What next for Tanzania’s ivory stockpiles? CNN asks Kikwete

Tuesday February 18 2014
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Presidents Jakaya Kikwete reacts to a question during this interview with CNN star presenter , Christian Amanpour in London last week. PHOTO | STATE HOUSE

President Jakaya Kikwete was in UK last week to attend the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife trade.

CNN’s Christian Amanpour got a chance to interview Mr Kikwete on, among other things, what his government is doing in the face the increase in elephant poaching

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you first and foremost, am I exaggerating? Are we exaggerating? How bad is the problem for your elephants in Tanzania?

KIKWETE: It’s not an exaggeration. If I can give you the statistics: at independence, Tanzania had 350,000 elephants. During the first wave of intense poaching, the 1970s-1980s, when you read the census, in 1987, there were only 55,000 elephants left.

AMANPOUR: Wow!

KIKWETE: And then of course, because it was an unprecedented situation, so the government of the day, that time, decided to bring in the military. We had a mammoth operation by the military called Operation Ohimene (ph) -- Operation Life.

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AMANPOUR: But now it’s bad.

KIKWETE: And then of course when it was backed by scientists, scientists ban in 1989, and this operation then we begin to see the numbers coming back.

In 2009, the numbers reached [...] Now 110,000. And then come 2010, another wave.

AMANPOUR: Of poaching.

KIKWETE: Of poaching. And this is madness now. You know it is just impossible.

AMANPOUR: And it’s -- they’re on the verge of extinction.

KIKWETE: Oh, it is very sad. For example, in one of our game parks where we used to have about 30,000 last count gave us 13,000 left.

So you know, it’s a serious matter.

AMANPOUR: And you also have a serious matter because even your attempts to combat the poachers have basically been suspended because of the irregularities that your anti-poachers conducted, raping and murdering and all sorts of brutality. You’ve had to fire four ministers because of it.

Why are you having such a hard time cracking down on the poaching?

KIKWETE: Well, those are -- they’re the challenges that we are facing. Of course, after the wave started, what I did realise first as I ordered the police to come in assist the game wardens and the game rangers, which they did. And then when I found that the police alone could not cope then we brought in the military.

We have this new operation, the Operation Tokomeza. They did a fantastic job on the side of winning with the poaching side.

 But of course, they are now problems with regards to the way they handled cattle that had encroached into the game parks, the way they handled the cattle keep on the pastures and the cattle itself. And when they were reports of human rights abuses, we said this is not acceptable.

We’d send them to deal with the problem poaching. That’s why many foreign ministers had to take responsibility. We had to suspend operation for some time in order to sort out.

I think now the issue, the matter is in safe hands. We’ll soon resume daily operations.

AMANPOUR: Well, let’s hope for your -- for your sake and for the elephants’ sake.

In the meantime, what did you hear out of this meeting that perhaps gives you more funds -- did you get any commitments for some of these hundreds of millions of dollars that you say you need?

KIKWETE: Well, of course, there wasn’t a specific commitment in terms of money apart from Canada, who made a commitment for $2 million. But the British government has made a commitment ...

In fact, at this meeting, my interest and the interest of the African leaders is that first, of course, in order to fight this war, you need to be the human resource, human capacity resource, employee, game rangers, train them well. We expect the developed countries -- UK, US-- to help us deal with capacity in terms of training our game rangers but also equipping them.

AMANPOUR: Because the opponents have military style weapons.

KIKWETE: Sure. That’s the weapons, the vehicles, the surveillance capacities. So that’s another aspect that we have been expecting from this. And we got commitment that we’re going to get that assistance.

AMANPOUR: In terms of symbolic and substantive next moves, you have stockpiles of ivory in Tanzania. Will you burn them, as the US has, as China did even a month or so ago to show that this is not acceptable?

KIKWETE: Well, we have about 112 tons, 112 tons of ivory and we are thinking about that. We’re thinking about that for a little -- because we’re used to the idea of asking for permission to proceed, but I don’t think these are not the times because it was the relaxation, the acceptance that was created after the site disband which created and opened the door.

AMANPOUR: That’s right. So now you need to absolutely crack down on all of that.

KIKWETE: And this is -- has been my demand -- our demand that, please, stop the trade. If this trade is going to be stopped, there’s going to be no demand for ivory. There’s -- be no incentive for anyone to kill an elephant. Therefore, elephant will live to their full age.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you something also, obviously animals, former big part of Tanzania’s economy, the safari business, the wildlife, the conservation.

Tanzania had it quite growing and healthy economy, much more than many other countries over the last few years.

And yet there are many, many people there who don’t see it trickling down, about a third of your country people live below the poverty rate.

Let me quote you something from a young Tanzanian.

“Look around,” she says. “The only people benefiting from economic growth and gas discoveries are government leaders. Ordinary people like myself are still stuck in poverty.” That’s a 26-year-old car washer.

What can you tell those people who see government ministers, you know, getting an extra $98,000 on their salary while they’re languishing in poverty?

KIKWETE: To say getting an extra $100,000 is an exaggeration.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, let’s just talk about the poverty. Have you spread the wealth?

KIKWETE: No, I think one bad observation is correct. That observation is my observation. The Tanzanian economy has been growing at 7 percent on the average, yes...

AMANPOUR: But how do you spread it?

KIKWETE: Whenever we say the Tanzanian economy’s doing fine, somebody in the streets says, wait a minute, did I hear correctly? She thinks that --

AMANPOUR: Right. And he’s the one with no electricity and languishing on less than $1 a day.

KIKWETE: It is 7 per cent economic growth rate but poverty reduction has been 2 per cent. And all of our wish and why -- what is it really at issue is that this 7 per cent growth rate is contributing -- has contributed mainly by the telecommunications sector, the transport sector, the manufacturing sector and so on.

The sector that employs the majority of the people, which is agricultural, is growing at 4 per cent. And this is. So that’s why we had to give a lot of focus to agriculture so that if agriculture can also grow faster than what it is, it is growing now, then that will remain.

So really, how to trickle down the growth to reach the people? This is something that we are also waiting. I realise that is a proved observation. That observation is my own, my own assessment as well.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you one last question before I let you go? The issue of gay rights. It’s becoming the civil rights issue of this 21st century.

In Africa, including in Tanzania, it’s illegal; people can be fined and jailed for up to 30 years or life in prison.

Is it not time for Tanzania to say this is a human right and let us cast down those laws which criminalize people for consensual relations?

KIKWETE: It will take time. It will take time for our people to accept the norms that the West is accepting.

AMANPOUR: But do you want to see that happen?

KIKWETE: I cannot say that now.

AMANPOUR: This terrible violence being committed against gay people across Africa, it’s not good for Africa.

KIKWETE: It is not happening in Tanzania, but if -- because I remember there was a time -- I think the prime minister of Britain here, David Cameron, raised that matter. It created a lot of -- a lot of uneasiness. But I think it coincided with a visit of Prince Charles at that time. And it was bad.

So I think for our people right now, I don’t think it’s the time now to discuss these issues.

AMANPOUR: Well, we’ll keep asking you.

Mr. President, thank you very much for being here. And we hope that some solution comes to this terrible wildlife poaching. Thank you.

KIKWETE: We look forward to it. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And as we mentioned, the rhino also is being slaughtered in South Africa. It, too, is threatened with extinction because of Asia’s insatiable appetite for all the cures it’s supposed to bring.

South Africa seems helpless to halt the killing. It’s one more mark against the troubled government of President Jacob Zuma, who gives his final State of the Union address today before seeking another term in May.

On the plus side, of course, the Rainbow Nation is now celebrating 20 years of democracy after the end of apartheid.

When we come back, ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, where human beings are on the endangered list. That’s after a break.