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Africa Geographic Travel

Leading the world with 4% economic growth in 2013, things are looking up for Africans. Coming off a base of poverty, strife and under-development it would seem that Africa’s hour has finally come. But has it?

Undermining the continent’s advances is the menace of environmental crime.

“The illegal trade in natural resources is depriving developing economies of billions of dollars,” says Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, in a 2014 report titled The Environmental Crime Crisis – Threats to Sustainable Development from Illegal Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife and Forest Resources.

Major environmental crimes in order of financial impact are identified as timber, mineral extraction, fish, wildlife and waste. The drivers are named as corruption (on a national and local level), lack of law enforcement (on a national and international level), corporate crime, increasing demand, lack of legislation (at national level), conflict and international and national criminal syndicates.

The monetary loss to governments across the globe is estimated at between US$70 – US$213 billion per annum – money that could otherwise be ploughed into human development and welfare.

Another report commissioned by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust indicates that in the first nine months of 2014 the illegal slaughter of elephants for ivory has cost the tourism industry, local communities and economies US$44.5 million. “A single dead elephant’s tusks are estimated to have a raw value of US$21 000 (based on TRAFFIC estimate that an elephant carries an average of 5kg of ivory per tusk). By comparison, the estimated tourism value of a single living elephant is US$1 607 624.83 over its lifetime,” it says.

Environmental crime represents theft on a continental scale, destroying African livelihoods, and, due to its non-sustainability, undermining future prospects for a dignified life for African people.


“Ecosystems play a crucial role in developing economies by supporting revenues, future development opportunities, livelihoods and sustainable harvest sectors relying heavily on natural resources, such as in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Healthy ecosystems provide the platform upon which future food production and economies are ultimately based,” says the UNEP report.

Not only does environmental crime deprive Africa of much needed developmental revenue, it is the means by which militias such as Al Shabaab, the Janjaweed and the Lord’s Resistance Army continue to murder, pillage and rape the people of this continent. Financing themselves primarily through ivory poaching and the illegal charcoal industry these outlaws threaten the sovereignty of several African nations.

UNEP makes these recommendations as a start to fixing the problem: 

1. It urges acknowledgement of the multiple dimensions of environmental crime and its serious impact on the environment and sustainable development goals, and while recognising the problem is one thing, solving it is quite another, one that requires global co-operation and political will across the board.

2. It suggests that a comprehensive coordinated UN system and national approaches to environmental crime are in order, including identifying end-user markets and systematically designing, supporting and implementing, where appropriate, consumer awareness campaigns focusing on high consumer end-markets.

3. It supports the immediate, decisive and collective action to narrow the gaps between commitments and compliance as well as initiatives to strengthen awareness through certification and those that strengthen institutional, legal and regulatory systems to further combat corruption.

4. It recommends the strengthening of support to INTERPOL, UNODC, WCO and CITES and investment in capacity building and technological support to national environment, wildlife and law enforcement agencies.

“Solutions will require a combination of efforts to address both supply and demand reduction, based on deterrence, transparency, legal enforcement, behavioural change and alternative livelihoods. Differentiated strategies for addressing illegal wildlife and timber trafficking must be developed across the relevant value chains (source, transit and destination countries),” says the report.


And while international help is required, from an African perspective our national governments must send a clear message: the days of this continent being a free-for-all are over. Citizens and governments together must reach up and reach out to shake off this menace so that the people of Africa may live in peace and prosperity.

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Clarissa Hughes has worked and travelled widely in Africa. With 30 years experience in the tourism industry her knowledge is varied and wide. Her interest lies at the nexus of human development and environmental conservation. Clarissa also has an interest in African culture. She is a co-founder of the Nhabe Museum in Maun, Botswana as well as the author of a book on the indigenous beliefs around the night sky titled ‘Flowers in the Sky – a celebration of southern African starlore‘. She is the author of a number of tourism and African culture related articles and is a member of the International League of Conservation Writers.

Africa Geographic Travel
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