Thursday, August 8, 2013

UHURU, PLEASE SAVE THE ELEPHANT

Unless the Kenya government takes bold and immediate action to stop the ongoing elephant killing spree, the next generation of Kenyans will have to go to zoos to see an animal that has roamed freely in the East African savannas for generations, attracting thousands of visitors to our country and bringing to our economy millions of shillings every year. From the record population of 275,000 in the 1970s, the number of jumbos has shrunk to 38,500 as I write, thanks to the worst devastation of elephants ever.

The governments of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki must all take the blame for the decimation of the jumbo, one of the five most prominent animals - along with rhinoceros, lion, leopard and buffalo - that collectively we have come to refer to as the Big Five. By allowing unbridled corruption, greed and impunity to thrive, the three leaders failed to protect the long-time interests of our country, and in the process, ruined the economy and sabotaged the interests of future generations. In authoritarian regimes, such activities would be considered economic crimes.

The trend began in the sixties, but it was in the 1970's after some of Jomo Kenyatta's relatives entered  the lucrative trade, that the extermination of elephants took a frightening turn. Officials hired private planes to transport tons after tons of ivory to the Middle East and Asia, completely ignoring a ban on the exportation of the products forced on Kenya by international conservation organisations. When Kenyatta died in 1978, the trade continued under Moi, resulting in 8,300 elephant killings in the 1980's alone.

The situation has now reached such dangerous proportions that unless President Uhuru Kenyatta takes immediate and bold measures to reverse the situation, the growth projections contained in Vision 2030 and in the Jubilee coalition manifesto would not be met. But there is something else that a failure to rein the prevailing massacre of elephants would trigger.

A few months ago, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) singled out Kenya as part of a gang of eight most notorious countries involved in the trading of elephant products. It has therefore warned Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as generating countries, and China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand as receiving nations that unless they produce "hard action plans" in the next 12 months indicating how they intend to end their involvement in killing and trading in ivory, they could face stiff trade sanctions.

The Uhuru government must take this ultimatum seriously and move quickly to bring the situation under control. My view is that the starting point for any action must be at the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS). While many KWS workers are industrious and committed, a few elements must definitely be colluding with poachers to have the animals killed and transported out of the reserves. An audit must be conducted to identify and prosecute such people.

Two, speculation has been rife that characters in the police service might be aiding and abetting the killing cartel. With all the road blocks we have from up-country to Mombasa, it beats logic that trucks full of illegal goods could travel along that road undetected. We must root them out. And finally, while I commend the government for the work done to catch the smugglers at Mombasa Port, a lot needs to be done, with particular focus on the Ports Authority and the Kenya Revenue Authority. These two are the usual suspects when it comes to corrupt activities. Everything must be done to clean them up.

Only the other day, Uhuru was at the Masai Mara national park to watch the great wildlife migration. He must have been overwhelmed by the unique resources this country possesses.  Thus, he should not allow a repeat of past mistakes. It is only by taking drastic action against poaching that Uhuru will be able to leave behind a lasting legacy.

And that is my say.