Category Archives: Wildlife and Eco-Tourism

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Africa’s Rhinos – us it better to trade horn to save rhinos

Global Geneva

The air buzzed with the sound of an electric saw. Next to me a 2,000kg white rhino slumped on the ground. When the saw fell silent, I was handed a heavy, greyish brown lump of horn. “That’s worth about $40,000 in Vietnam”, I was told. Poached rhino horn can now fetch as much as $65,000 per kg. By weight it is more valuable than gold or cocaine. The high price and massive demand in Vietnam and China have fuelled a poaching epidemic that has swept southern Africa. About 1,300-1,500 rhinos are killed each year for their horns – over 6,000 since 2009.
But I was not holding poached horn and the huge male white rhino next to me was not dead. I had just witnessed the painless dehorning of a rhino on the huge farm of South Africa’s leading private rhino owner, John Hume. The rhino had been darted to sedate it, held down by four strong men, and blindfolded to avoid stress. Then its two horns were cut to within a couple of inches of their base. It took just ten minutes from darting for the rhino to climb back slightly unsteadily to its feet and shamble off into the veldt.

John Hume has 1,446 rhinos on his 8,000ha ranch near Klerksdorp in South Africa. The latest addition was a male calf born there on 28 December 2016. This was the 1,000th rhino bred from animals owned by Hume over a period of 25 years. South Africa’s total population is around 20,600 but it has been hit hard by years of heavy poaching in Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal and on private reserves and game farms.
Increased security, tougher sentencing of poachers and improved intelligence and the creation of high intensity protection zones in Kruger are working to reduce poaching there and to slightly cut the overall level of poaching in South Africa. In 2014, 1,215 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa. This was reduced to 1,175 in 2015 – about 65 per cent of those poached are killed in Kruger.
Kruger’s chief ranger, Nicholus Funda, told me when I met him at the Park that they hoped to keep the number killed in the park below 700, which should lower the national figure to around 1,000 (458 were killed in Kruger between January and late August). No firm figures have been released by the South African Department of the Environment for 2016, but Albi Modise, a spokesperson for the department said on 27 December that the final number would show a reduction on previous years. While the overall figure is likely to be slightly lower for the country as a whole, there are signs that the focus of poaching is shifting because of increased security in Kruger.
When I visited Hluhluwe-Imfolozi in September, the head of rhino security, Cedric Coetzee, told me that they were experiencing a worrying rise in poaching. Incursions by poachers had risen from two a week to two a day in the previous 18 months. On 27 December 2016 Musa Mntambo, a spokesperson for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which runs the Park, said that 159 rhino had been killed in the province during the year compared with 97 in 2015. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi had borne the brunt of the increase.
Any minor advance in South Africa is being offset by increased rhino poaching. In Zimbabwe and Namibia, which also hold significant proportions of the 20,378 white rhino and 5,250 black rhino remaining in Africa, according to Save the Rhino and to the South African conservationist John Hanks. The numbers poached in Namibia have risen in recent years, reaching 80 in 2015 having been down at 25 the year before; 2016’s death toll has not been released. Zimbabwe lost 50 rhinos in 2015, double the previous year’s level.
Why is rhino horn so expensive and so much in demand? It has been utilised in Chinese traditional medicine for millennia and is also used to carve cups, libation vessels and other artefacts popular with China’s prosperous elite. But the booming market is in Vietnam among wealthy businessmen. They give horns as gifts to wealthy clients or prospective business partners, and serve it in wine at banquets. Many Vietnamese believe it is a cure for hangovers and cancer – though there is no evidence to support either claim. It is a luxury commodity that reeks of wealth and power. Demand has risen rapidly over the last ten years and shows no sign of abating.
International trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977, when CITES (The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) voted to ban all export-import trade in rhino horn to conserve dwindling wild rhino populations in Africa and Asia; South Africa, due to breeding successes, has been allowed by CITES to export live white rhino in certain cericumstances, such as restocking parks elsewhere.. This did not mean that domestic trade was banned in all countries but it did attempt to stop horn being exported from Africa – where rhino numbers were decimated in the 1970s and 1980s. But increasing prosperity in the major markets for horn in the Far East has caused a horrific rise in poaching. This is despite that fact that rhino horn is basically compacted hair (keratin) – with no medicinal properties and without even the aesthetic appeal of ivory.
Despite this, demand is high and the ban is not stopping poaching. High security in key national parks, shoot-to-kill policies and attempts to uncover the criminal syndicates that thrive on the high price of horn have only limited effect and appear to be shifting the focus of poaching rather than seriously reducing it. Most wildlife and conservation NGOs rigidly oppose any suggestion of a legal trade to meet demand and so reduce the appeal of poached ivory.
Speaking at a debate with private rhino breeder John Hume at the Royal Institution in London in August 2016, Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation spoke for many NGOs when he expressed total and absolute opposition to any legal trade. Hume countered with an argument in favour of trade in horn from dehorning rhinos and natural mortality, that would not involve harming rhinos.
As I witnessed on Hume’s ranch, dehorning is painless and does no harm to the animal. Rhinos can be dehorned every 18 months, producing about 0.5-1 kilo of rhino each time. Currently, such horn and horn from natural mortality is collected by private owners who dehorn and by national parks and kept it is under tight security. It cannot be sold or traded. South Africa, which has more rhinos than any other country but also the worst poaching problem, banned domestic sales in 2009. Hume is fighting a court case to overturn that. He wants the right to trade in rhino horn to bring in funds for rhino conservation, anti-poaching and also for community projects.
Proponents of trade in horn argue that dehorning rhinos protects them from poachers and could, if a legal, regulated trade was sanctioned by CITES, provide substantial funds for conservation of rhino and their habitats, more sophisticated anti-poaching techniques and funds for rural development to make rhinos an asset for rural populations (whose poverty is often a driver for recruiting local men as poachers). In September 2016, CITES voted down a request by Swaziland for a limited legal trade in natural mortality ivory from its small population of rhino, so the pro-trade lobby has a fight on its hands in trying to get CITES agreement for a trade in horn.
Both black rhino (CITES appendix 1 listing) and white rhino (appendix 2 listing) are listed by CITES in categories that do not permit trade in horn or other products (with the exception for live South African white rhino already noted). On 8 February, 2017, following earlier court and appeal court decisions lifting the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn, the South African Environment Minister published draft regulations for the domestic trade in legally acquired rhino horn, which would also allow the export for “personal” rather than commercial purposes of two rhino horns by persons holding the necessary South African permits and import permits from the country to which they would go. It remains to be seen if this will be fully adopted and how it will affect the poaching epidemic in the country and how CITES will react.
David Cook (formerly director of the Natal Parks Board, and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi senior ranger), believes poaching isn’t declining, it is just shifting location and developing new strategies. In the 1960s, Cook worked closely with renowned conservationist Ian Player to save the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi s white rhino, the last in the region. This operation was responsible for the survival of the white rhino in southern Africa and the enabled the restocking of southern African parks, conservancies and private game reserves. Cook told me that a regulated trade to meet demand legally at a fixed price below the current level and without risk of prosecution for retailers or buyers should be part of a cocktail of measures to further the conservation of rhinos.
While I understand the position of the conservation NGOs and their desire for an ultra-ethical stance on trade in wildlife products, there is an equally strong and ethically-based argument that regulated, non-lethal trade in horn could reduce poaching. It will never totally stop it but could reduce it to a level where rhino numbers increase and funds from legal sales produce a sustainable form of conservation that benefits rhinos and local communities through income from rhino horn. It is Benthamite utilitarianism against a Kantian categorical imperative. The argument by anti-trade that a legalised trade would encourage demand is a strong one, but only if one ignores that there is already considerable demand and rhino numbers are falling fast and consistently. Demand reduction is not working, so a legal trade won’t worsen the situation, it might just reduce poaching sufficiently so that numbers recover rather than keep falling. Trade in non-mortality rhino horn could reduce poaching, though I have no illusions it would stop it completely. Misplaced altruism will not save the rhino. Regulated sustainable-use strategies could.
Professor Keith Somerville teaches at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London) and is the author of Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa (Hurst and Co, November 2016) and Africa’s Long Road Since Independence (Penguin, January 2016).

Tanzania’s elephant crisis fuelled by corruption

Marjan Centre Blog

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Tanzania’s elephants suffer a staggering decline as corruption-driven poaching bites

By Professor Keith Somerville, author of Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa (Hurst, 2016)

Tanzania has one of the largest savannah elephant populations in Africa with an estimated 42,871 elephants, according to the Great Elephant Census report released in 2016, which is about 12% of the continent’s population.  This makes it all the more worrying for the future of elephants that since 2007, Tanzania’s elephant population has suffered a catastrophic decline of 60% in numbers – double the rate of decline of Africa as a whole.

Why such a staggering fall in numbers?  The answer is simple and is an indictment of  the country’s wildlife authorities, law enforcement system and government – corruption and poverty.

The killing of elephants, harvesting and smuggling of tusks is a complex but flexible network that operates with political protection and impunity from arrest for the king-pins of the criminal syndicates that work with international smuggling rings (that also trade in drugs, guns and people) to export poached ivory.  Added to this is the role of Chinese workers, diplomats and businessmen in exploiting the elephants and the opportunities for corruption to feed high demand for ivory in China and elsewhere in East Asia.

Underfunding of conservation, poor pay for wildlife department staff and ubiquitous corruption in the police, public bodies and among the political elite have created an environment in which the illegal ivory trade has thrived.  The criminal syndicates have bought political protection by bribing senior politicians and government officials, which has enabled them to commission poaching, supply guns and ammunition to poachers, make “safe” the smuggling of ivory within Tanzania and then work with corrupt port, customs and airport officials to smuggle the ivory out.

One recent Tanzanian Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Khamis Kagasheki, tried to combat this naming by MPs from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party as among those helping poachers and accusing a former party secretary-general and Defence Minister, Abdulrahman Kinana of involvement in poaching and smuggling. Far from being applauded by the then president, Jakaya Kikwete, he was sacked as minister.

Kagasheki’s disclosures and investigative work by the Environmental Investigation Agency revealed a massive spider-web of corruption linking poachers, criminals, smugglers and Chinese gangs, with the latter having gradually taken over the export end of the operation pushing out the existing networks of indigenous smugglers, especially those in the large Tanzanian Asian and Afro-Shirazi business community in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar (for more details of the networks please see below).

The catastrophic decline in elephant numbers in Tanzania has seen numbers fall from about 109,000 in 2009 to just under 43,000 when the census took place there in 2015. Taking into account an annual birth rate of 5%, this means over 85,000 elephants have died – the majority of these were poached.  Natural mortality will have made up a couple of per cent of deaths a year, legal trophy hunting a little more and shooting of ‘problem’ elephants a relatively small number.

This shows that in the last ten years, scores of thousands of elephants have been poached for their tusks.  The majority have been killed in the Ruaha-Rungwa, Malagarasi-Muyovosi and Selous-Mikumi eco-systems, where two-thirds of the elephants have been killed. A very high rate of killing is also evident in northern Mozambique’s Niassa-Ruvuma area, bordering Tanzania and where Tanzanian gangs operate with little let or hindrance from the Mozambican security forces and Tanzanian border officials.

There were over 34,000 elephants in Ruaha–Rungwa region in 2009; however, this fell to 20,000 in 2013 due to poaching before plummeting further to just 8,000 in 2014. The famed Selous Game Reserve, billed as Africa’s largest game reserve, is actually a shadow of its former self; its once thriving population has fallen from 45,000 to15,00 in the same period and UNESCO had added the reserve to its ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list.

(For more details of the networks please see Keith Somerville, ‘Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa’, London: Hurst, 2016; and Environmental Investigation Agency, ‘Vanishing Point: Criminality, Corruption and the devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants’).

Professor Keith Somerville is a Research Associate at the Marjan and a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. He is also author ‘Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent’ (London, Penguin, 2017).

The second part of Professor Somerville’s examination of poaching in Tanzania will look at the historical background.

Nigeria – rise inflation spells misery for many

Vanguard (Nigeria)


Inflation: Misery, as prices of foodstuffs hit the roof

ON FEBRUARY 16, 20173:02 AMIN HEADLINES, NEWSCOMMENTS By Babajide Komolafe •Inflation hit 18.72% in January •Naira sinks further to N507/$ •Kerosene, bread, meat, fish,  others almost unaffordable LAGOS—Prices of bread, meat, fish, oil, yam and other essential commodities, last month, became increasingly unaffordable for Nigerians, as the inflation rate rose for the 15th consecutive month to 18.72 per cent. Driven principally by impact of Naira devaluation and increase in prices of petroleum products, prices of goods and services have been rising persistently since 2015, with the inflation rate, which measures rate of increase in prices, rising from 9.3 per cent in October 2015 to 18.55 in December 2016.

For example, the price of 50 kilogrammes of Garri, rose by 285 per cent to N15, 000, last month, from N3, 900 in January last year. Similarly, 50 kilogrammes of beans that sold for N13, 500 in January 2016, rose by 33 per cent to N18, 000 last month. Also, price of 25 litres of Palm Oil rose  by 208 per cent to N17,500 , last month, from N6, 500 in January 2016. Pricesof foodstuffs Confirming this development in its Consumer Price Index report for January, 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said prices of essential commodities rose at a faster pace in January pushing up the inflation rate to 18.72 per cent.

The bureau said: “The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation, increased by 18.72 per cent (year-on-year) in January 2017, 0.17 perc entage points higher from the rate recorded in December 2016 (18.55) per cent. Increases were recorded in all COICOP divisions that yield the Headline Index. “Communication, Restaurants and Hotels again recorded the slowest pace of growth in January, growing at 5.1 per cent and 8.4 per cent (year-on-year) respectively.

“However, the faster pace of growth in headline inflation, year on year, were bread and cereals, meat, fish, oil and fats; potatoes, yam and other tubers; wine and spirits, clothing materials and accessories, electricity, cooking gas, liquid and solid fuels, motor cars and maintenance, vehicle spare parts, fuels and lubricants for personal transport equipment, passenger transport by road. “On a month on month basis, headline inflation was driven by passenger transport by air, fuels and lubricants for personal transport equipment, liquid fuels, cooking gas, oil and fats, fruits, cheese and eggs, fish, meat, bread and cereals. “The Food Index increased by 17.82 per cent (year-on-year) in January, up by 0.43 per cent points from rate recorded in December 2016 (17.39) per cent. During the month, all major food sub-indexes increased, with soft drinks recording the slowest pace of increase at 7.8 percent(year on year).

“Price movements recorded by All Items less farm produce or Core sub-index rose by 17.90 per cent (year- on-year) in January, down by 0.20 per cent points from rates recorded in December 2016 (18.10) per cent. During the month, the highest increases were seen in Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and other fuels; Education and Transport, growing at 27.2, 21.0 and 17.2 per cent respectively. “On a month-on-month basis, the Headline index increased albeit, at a slower pace in January 2017. The index increased by 1.01 per cent points in January, 0.05 per cent points from 1.06 per cent rate recorded in December 2016. “It should be noted that the Headline Index is made up of the Core Index and Farm Produce items. As Processed Foods are included in both the Core and Food sub-indices; this Implies that these sub-indices are not mutually-exclusive.

“The Urban index rose by 20.31 per cent (year-on-year) in January from 20.12 per cent recorded in December, and the Rural index increased by 17.34 per cent in January from 17.20 percent in December. “On month-on-month basis, the urban index rose by 1.03 per cent in January from 1.08 per cent recorded in December, while the rural index rose by 1.00 per cent in January from 1.04 percent in December. The corresponding 12-month year-on-year average percentage change for the urban index increased from 17.05 per cent in December to 17.91 per cent in January, while the corresponding rural index also increased from 14.54 percent in December to 15.18 percent in January.” Analysts predictions

The increase in January inflation rate is consistent with predictions by analysts at Afrinvest Plc, a Lagos-based investment firm. In it’s weekly review of financial markets, last Friday, the company stated: “We forecast year-on-year ( Y-o-Y) headline inflation rate to inch higher to 18.7 per cent from 18.6 per cent in December 2016 due to a relatively lower base despite projected slower month-on-month (M-o-M) change to 1.0 per cent from 1.1 per cent in December 2016 as the impact of yuletide season on prices wears off. Energy prices were also relatively stable in January save for price of diesel and kerosene which inched slightly higher whilst the exchange rate at the interbank remained largely steady in the period.

All variables unchanged, we project headline inflation to begin to ease from February 2017 due to high base in the corresponding period. Yet, we think prices may edge higher if the naira further depreciates as the feedback effect on energy (petrol and diesel) prices may fuel further hike in general price level.” Naira drops to N507 in parallel market Meanwhile, the naira depreciated to its lowest level against the dollar, yesterday, in the parallel market, where the exchange rate rose to hit an all time high of N507 per dollar.

Vanguard investigations reveal that the parallel market exchange rate rose from an average of N498 per dollar at the close of business, last week, to N507 at the close of business, yesterday, due to increased demand for dollar. However the BDC rate remained N399 per dollar while BDC sources expressed optimism that the naira will appreciate against the dollar. Earlier this month, the Managing Director/Chief Executive, Financial Derivatives Company, Mr. Bismarck Rewane predicted the naira will further depreciate to N520 per dollar in the parallel market. He made this prediction as part of his outlooks for February while speaking at the monthly Lagos Business School (LBS) Executive Breakfast session held, last week. “The naira will slip to N520 in the market. Attempts to use forwards to stabilize the market will be futile. The Forex market is polluted and needs sanitization”, he said.

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DR Congo – Why fighting fire with fire in Virunga Park isn’t helping conservation

The Conversation

A patrol post in Virunga. Using the army to fight illegal resource exploitation aggravates conflict. Author supplied

Conserving nature in areas immersed in prolonged violent conflict is challenging. One such area is the Virunga National Park, located in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The park management tries to face these challenges head-on with the aim of protecting Virunga’s rich biodiversity. In particular, the survival of the well-known endangered mountain gorilla is at stake.

It would be wrong to question the objectives, dedication, and sacrifices made by the park management and staff. Many rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty. But based on our research in the region, we have doubts about the effects of the park’s current policies on conflict and violence in the wider Virunga area.

As we show certain conservation practices – like strict law enforcement to combat illegal resources exploitation by armed groups – can inadvertently aggravate violent conflict. They may, for example, reinforce the links between populations and the armed groups on whom they depend for their livelihoods. This undermines conservation efforts in the long-term.

Devising alternative policies for addressing armed groups is no easy task. But as we discuss in a recent article, there’s remarkably little debate on this issue. The media and policymakers pay limited attention to the effects of the park’s policies on the dynamics of violent conflict. In fact, the dominant story line is that the Virunga National Park contributes to peace building. But the reality on the ground is much more complex, as we discovered talking to people who live in the area.

Battling armed groups

A plethora of armed groups operates in and around the Virunga National Park. Their presence isn’t specific to the park: tens of dozens of armed groups roam the eastern Congo, reflecting a militarisation that has become self-sustaining. But there’s a particularly high concentration of such groups in the park.

It provides cover and access to populations and natural resources needed to generate revenue. For instance armed groups are engaged in facilitating charcoal production, poaching, illegal fishing, and “guerilla agriculture”, or cultivation where it’s forbidden.

The effects of these activities on Virunga’s biodiversity are devastating. Illegal fishing contributes to the rapid depletion of fish stock, not least as it often takes place in the waters where fish breed. Charcoal production, for its part, is at the root of intense deforestation, which has grave consequences for the entire ecosystem.

But while depleting the park’s resources, thousands of people living in the Virunga area depend on illegal resources exploitation for their livelihoods. They pay armed groups to access the park and protect such revenue generating activities. The resulting links between people and armed groups complicate efforts to tackle illegal resources exploitation.

As we discuss in recent work, the park management tries to address armed groups by collaborating with the Congolese army. So park rangers conduct joint operations with army soldiers to push armed groups out of the park. As a result, conservation has come to merge with counter-insurgency. But this approach is counterproductive.

The park management tries to address armed groups by collaborating with the Congolese army, this approach is counterproductive. Author supplied

Clashes in the park

First, the operations are not part of wider political and socio-economic measures to deal with armed groups. Thus far the Congolese government has failed to develop such measures. This means that the armed groups are temporarily dislocated, rather than dissolved. The result is a vicious cycle of attacks and counter-attacks between armed groups and the mixed units of park guards and army soldiers. This rising violence doesn’t only increase the insecurity of inhabitants, but also puts the lives of the park guards further at risk.

Second, the tensions sparked by the operations seem to drive people closer to armed groups, causing the park guards in turn to develop growing animosity towards them. Because populations depend on illegal revenue generation activities in the park, and no alternative livelihood activities are offered after the operations, people feel they have little choice but to solicit the protection of armed groups to re-access the park.

Third, the operations feed into conflicts over land, local authority and between different communities. In the Rutshuru area, for instance, tensions between Hutu and Nande populations have intensified over the past months. This is partly due to military operations by the Congolese army against a Hutu armed group that operates in the park.

Any attack against an armed group alters the fragile power equilibrium between armed groups, allied elite networks, and associated civilian communities which often have the same ethnic background as armed group leaderships. So efforts to push armed groups out of the park risk setting in motion a chain of reactions that may spiral out of control.

Dominant stories

It’s widely reported that the Virunga Park is plagued by armed conflict. But this reporting often echoes heart of darkness clichés or simple storylines pitting bad guys (savage rebels) against good guys (usually the park guards and staff). These narratives are rarely accompanied by indepth reflections on the causes of the violence, which tend to be simply ascribed to resources plunder.

Also, by stressing that Virunga is the most dangerous park in the world to work, it becomes taken for granted that conservation has merged with counter-insurgency.

Attention to spectacular figures like the heroic park guards and evil rebels overshadows attention to the people living in or along the borders of the park. Their voices are rarely heard. But their accounts give a different picture than mainstream representations and show how people are suffering under the rising insecurity.

Another reason why the park’s current policies aren’t questioned is that donors and the park management have institutional interests in diffusing a seductive “triple-win rhetoric.” They emphasise that the park promotes at once conservation and development as well as peace building. This would prove that Virunga is an area that works compared with the rest of the DRC, which is viewed as a “failed state”. Such narratives of success ensure that aid, mainly coming from the European Commission, and donations continue to flow.

The current park management is based on a public private partnership (PPP) between the Congolese state agency for nature conservation and a British NGO, the Virunga Foundation. The NGO has assumed full responsibility for the park’s management. As it’s a European NGO who supervises the park guards -– who moreover have received military training by former Belgian commandos -– western audiences appear to ask less questions about the ways in which violent force is employed and how this affects conflict dynamics and people’s security.

So the blind spots in the complex interplay between conservation and violent conflict stem to a large extent from deeply rooted unequal power relations between the North and the South. These inequalities cause certain narratives, policy options and voices to be heard, and others to be excluded. This means that the decolonisation of nature conservation is a precondition for its demilitarisation.

Kenya – Akasha drug gang smuggled ivory

Daily Nation

Drug suspects from left: Gulam Hussein, Baktash Akasha Abdalla and Ibrahim Akasha Abdall arrive at a US airport. PHOTO | FILE | AGENCIES

Drug suspects from left: Gulam Hussein, Baktash Akasha Abdalla and Ibrahim Akasha Abdall arrive at a US airport. PHOTO | FILE | AGENCIES 

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The four suspects being held in New York on drug-trafficking charges after extradition from Kenya are also thought to be heavily involved in the ivory trade, according to US-based investigators.

Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha, brothers and Kenyan nationals, were arrested in Mombasa and flown to New York on January 30 along with Indian citizen Vijaygiri Goswami and Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani.

The four are accused of conspiring to ship 98 kilogrammes of heroin to the US from Kenya. They appeared in federal court in Manhattan on Friday in shackles and prison uniforms.

If convicted, the four alleged kingpins of the so-called Akasha Organisation could be sentenced to life imprisonment in the US.

The Akasha brothers and Mr Goswami and Mr Hussein are also heavily involved in ivory smuggling, says Gretchen Peters, the head of a US company that helps governments fight transnational crime.

Federal prosecutors in New York have not brought ivory-related charges against the four because shipping ivory from Africa to Asia does not constitute a violation of US law, Ms Peters said.

But “it is clear that the Akashas were at the top of a regional ecosystem that’s moving ivory as well as drugs and weapons on and off the continent,” Ms Peters, director of the Satao Project, told the Nation.



Her Washington-based company works with governments and NGOs in seeking to stem poaching and the consequent smuggling of tusks.

Ms Peters said her allegation linking the Akasha Organisation to the ivory trade is based on “dozens of sources, including law enforcement investigators.”

The Satao Project has also analysed shipping and phone records related to seizures of ivory and narcotics that show the Akashas to be “big players in the ivory trade,” Ms Peters added.

“The arrest of the Akashas is definitely going to have a disruptive effect on the ivory market,” she said.

The Satao Project is named in memory of one of the world’s biggest elephants whose tusks almost touched the ground. Satao, beloved by visitors to Tsavo East National Park, was killed by a poacher’s poisoned arrow in 2014.



Ms Peters’ comments are echoed by a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official quoted in a February 9 online posting by the London-based Economist magazine.

“We know the Akasha family is involved with the ivory trade,” DEA Special Agent Thomas Cindric told The Economist.

“We have recorded conversations where they talk about ivory. We had undercover meetings where they talked about being involved in ivory.”

“They’re like the mafia in the US — they’re multifaceted,” Mr Cindric added. “These guys are drug and ivory traffickers. And the smuggling routes for ivory are the same as the smuggling routes for drugs.”

Mr Cindric declined a Sunday Nation request for an interview.

The Economist reported that the DEA agent’s claim is supported by a transcript of a recorded conversation said to have taken place between Ibrahim Akasha and a DEA source in April 2014.

“I have ivory here from Botswana, from Mozambique, from all over,” Mr Akasha is quoted as saying in the transcript that was made available to The Economist. “I have a lot here and it sells.”

The Economist reported that the authenticity of the recording has been confirmed by Mr Cindric. Ivory from tusks of elephants poached in Africa sells for about $1100 per kilogramme in Asia, The Economist said.

The magazine added that “the Kenyan port of Mombasa is the exit point of choice” for smuggled ivory.

Heroin from Afghanistan is unloaded from dhows and cargo ships in Mombasa, and then broken into smaller packages that move to Europe by air from Kenya and Tanzania, The Economist reported.

Kenya declares national emergency to cope with drought


Samburu pastoralists are allowed access on January 24, 2017 to dwindling pasture on the plains of the Loisaba wildlife conservancyAFP

Kenya’s president has declared the drought, which has affected as much as half the country, a national disaster.

Uhuru Kenyatta appealed for international aid and said the government would increase food handouts to the most needy communities.

Kenya’s Red Cross says 2.7 million people face starvation if more help is not provided.

Other countries in the region have also been hit by the drought, blamed on last year’s El Nino weather phenomenon.

In Somalia, nearly half the population is suffering from food shortages and the UN says there is a risk of famine in several parts of the country.

During the last drought on this scale in 2011, famine killed about 250,000 Somalis.

In a statement, Mr Kenyatta said the government had allocated $105m (£84m) to tackle the drought which has affected people, livestock and wildlife in 23 of Kenya’s 47 counties.

“Support from our partners would complement government’s efforts in mitigating the effects of drought,” he said.

Mr Kenyatta added that all purchases of food and other items would be made in a transparent way.

“I will not tolerate anybody who would try to take advantage of this situation to defraud public funds,” the president said.

Behind the conflict in central Kenya that’s costing lives and hitting tourism earnings

The Conversation

Many pastoralists in central Kenya lost access to their ancestral pasture lands in the early 20th century. Reuters/Siegfried Modola

Armed pastoralist groups have, over the past few months, forcefully moved their livestock herds onto ranches or conservancies in Laikipia, central Kenya. Property has been destroyed, wildlife killed and tourists have been caught up in the clashes.

There is a simplistic assumption that this is due to an ongoing drought or that the cattle raids are part of traditional pastoral conflict. It’s true that the pastoralist march on private land is in part for grazing and water. But in fact their actions are also a form of resistance to an unequal distribution of resources.

Laikipia is an area characterised by valuable resources and diverse communities. This has created a complex political story with its roots in resource and land grabbing, political wrangling and human-wildlife conflict.

Land distribution

Land-based grievances are what could have triggered these recent invasions. 2017 is an election year in Kenya and these are often used in political campaigns. They have already been witnessed in Isiolo – an area that neighbours Laikipia – where, conservancies are also being invaded by pastoralists, spurred on by local politicians. This political dynamic can also be seen in Laikipia.

These grievances are an easy rallying cry as many pastoralists in the area lost access to their ancestral pasture lands in the early 20th century when British imperialists forcibly removed the Maasai pastoralist community from the Rift Valley and Laikipia. They were moved to the area now known as the Maasai Mara, near the border of Tanzania.

What ensued created a mosaic of land tenure arrangements. The Maasai’s relocation enabled European settlement and agricultural production in the favourable ecological conditions of the Rift Valley – an area which came to be known as part of the “White Highlands”. Africans were restricted to certain areas, largely based on ethnicity.

When independence came, it signalled the move towards individual land rights and redistribution schemes. But these schemes were criticised for putting land into the hands of a few political elites. In Laikipia, the majority of Kenyans were settled on smallholdings in the west, or remained landless. Group ranches, where a group of people collectively own freehold title to land, were set up predominantly in the north while some private ranches from the colonial period kept their land.

Human-wildlife conflict

Over time conservation areas – or conservancies were set up. These were either former ranches that moved into wildlife management or were set up by a community. Laikipia has an abundance of wildlife and these areas act as a form of public private partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service. They are mandated to manage Kenya’s wildlife and offer tourism opportunities which can attract premium prices.

But the conservancies have created conflict with some surrounding communities. There is deep inequality within Laikipia between those who reap the benefits of wildlife and those who bear the costs.

Due to the land arrangements, many smallholders in Laikipia are situated outside the conservancies or within wildlife migratory corridors. As a result, they suffer both livestock or crop destruction. For privately-run conservancies there are concerns that this is a legitimate way to concentrate large tracts of land and valuable wildlife-related economic activities in the hands of a few individuals.

Also troubling is the use of National Police Reservists by private conservancies. These scouts are private employees. But they are armed by the government through the national police reservists initiative for the purpose of maintaining “wildlife security”.

The scouts are empowered to use violence to stop poaching, but also act in security matters beyond the conservancy of their employment, such as tracking raided cattle. This has the potential to escalate conflict between private and public interests.

Political dimensions

Today the conflicts are also overlaid with corruption – particularly the misappropriation of funds that could have been used for rural development. Instead they serve political interests with some benefiting financially from the raids.

The raids have become a political tool for those looking for votes in exchange for water and pasture. And so, fuelled by the proliferation of arms within pastoral communities, some politicians reportedly use their positions to incite their constituents to take up arms and lay blame for the lack of resources elsewhere. Cattle raids are therefore often perpetrated by criminal gangs with links to corrupt government or political actors.

Previous disarmament programs have sought to address the arms problem but have been criticised for the excessive use of force by police or military. They have also been criticised for leaving disarmed communities vulnerable to attack by those communities that haven’t been disarmed.

A solution?

This is not a new issue. There have been many incidents of invasions throughout the past few decades. However, the continual framing of these invasions as responses to drought fail to address the underlying dimensions of resource distribution. Short-term programs to address famine and drought do not guard against future invasions.

They will continue to occur in the absence of genuine conversations about issues of governance, the sharing of benefits and resource management in Kenya. Rainfall and ecological conditions simply act to exacerbate the tensions.

Until governance issues such as corruption, policy, security, management of resources and development within rural areas are addressed, the conflict will continue.