The Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) organized and convened a two-day Eastern Africa Wildlife Directors Meeting which was successfully concluded on 12 February 2016 at the Laico Regency Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.
The meeting brought together 22 participants comprising Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), their Heads of Wildlife law enforcement from Wildlife Authorities and policy makers at the respective Ministries in five (5) East African elephant range states of Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda and Ethiopia. Though enthusiastic about the meeting, the Republic of Rwanda did not attend owing to urgent state assignments and sent their apologies promising to participate in future sessions. Also in attendance were officials of LATF and representatives of partner organizations namely UNODC, INTERPOL, CITES-MIKE/UNEP.
The Wildlife Directors Forum was designed to cultivate synergy, promote dialogue and bolster cooperation among the wildlife institutions and policy makers to effectively combat elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade as well as wildlife crime in general.
At the official opening of the meeting on 11th February 2016, representatives from LATF, INTERPOL, UNODC, CITES-MIKE/UNEP, African Elephant Fund Steering Committee and the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development of Kenya made the following remarks (summarized):
The Director of Lusaka Agreement Task Force, Mr. Bonaventure Ebayi, stated that the meeting lay a good foundation for establishment of the East African Wildlife Directors Forum. He stated that this initiative, which is one of the key mandates of Lusaka Agreement Task Force, was designed to cultivate synergy, promote dialogue and bolster cooperation among the wildlife institutions and policy makers to effectively combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade which is escalating to unmanageable levels, with Eastern Africa region bearing the biggest brunt of the menace according to statistics released in the recent past. He added that it was inspired by the need to bring wildlife directors/managers of these states that share ecosystems transcending their common political boundaries and face similar conservation dynamics and threats/challenges such as movement of wildlife contraband across borders, to a consultative forum that will build common understanding of the challenges, share best practices and experiences, formulate policies and facilitate execution of concrete measures towards addressing poaching and illegal wildlife trade in the African sub-region. He added that the Directors meeting contributed to implementation of LATF’s strategy and implementation of recommendations of bilateral and multilateral cross border meetings with stakeholders in line with the provisions of the Lusaka Agreement, which calls for Parties to co-operate amongst themselves and with the Task Force to undertake activities aimed at reducing transboundary wildlife crime. He thanked the Representatives of the Cabinet Secretary, Participants from the five countries and partner organizations for attending the meeting.
The Representative of the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme and Project Wisdom Manager Mr. Henri Fournel, espoused some strategies that would contribute towards addressing wildlife crime. He however emphasized that none of the strategies would be successful unless all agencies worked together. He reiterated that Project Wisdom supports investigations and efforts to address wildlife crime and was readily available when called upon to assist. Mr. Fournel elaborated that one of its key functions was criminal intelligence analysis which output is thereafter shared with the authority requesting such services. He averred that wildlife crime should always be seen as a national security problem that should be handled both at national and inter-state levels. He observed that another key component of INTERPOL’s project Wisdom work was capacity building and developing of training programs to buttress efforts and build knowledge base for effective investigation of wildlife crimes.
The Regional Coordinator Wildlife and Forest Crime Programme –Eastern Africa for United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mr. Javier Montano, expressed optimism that there were a number of initiatives to address the scourge of elephant poaching and wildlife crime in general. He said countries have significant resources to help but unfortunately criminals also have resources hence posing a challenge to effective enforcement. He pointed out that another major challenge was corruption in our countries which criminals were exploiting to constantly frustrate the enforcement efforts made. Mr. Javier highlighted on the intricate connection between wildlife crime and drug trafficking stressing that these were making the war against wildlife crime even more complex. He lauded the efforts of LATF and affirmed that UNODC fully subscribed to enhancing of regional cooperation through initiatives such as bringing together wildlife directors and policy makers to forge closer collaboration in fighting wildlife crime. Mr. Montano concluded his remarks by calling upon states and partners to participate in the UNODC initiatives which include capacity building and the container control programmes being implemented in the region.
Mr. Patrick Omondi, Chairman of the African Elephant Fund Steering Committee gave an overview on the African Elephant Fund. He said that that the African Elephant Fund, administered by UNEP, implements the African Elephant Action Plan and works to address illegal wildlife trade (IWT) as it relates to the 38 African elephant range States in addressing illegal trade in ivory, habitat loss and fragmentation and the illegal killings of elephant populations in Africa across their range. He stressed that elephants continue to face the biggest threat of poaching and illegal trade in the region. Mr. Omondi stated that these large mammals require large terrestrial land for their habitat and survival and hence competing land uses such as settlements and agriculture have far reaching consequences on their sustainability. He noted that the African Elephant Fund welcomed the meeting of the Eastern Africa Wildlife Directors organized and convened by LATF, emphasizing that the project met the priority objectives of the African Elephant Action Plan. He congratulated LATF for organizing the meeting reiterating that such programs are necessary for fostering cooperation and in leveraging support for joint enforcement activities. He encouraged the participants to work as a team and called on the Eastern Africa states to develop and submit proposals for consideration by the African Elephant Fund. He pointed out that once the Eastern Africa Wildlife Directors Forum is established the partner states will be in a better vantage position to explore avenues of funding through development of joint proposals for the sub-region which stand to be favourably considered by development partners. Mr. Omondi thanked the Governments of Netherlands, Germany, France, China for providing financial support to the Fund.
Mr. Stephen Manegene presented remarks and officially opened the meeting on behalf of Prof. Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development. The Cabinet Secretary pointed out that wildlife crime is increasingly becoming complex and dynamic and a major impediment to environmental conservation and socio-economic development, portending serious consequences on our common heritage. She said iconic species such as the elephant and rhino are increasingly under threat of poaching and illegal trade in their parts and derivatives and that it was high time that we acted jointly, decisively and swiftly to reverse the alarming trends. She reiterated that the Kenya government remains committed to the enforcement and effective implementation of international treaties aimed at enhancing co-operation among states in environmental conservation such as the Lusaka Agreement. She stated that this commitment stems from the Kenya government’s realization that international co-operation creates the necessary synergy for attainment of broader conservation and development goals hence co-operative enforcement activities in fighting wildlife crime in Africa will continue to be at the core of Kenya’s strategic focus in conservation. The Cabinet Secretary commended LATF for the continued catalytic role it plays in fighting wildlife crime and in particular assisting countries in capacity building and enforcement operations that have led to arrest and successful prosecution of wildlife criminals on the “most wanted list” in the region and beyond. She called upon the participants to support LATF’s mission. She affirmed that the meeting provided participants with an excellent opportunity to develop synergies, enhance knowledge and share experiences as well as best practices and develop policies required for building a robust network for collaborative wildlife law enforcement in the sub-region.
The meeting then deliberated on, among other things, challenges, efforts being made by the countries and partners and made recommendations on curtailing elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade as well as other wildlife crimes in the sub-region. The deliberations culminated in resolutions (read more) which included establishment of an Eastern Africa Wildlife Directors Forum comprising six (6) states namely Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda that will henceforth co-ordinate joint efforts in wildlife enforcement and conservation in general.
LATF takes this opportunity to express its gratitude to the sponsors of the meeting, African Elephant Fund, and the support by partners UNODC, CITES-MIKE/UNEP, WCO and INTERPOL. LATF thanks the governments of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Republics of Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania for their active participation and resourceful contributions during the meeting.