Botswana might find herself in a bind as the controversy over the proposed sale of ivory stockpiles gathers steam. This follows a joint statement released by a coterie of over 50 conservation groups in the aftermath of the Elephant conference urging the international community and policymakers to resist attempts by Botswana and southern African countries to restart ivory trade. The statement signed by conservation groups such as Action for Elephants UK, Africa Nature Investors Foundation and David Shephard Wildlife Foundation noted that there would be economic consequences should Botswana or other Southern African countries choose to withdraw from CITES in order to sell their ivory.
“It is crucial to highlight that any potential consumer country would also have to leave the convention or find itself in serious contravention of its legal obligations, which could result in trade sanctions and economic consequences,” reads part of the statement. The statement also issued a thinly veiled threat that: “Southern African countries stand to lose much more than just their reputation if they choose to abandon CITES.” A fortnight ago, Botswana and four southern African countries endorsed the Hwange declaration on the conservation of the African Elephant which among other things called for non-interference from CITES on domestic trade, sovereignty of states and their right to monetise local wildlife. Of the sixteen representatives from Southern, Central, Eastern and Western African countries invited to the conference, only seven attended. Out of the seven, only 5 countries endorsed and committed to the declaration being Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
The statement by the conservation groups also said attempts by Botswana and Southern African nations to restart ivory trade and water down the protection of elephants would likely be vetoed by majority of the 183 signatory countries to CITES at the upcoming CITES 19th Conference of Parties (CoP 19) scheduled for November, 2022. A fortnight ago, the Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Dr. Kabelo Senyatso said Botswana was considering exiting CITES if they are disallowed to sell its ivory stockpile. “There is nothing stopping us from quitting. The mandate that has been given to us (given mandate to quit by government) is to withdraw from that, if needs be,” he said. This is not the first time that southern African countries have threatened to withdraw from CITES over restrictions on the ivory trade. In 2019, the then minister of environment, Kitso Mokaila expressed disapproval of CITES, but stopped short of withdrawing from the treaty.
“I think CITES has long passed its sell-by date,” he said at the time. The Namibian Environment Minister is also reported to have said that CITES was “increasingly becoming a forum dominated by non-state players with the agenda to divide and rule African states,” adding that they Namibia was reconsidering their “stay in CITES.”
CITES is an international agreement between governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. Botswana is accusing the treaty of bowing to animal rights groups and not making scientific based decisions. CITES Secretary-General, Ivonne Higuero said the CoP 19 “is a crucial meeting, and the decisions taken will be vital to our efforts to safeguard the future of the Earth’s wildlife.” Last week on June 6th, the United Kingdom (UK) passed a law effecting a near-total ban on the sales of elephant ivory. The ban prohibits the import, export and any form of dealings of merchandise containing elephant ivory.