Nigeria’s national cake – cut up and kept in the family


Letter from Africa: Sharing Nigeria’s cake

Nigeria marked 54 years of independence from the UK in October this year

In our series of letters from African journalists, Nigerian writer and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks at the clamour for assistance that accompanies a politician’s rise to office.

The political party primaries in Nigeria have drawn to a close and voters now have a clearer picture of whose turn it might be to divide up the national cake after the elections in February 2015.

But the winning candidates won’t be the only ones taking their share of the country’s riches.

In Nigeria, news of a person’s success in an election often travels at the speed of lightning, over rivers and mountains and past fields and forests, to his kindred in all corners of the globe.

Those with no jobs believe their days of unemployment are coming to an end; those with no education think it will soon pose no barrier to climbing the corporate ladder; those in faraway lands begin plans to return home.

Soon, these kith and kin launch their pilgrimage towards the successful candidate.

They ring his phone; they send text messages; they knock at his gate.

They offer to help his campaign in any way they can; they organise prayer sessions for his victory, usually late at night in his living room.

The most unforgivable sin a politician can commit is to forget ‘his people’ after he assumes office”

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

‘Bitter tongues will wag’
A friend of mine who lives in Lagos told me last week that he was travelling to Benin city.

His friend had just “picked up” a spot in the House of Assembly there. Another person he knew was set for another top position.

“He’s a good friend of my elder brother in Florida,” he said. “I’ve already told my brother: ‘You’d better come down and rub minds with him and introduce us to him.'”

Another friend whose husband is a close associate of a winning candidate in one of Nigeria’s choicest states told me her phone did not stop ringing after his victory was announced.

People had been calling to offer congratulations. Indeed, even I had called for that very reason.

In Nigeria, the culture has always been that anyone who gets into power, who suddenly finds himself holding a knife with which to cut the national cake, must invite his clan to both slice and eat it with him.

Friends and family of candidates take to the streets to celebrate if their man is triumphant at the polls
The most unforgivable sin a politician can commit is to forget “his people” after he assumes office.

He must “remember” his sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws, friends, schoolmates, and so on.

Preferably through contracts, appointments and jobs.

Failure to do so will lead to taunts and ostracism and on the day his tenure expires, he will find himself completely alone.

Long after his funeral, the bitter tongues will continue wagging.

Local history will forever record him as having denied his kindred their turn.

I have heard several amusing stories regarding the influx of people from the Niger Delta region into Abuja, the Nigerian capital, after their kinsman, Goodluck Jonathan, was elected president in 2011.

Outstretched palms
One of my favourite tales was told by my British-Nigerian friend who teaches in one of those Abuja schools where the children pay stupendous fees in dollars and make fun of their teachers’ cheap mobile phones.

She was shocked when a particular pupil, during a science lesson, seemed to know more about crustaceans than you would expect of a child his age in the city.

This child stood before the class and described in great detail how the creatures are caught, cleaned and cooked.

It will be tough for Nigeria to tackle its corruption problem while people demand rewards for their votes
At the end, my friend called the boy aside and asked how he knew so much about the topic.

The child explained that he had grown up in the creeks, where his family petty-traded crustaceans for a living.

That is why the news of a candidate’s potential ascension into political office stirs such joy.

In many parts of the world, it requires years of steady progress for one’s economic circumstances to radically transform.

Here in Nigeria, all it takes is an election, and a new political appointment. Suddenly, a child goes from capturing crustaceans in the creeks to an exclusive school in Abuja.

Voracious kith and kin are the main force behind Nigeria’s corruption problem.

Imagine the thousands lined up with outstretched palms behind each political office holder.

Try telling them that you intend to reform the system now that it is finally their turn to eat.



Kenyan MPs could lose their seats over parliament violence


In Summary
Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetangula (Bungoma, Ford-K), James Orengo (Siaya, ODM), Janet Ong’era (Nominated, ODM, Dr Bonny Khalwale (Kakamega, UDF) and Johnstone Muthama (Machakos, Wiper) are also likely to be investigated for their part in the drama.
Mr Matemu warned that the legislators who will be found to have failed to adhere to the tenets of leadership and integrity as provided for in Chapter Six of the Constitution, would not be spared.
As state officers, he said, the legislators are required to adhere to principles and values of the Constitution and the rule of law while conducting their affairs, whether in public or private.

More by this Author
More than 10 MPs risk losing their seats over the chaos that rocked Parliament as the ruling coalition engaged the opposition over contentious laws on security.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) on Friday said it was investigating the MPs who were involved in fracas on Thursday, during debate of the Security (Amendment) Bill 2014.

Commission chairman Mumo Matemu warned that they could initiate the process of removal from office for all those found culpable.

The process would also involve the Powers and Privileges Committee of the National Assembly, which is chaired by Speaker Justin Muturi, he said.

Mr Matemu said the disruption of House proceedings, name calling and physical confrontations among some of the MPs was unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.


“The commission will institute investigations on the chaos and take appropriate action. We will look at personal conduct of each of the persons involved,” Mr Matemu told journalists yesterday at his Integrity Centre office in Nairobi.

If punished, the MPs would lose the perks that come with their job: salaries, allowances and mileage claims, among others.

MPs from the government side managed to fight off spirited efforts by the opposition to block passage of the amendments to the security laws meant to buttress the fight against terrorism in the country.

But, in a rejoinder, Leader of Majority Aden Duale downplayed the move, saying the EACC has no powers to investigate what happens in Parliament.

He said that the bad conduct exhibited by some MPs in Parliament can only be investigated by the Powers and Privileges Committee.

“MPs enjoy immunity. When disorderly conduct occurs within the chamber or in the precincts of Parliament, they(MPs) can only be punished by this committee,” said Mr Duale.

He said what happened in the House was not an economic crime or corruption to warrant the input of the commission.

Homa Bay Women Representative Gladys Wanga alleged to have splashed water on Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso, too, dimissed the EACC threat.


Contacted on Friday, she said: “This is ridiculous! Parliament has mechanisms of dealing with errant members – the Powers and Privileges Committee.

“EACC must concentrate on their core mandate and bring to book those who have stolen millions from taxpayers unless they are looking for scapegoats since they cannot perform their key mandate.”

On Thursday morning, John Mbadi (Suba, ODM) snatched the Order Paper from Administration and National Security Committee Chairman Asman Kamama which stopped the Third Reading from going on and marked the start of chaos.

Others likely to be investigated include Millie Odhiambo (Mbita, ODM), Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i, ODM) and Simba Arati Dagoretti North, ODM).

Ms Odhiambo claimed that three Jubilee MPs attempted to undress her in the chambers. She wrote on her Facebook page that she “completed the process for them”.

Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetangula (Bungoma, Ford-K), James Orengo (Siaya, ODM), Janet Ong’era (Nominated, ODM, Dr Bonny Khalwale (Kakamega, UDF) and Johnstone Muthama (Machakos, Wiper) are also likely to be investigated for their part in the drama.

The senators were seated in the Speaker’s Gallery- the public gallery opposite where the Speaker sits and Justin Muturi ordered their ejection on grounds that they were shouting and waving, which is not allowed in the galleries.

When they refused to leave on Mr Muturi’s orders, some Parliamentary orderlies tried to eject them and were joined by Jubilee MPs Moses Gikaria (Nakuru Town East, TNA), Muthomi Njuki (Chuka/Igambangómbe, TNA), Joseph Kiuna (Njoro, TNA), Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati, TNA), Alice Ng’ang’a (Thika Town, TNA) and James Gakuya (Embakasi North, TNA).

These, and others, could be punished for their part in the melee that followed, which was basically a mass brawl in which Mr Muthama’s trousers and shirt were torn and Mr Arati’s finger bitten.

Mr Matemu warned that the legislators who will be found to have failed to adhere to the tenets of leadership and integrity as provided for in Chapter Six of the Constitution, would not be spared.

He said MPs are expected to act soberly and conduct themselves with decorum to avoid bringing Parliament into disrepute, despite their differences of opinion during debate.

“The commission notes that the conduct of some members of the National Assembly was in total violation of the Constitution and Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012, in as much as they were engaged in the spirit of protecting the same Constitution,” Mr Matemu said.

As state officers, he said, the legislators are required to adhere to principles and values of the Constitution and the rule of law while conducting their affairs, whether in public or private.

However, he clarified that the commission was not concerned with the process of legislation as that was a preserve of Parliament as an independent arm of government.

He allayed fears that it would be difficult to deal with the legislators saying the commission was committed to political neutrality and any action taken would be preceded by professional investigations.

Asked about the timeline, Mr Matemu was not categorical, explaining that the process could be lengthy.

“It is too early to give timelines. The process entails collection and analysis of information. We must build the case. We shall keep Kenyans informed of the progress,” he said.

Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama had his trousers torn during confrontations in the National Assembly on December 18, 2014 as MPs debated the contentious security Bill. Now EACC says that MPs who were involved in the rowdy behaviour would be probed with the aim of taking action against them. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Liberia holds Senate election delayed by ebola

Voters in Liberia are going to the polls in an election that was postponed in October because of the Ebola outbreak.

Liberians are choosing representatives to the country’s senate.

Among the 139 candidates vying for 15 seats are former football star George Weah and Robert Sirleaf, the son of Liberia’s president.

Ebola has infected about 19,000 people in West Africa, killing more than 7,300 – with about 3,340 deaths in Liberia.

The senate elections were postponed in October in a bid to stop campaigners and voters spreading the virus.

The election is being held just days after neighbouring Sierra Leone clamped down on public gatherings.

It has banned Sunday trading, restricted travel between districts and prohibited public celebrations over Christmas and the New Year.

Suspected Ebola patients are kept in quarantine at medical centres
One of Sierra Leone’s top doctors, Victor Willoughby, died from Ebola on Thursday, just hours after the arrival of experimental drug ZMab which could have been used to treat him.

Healthcare workers are among those most at risk of catching Ebola because it is spread by bodily fluids and requires close contact with victims.

In November Liberia’s election commission chairman, Jerome Korkoya, urged candidates and supporters to follow public health regulations in the run-up to the senate elections.

“For instance, the transportation of large groups of electorates by candidates clustered in vehicles and the congregation of huge number of people will be regulated,” he said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Liberia on Friday at the start of a two-day visit to countries affected by Ebola in West Africa.

Ben Bland reports on Ban Ki-moon’s tour aimed at reminding the world the Ebola threat is not over yet
After stepping off the plane, he washed his hands and had his temperature taken – two important practices to help stop the spread of the disease.

Mr Ban urged people to follow strict health regulations until the epidemic was over.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lifted a state of emergency last month that was imposed in August to control the outbreak.

It came after the WHO said there was “some evidence” that the number of cases in Liberia was “no longer increasing”.

A crowd follows former soccer player George Weah as he campaigns for senate seat in Monrovia.



South Sudan – Machar’s opposition demands that kiir step down in any settlement

Sudan Tribune

December 18, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The SPLM-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO) faction led by former vice-president, Riek Machar, has passed a resolution renewing its demand that president Salva Kiir steps down, despite previous indications by officials from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that the two principal leaders agreed to work together for the sake of sustaining peace.

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South Sudanese president Salva Kiir on 12 December 2013 (Photo: AP/Sayyid Azim)

As details of the final 9-page resolutions which Machar signed emerge, the SPLM-IO in the Pagak conference declared president Salva Kiir illegitimate for the “Juba genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during this current war” and therefore does not deserve to lead a transitional period.

The resolutions seen by Sudan Tribune also resolved that there shall be two separate armies with their respective commanders in chief during a 2 or 3 years of transitional period until elections are conducted.

It also reaffirmed the proposed leadership structure to comprise the president as head of state, with some executive powers, and the prime minister as head of government, taking majority of the executive powers, including the power to chair the council of minister.

Previously a power-sharing arrangement presented by the top rebel leader to the IGAD mediation in Addis Ababa before their conference in Pagak compromised that the president would chair the council of ministers.

However when reached on Thursday to clarify the circumstances surrounding what seemed to be a change of position in the rebel group, particularly on the renewed call for president Kiir to step aside, Machar’s spokesman said the decision had been intact all along and was only relaxed during the peace process.

“Initially we wanted Salva Kiir to immediately step down because of the Juba genocide in December last year. We demanded that he stepped down before the peace talks kicked off in January,” said the rebel leader’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak.

“We however made a compromise by relaxing this demand during the peace process. We have continued to negotiate with president Salva Kiir and his regime. Our leadership has been working with him as a counter-part in order to bring peace but not for him to lead the would-be transitional period,” he further explained.

Dak said there seemed to be a misunderstanding by some who thought that when the rebel group talked of sharing power with the president, it automatically meant president Kiir.

“When we talk of power-sharing between the president and the prime minister, we talk of a leadership structure, not personalities. We don’t automatically attach such positions to particular personalities,” he further explained.

He also reiterated the opposition group’s demand to head the government, saying this was to ensure that the “badly needed reforms, initiated and championed” by the SPLM-IO, would be implemented.

The rebel group demands that the executive powers and responsibilities be attached to the prime minister – a position the two parties agreed to establish during the interim period – just like in the parliamentary regime.

Dak further defended the necessity to have two separate armies, saying this would also ensure confidence building during the transitional period as well as deter each side from reneging on a peace agreement or resorting to “witch-hunting and violence.”

Juba however passed counter-resolutions on 24 November rejecting to share executive powers with the prime minister, a nominee of the rebels, and dismissed any attempt to institute two armies during a transitional period.

The two warring parties were set to resume the peace talks on Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, but government delegation did not show up, prompting IGAD mediators to reschedule the talks for Thursday.


Nigeria – 172 women and children taken in Boko Haram raid on Gamsuri


MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped 172 women and children and killed 35 other people on Sunday during a raid on the northeast Nigerian village of Gumsuri, residents said on Thursday.

Although no one has claimed responsibility, the attack bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, which abducted more than 200 women in April from a secondary school in Chibok, only 24 km (15 miles) from this latest attack.

The campaign for an Islamic state by Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” has become the gravest threat to Africa’s biggest economy and top oil producer.

Village resident Abba Musa, a maize grinder who survived the attack, estimated the number abducted as 172 after the village did a head count following the assault.

The attackers shouted “God is Great” and unleashed salvos of gunfire, he said.

“My sister and her seven children were among those taken away,” he told Reuters by telephone. “We ran into the bush and were lucky. There were not many others who were lucky.”

He said at least 33 were killed.

Thousands of people have been killed and many hundreds abducted, raising questions about the ability of security forces to protect civilians, especially around the north Cameroon border where the militants are well established.

“The government is outraged and deeply saddened by this deplorable act,” government spokesman Mike Omeri said in a statement. “Boko Haram continues to choose, ever cowardly, to target civilian populations to spread their brand of terror.”

He estimated deaths at 17 but said the numbers abducted could not yet be reliably ascertained.

Maina Chibok, who did not witness the attack but is from Gumsuri and visited family there shortly afterwards, said the insurgents carted away their victims on open-topped trucks.

News from remote parts of Nigeria that are cut off from mobile communications sometimes takes days to emerge.

A security source confirmed that more than 100 had been abducted and 35 people killed, including the district head.

“They also burnt down a government medical centre, houses and shops,” Chibok said.

The abductions have increased in frequency this year. A man who says he is Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last month rejected comments by the government that it was in talks to free the Chibok girls, saying he had in fact “married them off” to Boko Haram commanders, in a video posted on the Internet.

Aliyu Mamman, a young vigilante from the area, told Reuters by telephone that there was no security presence to stop the militants, who stayed in the town all night before leaving.

Nigeria sentenced 54 soldiers to death for mutiny in the northeast on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Cameroon’s army killed 116 Boko Haram militants when they attacked a base in the Far North region of the country, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday.


Namibia – defence-linked business empire thrives under cloak of secrecy

Mail and Guardian

Shadowy empire has billions in Namibian state contracts, but has never been publicly audited

The Namibian Defence Force (NDF) is building a shadowy business empire that does not account to the public or Parliament, and is seen in some quarters as a potential threat to the country’s democracy.

The secretive conglomerate is August 26 Holdings, formed by the defence ministry in 1998.

It initially warehoused rights in a controversial diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but has since spread its wings by launching eight industrial subsidiaries: August 26 Logistics, Windhoeker Maschinenfabrik, August 26 Industries, Sat-Com, August 26 UBM, August 26 Textile and Garment, NamForce and Agri-Tour.

Many of them are run by serving or retired senior officers of the defence force appointed by the ministry.

Some of the subsidiaries were set up to service the defence force and its members, but the group has increasingly spread its tentacles into the general state sector and state-influenced industries such as construction, diamonds and agriculture.

No accountability
Despite landing government contracts worth billions of rands, August 26 has never produced an annual report, is not publicly audited by the auditor general and has never appeared before a parliamentary committee to account for its activities.

Defence Minister Nahas Angula declined to comment and referred all questions to the company’s board.

In the past Angula has argued that the military’s business dealings cannot be made public because of national security.

August 26 has a well-connected board of directors and is chaired by the secretary of the Cabinet, Frans Kapofi, a technocrat with a military background. Its chief executive is James Auala, a retired brigadier general and businessperson whose private interests include the diamond industry. He is a “sightholder” of the government-De Beers joint venture Namdeb, which hands out regular consignments of diamonds to selected empowerment beneficiaries.

Kapofi told amaBhungane that some August 26 businesses are in financial trouble: “Some of the companies are in intensive care. We are looking at getting them out of trouble. They will definitely need financial backing from the state.”

He mentioned Windhoeker Maschinenfabrik, an engineering firm, as a loss-making enterprise.

Kapofi conceded that August 26’s subsidiaries do not produce up-to-date financial reports, but said preparations were being made for them to be published.

“I realised that I haven’t seen annual reports. There wasn’t much to report on because some of the subsidiaries were not fully functional but they’re getting there.”

Kapofi, who has chaired August 26 for close to a year, is high on the ruling Swapo parliamentary list after the party’s recent electoral victory and will join Parliament as an MP in March.

Refusal to give details
The acting chief executive of August 26, Josiah Kasheeta, also refused to give information about the company, citing security reasons. “Since we deal with defence and security of the country, we do not want to expose ourselves.”

He revealed that some of the companies are state-funded. He also said that annual reports are compiled each year and forwarded to the defence minister and the Cabinet.

Last month the Tender Bulletin, a weekly newsletter that monitors state contracts, attacked August 26’s secretive practices as an open door for corruption and warned that it could pave the way for military control of the state.

“A more sinister agenda is one that typifies the transition to totalitarian political rule, where the party in power buys its political allegiance from the armed forces to ensure its survival,” the Bulletin warned.

“[It] will place [Namibia] on a further slippery slope to the militarisation of the state apparatuses and eventual rule through the barrel of the gun.”

The Bulletin pointed out that the defence ministry has been exempted from public tender processes for a range of state contracts – including the supply of everyday materials such as stationery.

Calls to investigate ignored
“Despite various comments from the ministry of finance that tender exemptions need to be investigated, no explanation has been given [for] why … the ministry continues to get away with tender exemptions for everyday nonstrategic items such as wine glasses,” the Bulletin complained.

Last year, August 26 Logistics found it itself at the centre of a storm over procurement irregularities that allegedly benefited the cronies of military top brass.

The Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the government-created defence companies became a problem when they were awarded nonmilitary state contracts.

The chief executive of the chamber, Tarah Shaanika, said: “It is strategically wrong for the government to win tenders for daily goods and services that can be supplied by other companies. This stifles the private sector and suffocates entrepreneurship.

“Why should the military get a catering tender when so many other companies can supply food? You cannot use our tax money to compete against us. How can that be right?”

Shaanika added that the main purpose of August 26 was to provide jobs for retired generals.

August 26’s subsidiary operations include:

•?August 26 Ultimate Business Machine (UBM), which was launched in September.

The company’s entry into the construction sector sparked concerns that it will gobble up most government building and civil engineering contracts.

Initially set up to modernise army barracks, it recently scooped a R450-million tender for the construction of the new military hospital – without submitting a tender.

UBM’s managing director is Colonel John Namoloh, who is related to former defence minister and current Housing Minister Charles Namoloh.

The South African Sunday Times quoted Namoloh as saying that the plan is to compete with other companies. The newspaper cited concerns that the Namibian army is trying to follow in the footsteps of the Egyptian military, which gained power and wealth through a network of businesses.

•?August 26 Logistics, which focuses on security, allegedly to supplement treasury spending on defence, was engulfed by a major scandal in early 2013.

The weekly newspaper Confidente published allegations that top generals had manipulated the tender system to hand contracts worth more than N$1.5-billion for the supply of food at military bases to “briefcase companies” owned by relatives and friends.

The contracts had previously been awarded to private companies after a tender process. The value of the contracts rose over a 10-year period from an initial R3-billion to R5-billion amid allegations of kickbacks and hidden shareholdings.

A month after Confidente’s damning report, the defence ministry withdrew the tender.

The Namibian then reported that certain generals had received kickbacks to lobby for a new system that would allow the ministry to hand the contracts to selected individuals.

In July, Defence Minister Angula announced that the contract had gone to August 26, which then signed a subcontract with its subsidiary, August 26 Logistics, in which it has a 51% stake.

It was revealed that the balance of the shares in August 26 Logistics are held by the former Swapo mayor of Windhoek, Matheus Shikongo, with 24%, and a South African businessman, Sarel Oberholzer, with 25%.

Documents suggested that Shikongo was essentially a front for South African interests – although he denied this.

The national tender board confirmed that the defence ministry “did not apply for an exemption [from tender processes] and no exemption was granted”.

In 2001 the defence ministry handpicked August 26 Logistics to procure bombs from a Cyprus-registered company, Harvey Logistics.

After R3-million went missing, Harvey Logistics was dissolved.

The Namibian government launched an investigation in 2008, but no official has yet been held to account.

August 26 Logistics also had rights in a DRC diamond mine granted to the Namibian government in 1999 by former Congo president Laurent Kabila as a reward for military support.

For years secrecy shrouded the identity of Namibia’s international partner in the 25km2 open-cast mine at Maji Munene, 45km from Tshikapa.

It also remained unclear whether mining actually took place, the value of production, if any, and who benefited from it. However, the Mail & Guardian revealed that Maurice Tempelsman, a Belgian-American diamond magnate and friend of Namibia’s first president, Sam Nujoma, was Namibia’s partner in the deal. Tempelsman’s lawyer in Southern Africa, Christian Merkling, insisted that the mining never went ahead as planned.

•?August 26 Holdings has three subsidiaries in the manufacturing sector, the troubled Windhoeker Maschinenfabrik (WMF), which makes trucks, trailers and tankers; August 26 Industries, which started in 2007 and manufactures footwear and boots for soldiers; and August 26 Textile and Garment. The latter focuses on making combat fatigues, trousers and protective clothing.

The former deputy permanent secretary of defence, retired colonel Mwetufa Mupopiwa, is the general manager of the textile company, and the former deputy minister of defence, Victor Simunja, runs WMF.

A number of army generals, including SN Haihambo and Ben Kadhila, serve on WMF’s board.

•?August 26 owns 75% of Sat-Com, a telecommunications firm involved in the installation and manufacture of equipment such as two-way radios, satellites and radio transmitters. But the company’s main role is to conduct research on electronic communication for the ministry.

•?NamForce, a newly registered insurance company, will become fully operational over the next two months and will take over the army’s insurance policies, including disability and funeral cover. In the past, military insurance was handled by private companies – FIS Life Assurance and later Hollard Insurance.

Rainer Ritter, ex-chief executive of the state-owned Namibia Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority and a former consultant for FIS, is Namforce’s managing director.

•?August 26 also has an interest in agriculture through its subsidiary Agro-Tour Development Initiative, which farms livestock on 57?000 hectares north of Grootfontein. The nine-camp farm sells meat to the state-owned Meat Corporation of Namibia.

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Turning Africa’s elephants and rhino into economic assets

The jury really is out on this approach to conservation.  It has a certain logic but the trade is so valuable and so criminalized that it is hard to see any government, whether in Africa or abroad, having the expertise, funding and manpower to police a legalised ivory or rhino horn trade and thereby provide income that could ensure ultimate survival but at the cost of regulated hunting. There are strong arguments against it and the real effects of temporary lifting of the ban on ivory sales in the past are still far from clear.  I also have the lingering suspicion that there are those in South Africa who want a legalised rhino trade who are constructing efforts to stop poaching or are actively involved in it. KS

Mail and Guardian

Turning Africa’s Big 5 into hard cash

19 Dec 2014

Lifting ivory and rhino horn trade bans could translate to an economic turnaround for Africa, where the black market for animal products is thriving.

While elephants and rhinos are being slaughtered illegally for their tusks and horns, some argue that legalising trade could be beneficial for both animal and the economy. (Reuters)

For many outsiders, Africa’s big animals are among the natural wonders of the world and a major tourist draw.

For many Africans, elephants, rhinos and lions – or at least the bloody trade in their body parts, and the proximity of big, dangerous critters to their crops, cattle and kin – are part of a wider “resource curse” that has long afflicted the continent.

Commodities such as oil and minerals – or elephant ivory – have historically been extracted in Africa in ways that have enriched a few but failed to spread the prosperity. At its worst, the curse has fueled colonialism, apartheid and conflict.

Framing wildlife issues in this context may help policy makers find solutions to a poaching crisis, which has seen rhinos and elephants slaughtered at a record rate.

Legalising trade in their horns and tusk could provide revenue for housing and other social needs among communities living near wildlife. Similar initiatives in sectors like platinum have been undertaken by black-owned companies such as Royal Bafokeng Platinum.

But trade in African ivory, for example, has long benefited the traders, who exploited or terrorised local communities.

Demand for ivory
European and American demand for ivory for billiard balls reached industrial scale in the 19th century, helping to fuel the great power scramble into Africa. Men such as Tippu Tip, a Zanzibari trader, made a fortune out of the trade, using slave labour to ferry his “blood ivory”.

King Leopold of Belgium treated the Congo like a fiefdom. His officials killed elephants with abandon and confiscated tusks from villagers – part of a genocidal campaign to plunder natural resources that killed millions of people.

Today, ivory from elephant tusks and horn from rhino still benefit a limited number, including global criminal syndicates, a point underscored by the arrest this month of 16 people in the Czech Republic for horn smuggling.

The United Nations has also linked the ivory trade to terror groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, while a report by conservationists last year found a strong link between poverty, infant mortality and elephant poaching.

Surge in slaughter
After the trade in ivory was banned at the end of the 1980s, poaching declined sharply. It has since been escalating dramatically, driven by consumer demand in China, where ivory is coveted for decorative items and jewellery.

Last year was the third consecutive year in which at least 20 000 elephants were poached in Africa, according to the UN-linked Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Poaching of rhinos for their horns, used in traditional medicine in Vietnam and China, has also soared, with South Africa at the epicentre.

According to government data, South Africa had lost 1 020 rhinos in 2014 by the middle of November, compared with 1 004 for all of last year and over triple the 333 rhinos poached in 2010.

Based on the average weight of rhino horns, that could represent 4 000kg to 5 000kg of the commodity, which conservationists say is fetching $65 000 a kilogram on the black market – making it more valuable than gold or platinum.

That works out to a total ranging from $260-million to $325-million – money that could be used for development in poor communities such as rural villages in Mozambique, from which many of the poachers killing South Africa’s rhinos hail.

Rhino horn can be harvested, because it grows back. South Africa is considering a proposal to CITES to lift the trade ban on the commodity, though Environment Minister Edna Molewa stressed last month that no final decision has been reached yet.

Depriving income
Elsewhere, the wholesale slaying of elephants in regions such as central Africa is depriving the rural poor of a potential source of future income in the form of eco-tourism.

Finding ways to generate cash from big animals also has wider conservation and social imperatives. Poor villagers have to contend with elephants raiding their crops and lions preying on their livestock or worse.

This is another part of the curse that has contributed to African poverty, according to academics such as Jared Diamond.

African animals are especially ornery: the Asian buffalo has been harnessed to the plough, while Africa’s version is untamable, putting put the region at an historical disadvantage.

The task facing policy makers and conservationists is to lift the curse by making big animals an economic boon instead of burden to Africa’s rural poor. – Reuters