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Growing trade of blood ivory

Tourism minister's alleged derogatory remarks about Kenya true after all?

Tourism minister's alleged derogatory remarks about Kenya true after all?
Image via kenyanvibe.com

By Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Uganda | Sep 11, 2011

(eTN) - When Kenya burnt a cargo of seized ivory a few weeks ago at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) training school in Tsavo, dignitaries from across the region had been invited to witness this act of defiance and declared opposition to poaching and the growing trade in blood ivory, which is threatening the very survival of the African elephant in the safari countries of Eastern and Southern Africa.

Tanzania’s representative, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Ezekiel Maige, an increasingly controversial figure over his outbursts and "let rip" remarks, i.e., calling UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee an "insignificant entity," was soon afterwards reported by a reliable source from Dar es Salaam to have made remarks about the "Kenyan stupidity to burn ivory instead of joining us to sell it."

Such suggestions were at the time vehemently denied, yet today media reports emerged from Tanzania that the very same minister has now publicly spoken against burning ivory "as it never stops poachers and causes loss to the government." Political circles in Kenya will now give fresh attention to what has been reported here before, that indeed Maige may have made rather undiplomatic references over an event, which none other than President Kibaki performed in Kenya, and may demand through diplomatic channels that he face the music and be reprimanded, if for nothing else but being careless and overheard when making his utterances.

Maige is increasingly seen as a liability and been accused by the conservation fraternity of misleading UNESCO in a letter he signed about NOT proceeding with a controversial highway across the Serengeti, itself a World Heritage Site, only to soon afterwards denounce the letter he signed and continued to say the highway would go ahead by hook or crook. Maige is also on public record downplaying the substantial risk for environmental pollution by a planned Uranium mine in the Selous, which could poison water sources and the wider environment for decades to come.

2011 is the 50th year of independence for Tanzania and was meant to be a hallmark year for tourism and conservation, but the conservation reputation of Tanzania appears more and more in tatters over a large number of hugely controversial industrial projects, leaving the tourist board struggling to overcome sentiments and growing resentment against the country.

Maige and other officials are on record lamenting that they are sitting on a treasure of ivory they are not permitted to sell, as CITES last year turned down their request for an extraordinary sale of supposedly "legal" ivory stocks, denouncing the decision and blaming, among others, Kenya for the rejection, which "denies the poor health care and roads." This line of thought makes it clear that the proceeds of an ivory sale would be contrary to soothing statements made at the time to not go towards conservation and anti-poaching but be "absorbed" by the country’s treasury.

Maige and others also made it clear that they would apply once again at the 2013 CITES meeting, showing that no lessons have been learned and that the concept of conservation instituted by the founding father of Tanzania, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, has been largely discarded for profits and short-term gains.

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