Obama or McCain; South Africa Will Sell Ivory

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November 5, 2008 @ 0:55 UTC

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South Africa
Barack Obama, John McCain
Economy & Trade, Environment, Government & Politics, War & Conflict, Activism & Protest

Tomorrow, the entire world waits for history to be made. For the first time in its 200+ years of independence, the United States of America could have an African American as president. It will be historical indeed as for the first time ever, a person of colour - a minority - will lead the most powerful nation in the world. Now that will be good news to most of the world - if you consider the opinion polls conducted by various agencies around the world.

Elsewhere in South Africa, on 6 November, the last and largest batch of ivory stockpiles will be placed on the block in the ongoing CITES-backed one-off auction between southern African states and China/Japan. They waited 9 years for this and no matter who becomes the next president of the United States, the auction will go on.This is not good news.

It is indeed sad news because selling ivory under the guise of raising funds for elephant conservation just doesn’t make sense. South Africa is not poor. As Paula said in her previous blog at Baraza, the South African proponents of “sustainable” utilization of ivory will be rubbing their hands with glee as they salute what is to them a victory. “We won! we sold Ivory!” is not a phrase that you and I should be surprised to hear being spat out of their grinning mouths. For them it’s more of a statement to the effect that ivory can be exploited sustainably. It has nothing to do with conservation.

It is indeed a bounty in southern Africa this week. Zimbabwe sold 4 tons of ivory on Sunday 2 November raking in a tidy 480,000 American dollars. Namibia which was first to sell its stockpile auctioned 9 tons making $1.2-million. Botswana, which auctioned 44 tons made $1.1-million mostly because their ivory is of lower quality (since the country has the lowest humidity) and is relatively difficult to work. South Africa, with 51 tons in the offing, is hoping to raise more than that. All this money, coming from Chinese and Japanese ivory traders, “will be used in conservation work”, they say.

Kenya, the country of Obama’s late father, is mourning the elephant. They campaigned fervently before and during the CITES Conference of Parties held at the Hague this year for a 20 year moratorium on ivory sales: they got 9. And even before they got the 9, the CITES elite had already given the go ahead for this year’s one-off auction. Now the Kenyan conservationists watch helplessly as the southern African nations bath in wads of cash. Blood money if you ask the Kenyans.

Perhaps an Obama victory will lift their spirits tomorrow. A prize bull has been tethered outside the home of Obama’s paternal grandmother. It will fall when Obama rises. The people of Kogelo will sing, dance and make merry. But after this, they will go on with their life. And on the 6th day of November, 51 tons of ivory will be auctioned in South Africa. The people of Kogelo may not get wind of this. But another group of Kenyans, whose business is to conserve wildlife, will be reminded that it is time to swallow yet another bitter pill of sorrow for the elephant. They will ask themselves what will happen in the next nine years. What will happen tomorrow. Will other African states ask CITES if they can sell their ivory?

Perhaps Barack Obama’s message of change and hope: more specifically “change” will get to CITES. They badly need to change their approach to trade. Some people say that they worry more about the trade than the wildlife. It’s all about the money.

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