 congress in Pemba.
In return for a bribe, airport customs officers in Maputo are known not to search luggage leaving the country, while customs and police officers provide similar services for containers shipped out of Pemba by Chinese timber companies. Cabo Delgado police commander Dora Manuel Majante has been accused of facilitating the passage of ivory and other contraband through Pemba’s airport and harbour.
A considerable proportion of the hundreds of poachers arrested or killed in the Kruger National Park have been members of the Mozambican army, police and border guard.
Uganda
Earlier this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was asked to assist in the apprehension of high-ranking government officials involved in illegal wildlife trafficking. No action was taken.
This month, more than a tonne of stockpiled ivory went missing from a Ugandan government vault. A local newspaper claims that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials in cahoots with traffickers are responsible for widespread ivory theft. Since then, six top UWA employees, including executive director Andrew Seguya, have been suspended pending the outcome of a police investigation.
Sudan
Militias allied to the Sudanese government are alleged to engage in elephant poaching operations as far afield as Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), trafficking ivory via the government in Khartoum and its military.
South Sudan
Ending in 2005, the two-decade-long war between south and north Sudan reduced the local elephant population from more than 80 000 to less than 5000. Since then, ongoing internal military conflict between the official government army and rebel forces threatens to eradicate it altogether as soldiers butcher elephants and other wildlife for meat and ivory.
DRC
The DRC’s army is believed by many observers to be the leading poacher in the vast eastern regions of the country. Until leaving in 2011, Uganda’s occupying People’s Defence Force was also linked to poaching.
South Africa
A number of key officials canvassed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 2012 consider corruption connected to wildlife crime to be rife in South Africa, particularly with regards to issuing of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) permits. Formal action against corrupt officials remains the exception.
Zimbabwe
Elite members of Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF are controlling increasingly large tracts of wildlife areas in the country and some are believed to be supplementing their foreign currency income through elephant and rhino poaching there.
In 2013, poachers allegedly linked to well-know senior ZANU-PF members, police officers and Zimbabwe Wildlife Management officials used cyanide to kill more than 100 elephants in Hwange National Park (HNP).
This year, the country’s last free-roaming elephant herd, which is supposedly protected from hunting and culling by a Presidential decree, has come under threat. Defying a government directive, a woman named Elisabeth Pasalk, whose brother is a hunting safari operator, has illegally claimed part of the herd’s home range, established a safari lodge and declared the area a ‘conservancy’ – a common euphemism for ‘hunting concession’. Conservationists believe that the takeover was supported by “political influence from high places”, that illicit hunting is part of Pasalk’s plans and that the Presidential Elephants are the intended target. The Zimbabwean government has done nothing about the situation.
Time to act
The evidence is overwhelming: African governments are complicit in the wholesale slaughter of the continent’s wildlife heritage.
A number of them have made public commitments to stem the poaching tide. Tanzania, for instance, is a signatory of the 2014 London Conference Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade which calls for zero tolerance on corruption and President Kikwete has recently spoken in favour of a moratorium on all ivory sales. Yet Kikwete’s government has shown little intention of turning these promises into reality and remains deeply implicated in the disaster.
What’s needed is the political will to take drastic action – to identify and investigate corrupt activities related to wildlife crime at every level of government, to remove corrupt individuals – many of them well known – from office and to prosecute them under the provisions of the criminal justice system.
The international community, including CITES, bears part of the responsibility. By not fighting corruption vigorously enough, not sanctioning governments known to be corrupt, not enforcing international law, not establishing a total ban on international and domestic trading in rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife commodities, and not calling for the destruction of all government stockpiles of such goods, they too are complicit in the unfolding catastrophe.
In July, the EIA and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) called on the US government to implement trade sanctions against Mozambique for its complicity in the slaughter of elephants and rhinos in Southern Africa. President Obama’s government is yet to heed this urgent call.
Eradicating corruption will not end the disaster. But if we don’t stop the systemic corruption which is facilitating it, Africa’s poaching crisis will be terminal – an extermination order for rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins and countless other irreplaceable species that will not survive the century in the face of unbridled human greed.

Exposing myths: Chinese connections in African ivory & rhino horn markets

Wildlife Extra News
October 2013

For the first time, journalists from mainland China worked with African journalists on an undercover investigation into the Chinese connection with ivory and rhino horns market in South Africa and Mozambique

Courtesy of Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalists (oxpeckers.org)

October 2013. Wildlife trafficking syndicates brazenly sell rhino horn and ivory at Chinese markets in Southern Africa’s capital cities, in the face of global attempts to crack down on the illicit trade in endangered species.

China is responsible for an estimated 70% of the world trade in ivory, and research by the international wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic indicates that nearly 80% of the reported seizures of illegal rhino horns in Asia between 2009 and late last year happened in China.

The recent influx of Chinese immigrants to Southern Africa has seen the market grow. Who are the Chinese people involved, and how do they go about buying these illegal products?

Bruma flea market and New Chinatown
Chinese journalists on an undercover assignment discovered that the Bruma flea market and nearby New Chinatown in eastern Johannesburg are the hub of the illicit trade in rhino horns and ivory in South Africa. Transactions between African sellers and Asian buyers occur relatively openly and daily.

From 9am to 5pm, sellers hang around the entrance to the Bruma flea market and eagerly surround Chinese people as they approach. “What are you looking for? Do you want xiangya? I have,” says Mike, a seller who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Do you have xiniujiao?” we asked. Xiangya is the Chinese term for ivory, xiniujiao for rhino horns, and it is clear Mike, as well as many other shop owners, is familiar with the terms.

“Xiniujiao… anytime but now. If you come back next month, maybe I could help you get some. Now it is impossible,” says Mike. He opens a door which is covered by a hanged blanket, shows us into a secret room near his craft shop where he has a stock of worked ivory products: small sculptures of elephants, chopsticks, necklaces, bracelets. The price is not too expensive, ranging from R200 a piece.

Matt, a Zimbabwean who works in Mike’s craft shop, says most of the rhino horns and ivory they are selling comes from his home country. He explains how he imports it: “There is a river that divides the two countries and we find a part where the water is not too deep and there is almost no security patrolling. We take off our clothes and carry the stuff on our shoulders across the river.” His biggest concern appears to be that there are crocodiles in some parts of the river.

Other shop owners in this market call out to us with offers of xiangya and xiniujiao. Ernest, another shop owner from the Congo, says: “Your Chinese friends may find it hard to get rhino horns, but we are Africans, we know how.”

Along Derrick Avenue in New Chinatown, home to most of Johannesburg’s recent Chinese immigrants, we speak to Gong, a taxi driver whose business card includes many other services related to the local immigration office, embassy and police department.

Easy to buy ivory
“It is easy to buy ivory and I could help you tell which ones are fake – I have been buying it for many years,” he says.

Ivory is just one of the businesses Gong has engaged in since he immigrated to South Africa six years ago. Like most Chinese in his community, he does not have a good educational background and barely speaks English. He used to assist a friend running a Chinese brothel until police closed it down.

However, he does not think it is a good idea for a visitor to purchase rhino horns here because it has become too risky. “Nowadays it is more dangerous than drugs,” he says. “Even if I could get it for you, I would not take the risk of selling it to an outsider like you rather than known partners. Ivory and rhino horns are like weeds and heroine.”

Gong says fewer Chinese are directly involved in smuggling rhino horn these days, although some still buy from Vietnamese traffickers. Consumers would be better advised to buy horn in China, where he could introduce us to sellers, he adds.

The research released by WWF in September indicates that Vietnamese presently dominate the rhino horn trade, but non-Asians often find it hard to differentiate between Chinese and Vietnamese people.

Abalone smuggling
Chinese smugglers still dominate the abalone smuggling market in South Africa, and according to a police expert up to 90% of abalone smugglers are connected with rhino horn since they share the same smuggling pipelines to Asia.

Several residents of New Chinatown echo Gong’s concern about the dangers involved in trading rhino horn. “Everyone knows that it is a crime. Some Chinese were arrested because of participating in the trade. You’d be advised not to ask around,” says Jing, who works in a massage parlour.

Many employees of Chinese companies in South Africa avoid New Chinatown, so named to distinguish it from the original Chinatown in central Johannesburg, because of its reputation for being involved with smuggling and other dangerous business.

“I would usually not go to the New Chinatown area. There is a mix of good people and various criminals,” says Zhang Jinguo, the head of the Chinese Construction Bank in Johannesburg.

Maputo: Hot spot for ivory
Among the Chinese residents of Johannesburg, it is common knowledge that the Chinese buy ivory and rhino horn much more often in Maputo, capital city of neighbouring Mozambique.

We visit the Saturday market at Praça 25 de Junho in Maputo, where we have learnt that buying such products is a “must do” for employees of Chinese companies who are not well educated and have unskilled jobs.

“The products are unique and cheap,” says Chen, a frequent Chinese buyer in Maputo who works for a Chinese construction company.

At the Saturday market, Kai, a 29-year-old working for a Chinese telecommunications company, is shooting a video to send to his families in China. “Hello dears, look where I am. This is the most famous ivory market here, I will bring you some good stuff,” he says.

Shop owners like Adam are visibly excited when they see a group of Chinese people approaching. “Come, we have heimu and xiangya,” he says. He says the Chinese are generally interested in buying two things in Mozambique: heimu, which is a black wood, and xiangya, namely ivory.

He also offers rhino horns at US$15 000 dollars a kilogram, though he says he does not keep it in the marketplace because it is too expensive. He opens a big box filled with various ivory products and displays them openly. However, when some Chinese customers lift the ivory too high he asks them to put them down, in case the police notice and make trouble.

Dong, an employee of a Chinese national oil company who has been in Mozambique for almost four years, is browsing through the market with three colleagues. He is mostly interested in buying bracelets made of black wood, animal horns and ivory. After bargaining, he buys two ivory bracelets for about R500 and his colleague buys two as well.

“We will need to take them apart and hide the pieces in the corners of our luggage. Then even if customs finds some we can still make them up into bracelets again in China,” Dong advises his less-experienced colleague.

As Dong’s group walks away, a nearby shop owner reminds them to hide their ivory bracelets inside their pockets, because if the police see them they will ask for money to “solve the problem”. Policemen are patrolling the market all the time, but they seem more interested in asking foreigners for their passports and money than finding ivory.

Unlike the Saturday “ivory market”, the craft market on nearby Mao Tse Tung Avenue opens every day. Chen, who has worked for a Maputo-based Chinese construction company for the past two years, is going back home in December and needs to stock up on souvenirs for friends and families.

He buys two pairs of ivory chopsticks, and says even though they may be confiscated by customs he can afford the loss. “Sometimes they pass and these things are cheap enough to be taken away if we have bad luck,” he says.

A colleague recently bought a large ivory sculpture and when it was found by customs officers in Mozambique he paid $300 to get it through. No one at customs in Beijing found it, Chen says.

He has a good collection of ivory products, and believes they can be an investment. “When you have enough money, you display them in your house. When you need money, you can always sell them,” he says.

Don’t care about the slaughter of elephants
Most of the Chinese buyers know where the ivory comes from, but don’t care about the slaughter of elephants. Kai, one of the buyers of ivory bracelets, sums up their feeling when he admits that he did not feel guilty about buying ivory products even though he knows how the sellers get it.

However, there are some Chinese who refuse to buy into the market. “These items are art from killing,” says Xu, a friend and colleague of Kai. But he indicates that there are few Chinese like him.

Due to the sensitivity of the investigations, real names cannot be disclosed.

This investigation by the Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalists (oxpeckers.org) was supported by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (fairreporters.net) and the Wits China-Africa Reporting Project