CITES, Environmental Colonialism Or Eco-Colonialism

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The 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is being held in Panama Convention Center, Panama City from 14 – 25 November 2022. CITES is an international agreement, signed by 184 parties, designed to ensure that international trade in animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild.

CITES achieves this objective by listing species into Appendences. For example, Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.

Past CITES conferences including COP 19 are often characterised by countries from the Global North and few African countries such as Kenya and some northern Africa calling for species such as elephants and rhino to be listed in Appendix 1 where trophy hunting or trade in wildlife species is not allowed.

While this is the case, Southern African countries (i.e. Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa) calling for wildlife species to be listed under Appendix II. In addition, Southern African countries have made demands to sell ivory stockpiles but it is not always easy. As a result, Southern African countries have threatened to withdraw their membership from CITES if animals such as elephants are placed in Appendix I.

The continued call to ban trade in wildlife products has thus created a scenario where trophy hunting in Southern African countries like Botswana is facing opposition from animal rights groups and anti-hunting organisations mostly from the Global North.

According to Grinnell (1925) and Knezevic (2009), opponents of trophy hunting base their opposition on three principles, namely: (a) selfish motives (to be able to observe and consume nature), (b) sentimental reasons (to protect fellow living creatures), and (c) economic justifications (the profitability of ecotourism). The continual promotion of ‘unspoilt’ wilderness areas to conform to foreign tourists’ preconceived ideas about the ‘myth of wild Africa’ (Adams & McShane, 1996). Brown (2020) argues that this thinking by the western world about Africa has come to be known as environmental colonialism or eco-colonialism. Crowe & Shryer (1995:26) argue:

Africa is a battleground of the global conservation movement. At stake is whether Africa will manage their wildlife or whether the task will be usurped by a cartel of conservations based in the United States and Western Europe. In this context, western conservation philosophy is increasingly divorced from the social and economic realities of much of Sub-Saharan Africa. There is a growing tendency by many conservation advocates to promote their concept of Africa as an idyllic and sacrosanct wildlife sanctuary is separated from the socio-economic realities of the region. This elitist and condescending attitude lowers the credibility of international conservation efforts and has spawned a new term for Africa conservationists and wildlife managers: eco-colonialism.

Opponents of hunting have their ideas about wildlife conservation in Botswana based on the western concept of preservation. Western history and experience define a wildlife protected area as “an untouched and untouchable wilderness” (Adams & McShane, 1992). This approach in wildlife literature is also described as fortress conservation.

As a result, the people of Southern Africa perceive opponents of hunting to be proposing a fortress wildlife conservation agenda which is not acceptable to them. Makombe (1993: 18) argues that Africans are often regarded as the villains of conservation and referred to as “poachers.”

Most of these communities have been forced to abandon their homes and fields because crops are destroyed by wildlife, a scenario that adds further strain to the relationship between people and wildlife. Gunn (2001:89) argues: “whatever we may think of trophy hunting… at present, it is a necessary part of wildlife conservation in Southern Africa”. It is from this background that Southern African countries often make threats to withdraw from CITES because they are beginning to perceive CITES as an extension of environmental colonialism or eco-colonialism.

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