BY VICTOR BAATWENG
Whilst it’s an open secret that Botswana and Kenya are not speaking the same language when it comes to ivory trade, the two countries have decided to avoid public spat on the issue.
Infact Botswana President ÔÇô Mokgweetsi Masisi classifies it as “sticky” and “sensitive”.
When he addressed journalists in the capital Gaborone a day after his return from Nairobi, Kenya where he had gone for three days state visit Masisi could not even spell the issue out explicitly except to say, “There was a pretty sticky issue where we agreed to disagree congenially”.
It was only after one journalist ÔÇô Dikarabo Ramadubu of the Guardian/Midweek Sun newspapers asked him whether in his meeting with his Kenyan counterpart ÔÇô Uhuru Kenyatta they had discussed the CITES issue that he shed a little light on the discussion regarding ivory trade.
Ramadubu’s question was possibly necessited by previous war of words between the two African nations following reports that a vote on sale of ivory was one of the topical issues to be discussed at the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland next month.
Before the question Masisi had opted to refer to the issue only as the “sticky one”.
“We called on the ministers and officials concerned and laid out what we had agreed to…which is continuation of the exploration of the particular issue and our commitment to consult neighbouring countries in our region”, Masisi said during his address before the Question and Answer session.
Following a few questions from journalists in attendance Masisi then went on to admit that the two nations have agreed to disagree on the “sticky issue”.
“I must very careful of what I say about the sticky issue. You too must also be very careful of what you write…….we talked candidly about it. They have very strong valid reasons on their position. But we both agreed that the position that they want to go was never gonna work…never”.
Days before Masisi’s state visit to Kenya early indications were that not for the first time, the two countries were on a collision course. While Botswana on one hand roots for a limited trade in ivory, Kenya on the other one is for a total ban.
Efforts by Botswana Government to win the support of Kenya, a key and influential wildlife and tourism outpost in Africa suffered an early snag ahead of Masisi’s three days state visit to Kenya this past week.
However on his return, he told journalists that, “As pan-Africanists we resolved to huddle in our differences and rather communicate, discuss them internally in Africa, and never, we resolved, to go out and fight outside”.
Masisi said the two countries remain clear in their resolute to not allow international or national NGOs and non-state actors to penetrate or divide the two nations.
While Masisi says there shall be no more public spat on the sticky issue, indications are that Kenya will continue calling for total ban whilst Botswana has joined forces with her neighbours – Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to try and turn the tables. This reflects a no compromise on the matter as both nations move to protect their self interest.
In a chit-chat with Sunday Standard on the sidelines of Masisi’s state visit in Nairobi this week, Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism -Kitso Mokaila said he expected the two countries to stick to their respective positions on the “sticky” issue. He however said that bilateral engagements will go on as planned.
While admitting that Botswana is likely not to get what she wants from Kenya on issue, Mokaila was delighted to note that the southern African nation has backing from its neighbours.
In a proposal seen by Sunday Standard the southern African countries are calling for a number of amendments to certain controls by CITES. The four nations want ivory trade restrictions to be relaxed to allow for trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes and trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations for Botswana and Zimbabwe and for conservation programmes for Namibia and South Africa.
They also propose that there should be trade in hides, trade in hair, and trade in leather goods for commercial or non-commercial purposes for Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and for non-commercial purposes for Zimbabwe.
They further want to trade in ivory with only to trading partners that have been verified by the Secretariat, in consultation with the Standing Committee, to have sufficient national legislation and domestic trade controls to ensure that the imported ivory will not be re-exported and will be managed concerning domestic manufacturing and trade.