11 May 2015

Africa begins Journey to Combat Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora

Some of the participants attending the Brazzaville meeting (Photo: Stephen Chacha)
By Ken Mwathe

African Governments meeting in Brazzaville, Congo, last week agreed to a set of steps to address illegal trade in wild fauna and flora.  At the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa on 27-30th April 2015, leaders issued a strongly worded Brazzaville Declaration, agreeing to collaborate to stem the rising scourge that is estimated to cost African countries about US$200 million annually. 

Among other things, the leaders agreed to abide by international agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna (CITES), to strengthen national laws, to build capacity of agencies and to address the needs and rights of local communities and indigenous peoples.  They also emphasised the need for negotiation with countries through which illegal wildlife products transit as well as with destination countries.  Africa will also seek support to combat illegal trade in wild fauna and flora, through a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).  Read the full Brazzaville Declaration

The Brazzaville meeting was prompted by concerns from spiralling illicit wildlife trade, which threatens iconic African species, including elephants, rhinos and birds, as well as rare plants and marine species.  Previous meetings, among them, the 23rd African Union Summit of African Heads of State, the 15th Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and the 2014 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, called for concerted action to address the issue.

Experts from governments, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), African Union (AU), Regional Economic Commissions, civil society organisations and donors met in Brazzaville to develop an African Strategy to Combat Illegal Wildlife Trade to coordinate action across the continent.   

“It is a historic moment when words can be translated into action in tackling illegal and unregulated trade in wildlife products.  The Strategy should be backed by political commitment and requisite financial resources to implement it.  It is Africa’s opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world and to future generations that we are worthy custodians of the natural wealth given to us – our wild fauna and flora”, said Ken Mwathe, the Africa Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager at BirdLife International.  He said the strategy must take into consideration all taxa, including birds, which face immense pressure, with species such as vultures and parrots facing serious population declines. 

Ken Mwathe presenting  BirdLife International statement during the Ministerial Opening Session (Photo: Stephen Chacha)

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Ken emphasised the view that the Strategy “should also address the livelihood needs of local communities, including their resilience to climate change, which has an indirect link to poaching and illegal trade.  Regarding Strategy implementation, we propose use of interdisciplinary approaches that engage communities at the grassroots with less emphasis on enforcement through weaponry.” Read the full BirdLife International Statement

The third day of the Conference was attended by Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo, Idriss Deby, President of the Republic of Chad and Daniel Ona Ondo, Prime Minister of Gabon.  Together, they set fire to five tonnes of ivory to demonstrate their commitment to the fight against wildlife crime.

Bruce Liggitt, the Senior International Casework Officer at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK) said “The decision by African Governments to address illegal trade in wild fauna and flora is commendable.   We call for urgent completion of the Strategy and more critically, tangible action against wildlife crime across Africa. This will complement wider conservation activities to address the drivers of biodiversity loss as well as efforts to ensure that development in Africa is both sustainable and equitable”   


Story by Ken Mwathe -