Le Minister d'État De donnea-Belgium launches efforts to fight corruption related to wildlife and forest crime in Africa
On the occasion of the signing on 12 February by Minister Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and Minister of Defense, of a commitment of two million euros to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, François-Xavier de Donnea delivered the following speech:
SPEECH DELIVERED AT EGMONT PALACE ON 12 FEBRUARY 2019 ON THE OCCASION OF THE SIGNING BY MR REYNDERS, VICE-PRIME MINISTER, OF BELGIUM’S COMMITMENT TO THE “COMBATTING CORRUPTION AND WILDLIFE IN AFRICA” FUND OF THE UNITED NATIONS OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME (UNODC).
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to commend Belgium’s commitment under the leadership of its Vice-Prime Minister, Mr. Didier Reynders, of a major contribution to the “Combatting Corruption linked to Wildlife and Forest Crime in Africa” Fund.
Preserving Africa’s forests is a major challenge not only for indigenous peoples, but also for all of mankind. Their wide-ranging degradation or depletion would fuel climate change whose effects would be felt on all continents. Their biodiversity, a precious heritage of humanity, would be severely impacted. Many animal species would only exist in zoos or as fossils. Will current generations tolerate the emergence of " 21st century dinosaurs"? Future generations would condemn us harshly.
We still have a chance to save this unique heritage, but clock is ticking ...
Poverty among many indigenous peoples, demographic pressure, climate change, poor governance, corruption and the greed of international traffickers of protected species and precious woods are posing increasingly grave and impending threats to African forests.
Recent WWF estimates suggest 12 million hectares of forest could disappear from Congo Basin forests between 2010 and 2030, an area equivalent to four times the size of Belgium!
In recent decades, poaching of elephants, rhinos, pangolins and other protected species has taken on industrial proportions with operations involving weapons of war and even helicopters, a far cry from artisanal poaching to supply bushmeat.
In 1960, the Garamba Park, located in Haut-Uele in the DRC, was home to about 20,000 elephants, hundreds of rhinos and giraffes. Today there are just 1300 elephants and 48 giraffes left. The last two rhinos were wiped out ten years ago.
In 2012, close to 500 elephants in Bouba Njida park, in the North-West region of Cameroon, were shot dead by dozens of Sudanese and Chadian poachers wielding automatic weapons of war and operating in organized horseback riding groups.
In January 2018, the Sudanese poachers came back and killed six members of the Cameroonian Special Forces and two park rangers.
From 2002 to 2010, 4,000 elephants were poached in the Zakouma Park in Chad, a population accounting for 95% of the park’s livestock.
At the Virunga Park in North Kivu, close to 22,000 hippopotamuses were slaughtered during the civil war that raged from 1997 to 2002. Elephants disappeared from the Rwindi plains, where they were previously numbered in the hundreds.
I will spare you the sad litany which goes on and on, and includes several other African protected areas.
Thankfully, the phenomenon of industrial and cross-border poaching is not inevitable. Transferring the management of some parks through public-private partnerships, has helped stem the deadly plague. Zakouma has lost only 24 elephants to poaching since 2010. It has lost none in the last two years. Livestock numbers have increased from 200 to about 600 elephants. Garamba Park lost only two elephants last year. Elephants are currently repopulating the Ishasha Valley in Virunga Park on the border with Queen Elisabeth National Park. The mountain gorillas of the Virunga chain have escaped extinction.
Still, natural area managers in Africa continue to face two huge and complex challenges.
"Industrial" poaching is increasingly carried out by cross-border armed groups, which travel over vast distances. Sudanese bandits’ operations extend all the way to Cameroon and northern DRC, transiting through the Central African Republic and Chad. Armed transhumant pastoralists are descending from the Sahel, driven by pressures from climate change and demographic growth that are depleting pasture. They travel as far as the provinces of Bas and Haut-Uele in Northern DRC and also engage in poaching. Sub-regional and cross-border cooperation has therefore become a pre-requisite for successfully combating these roaming groups. This was the main theme of the Conference organized by the Congo Basin Forest Partnership from 23 to 25 January in N'Djamena.
In addition, the astronomical prices of ivory and rhinoceros’ horns on consumer markets mean traffickers are able to bribe many senior political and administrative officials, as well as members of law enforcement, the judiciary and customs and small players in the field. A kilogram of ivory is worth its weight in gold, selling at almost USD40,000. A kilogram of rhino horn is worth nearly USD 60,000!
However, corruption is not inevitable in Africa either. Encouraging examples of integrity demonstrated by park rangers are proof of this. For instance, last year when some Cameroonian park rangers arrested a gendarmerie colonel after finding dozens of ivory pieces in his vehicle, they then turned down a bribe he offered for his release and handed him over to face trial. In another example, a senior Virunga Park ranger rejected bribes offered by the SOCO oil company and agreed to testify against it. He played a major role in SOCO’s defeat in the Virunga Park case.
Fighting corruption related to wildlife and forest crime is therefore vital for preserving Africa’s flora and fauna. But corruption is an octopus with multiple tentacles, it is therefore important to pinpoint the right tentacle to tackle in order to fight it effectively.
Empowering the police and judiciary to effectively prosecute and punish poachers who engage in active bribery as well as corrupt actors of all stripes should be a priority.
Courts in some countries sometimes lack the material resources needed to hold trials for wildlife and forest criminals handed to them by natural protected area authorities who end up having to cover the costs of the proceedings to ensure that they actually take place. However, this can lead to obviously harmful practices...
That said, we must also find ways of shielding judges, police officers, customs officers and park rangers from temptation. Paltry or meager wages will make them susceptible to the siren songs of poachers and traffickers.
Is it possible to establish police and magistrate corps in certain African countries, or even customs officers that are well paid and specialized in the fight against wildlife and forest crime, including poaching and trafficking, and the associated corruption? This is definitely an avenue UNODC should explore.
The truth is that it is usually easier to catch poaching underlings than their bosses and ringleaders, who are often very high up in government. The poachers who attacked the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in Epulu in DRC in 2012, slaughtering park rangers and animals, were alleged by reliable sources to have acted on the orders of a Kisangani-based FARDC general.
Cracking down on and punishing corrupt high-ranking officials, accomplices or actors of wildlife and forest crime, requires the cooperation of the Head of State. Such is already the case in many African countries, though not everywhere. Securing the willing cooperation of Heads of State in punishing the corrupt is another challenge for UNODC.
Finally, given that poaching is increasingly organized on a cross-border and sub-regional scale, there is a need to stimulate cross-border judicial cooperation, for instance between the DRC and Uganda, within the framework of the "Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration". I would also suggest judicial cooperation between Cameroon and Chad in the contiguous parks region of Bouba Njida (Cameroon) and Sene Oura (Chad). President Déby of Chad has told me that the Sene Oura park can no longer be managed without a cooperation agreement with Cameroon. This agreement is still in the works. A judicial cooperation agreement between the DRC and South Sudan on the contiguous Garamba and Lantoto parks would complement the anti-poaching agreement signed by the delegations of the two countries that were in N'Djamena in January ending. Belgium's contribution to the UNODC Fund is therefore valuable. It comes at a timely moment.