The country’s elephant population has plummeted under the watch of its outgoing Presidentby Martin Fletcher / June 18, 2015 / Leave a comment
Jakaya Kikwete is nearing the end of his two terms and 10 years as President of Tanzania. Ahead of this autumn’s elections, acolytes are brandishing statistics showing what a success he has been—2.7m jobs created, 5,000 more schools, households with electricity rising from 10 to 36 per cent, malaria cases down 60 per cent. The one figure they hardly ever mention, however, is the shocking and shameful number of elephants slaughtered on his watch—nearly 100,000.
Under Julius Nyerere, the father and first President of postcolonial Tanzania, the country championed elephant conservation, demanding and helping secure the international ban on ivory trading that was adopted in 1989. Under Kikwete it has become an elephant slaughterhouse. Since he took office in 2005, Tanzania’s elephant population, previously the second biggest in Africa, has slumped from more than 140,000 to fewer than 50,000—nearly 10,000 of those magnificent creatures shot, speared or poisoned for each year he has been in office. A third of all the elephants killed in Africa are in Tanzania. More than a third of all ivory seized in Asia emanates from Tanzania.
Selous, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the world’s largest game reserves, boasted 70,000 elephants within its eco-system in 2006: today just 13,000 remain. Having plundered Selous, the poachers targeted Tanzania’s second biggest concentration of elephants in the Ruaha national park and Rungwa game reserve. The numbers there have plummeted from 31,600 in 2009 to an estimated 8,200.
Kikwete has no excuses. Tanzania has not been crippled by war. It is not awash with arms. It does not lack resources—a darling of western donors, it received nearly $2.6bn in 2012. It is a stable country that has been governed by the same party for the past half-century and possesses strong security and intelligence services. Tanzania’s problem is a deep, pervasive, endemic corruption that makes it not a victim of China’s lust for ivory but a willing and active accomplice.
At every level—ministers, politicians, judges, civil servants, soldiers, policemen, customs officers, port officials, park rangers—there are those that lubricate the relentless flow of hacked-off tusks from Tanzania’s reserves to the ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, whence they are smuggled out in containers of lumber or soya beans. “Collusion between corrupt officials and criminal enterprises…