News reports of some Chinese people being arrested, taken to court, and being convicted and sentenced of smuggling rhino horns have become very common in Namibia. Similar stories have been reported in other African countries such as Zambia.
Initially, I used to think that the Chinese are actively involved in the poaching exercise. But further reading shows that the Chinese are just smugglers; they have ready markets for these horns and ivory in their country and the business is very lucrative that side. This makes it very easy for them to entice the locals with high monetary incentives, hence the rampant poaching.
This view is corroborated by a recent article by Huffingtonpost, which applauds Namibia’s anti-poaching efforts but also bemoans the influence of Chinese smugglers who have now become a major force behind the wave of poaching in the country. Huffingtonpost further reports that independent Chinese journalist Shi Yi traveled to Namibia to carry out an investigation on how some of the Chinese nationals are involved in the illicit ivory trade.
According to Shi Yi, small-scale Chinese merchants, who have embedded themselves in the Namibian society, are the ones who are fueling this illegal trade in Namibia. She explains why it will be very difficult to stop the podcast below.
Recently, the Chinese community in Namibia contributed N$30,000 to the war against poaching in Namibia. This followed the arrest of a Chinese national who was trying to smuggle 18 rhino horns out of Namibia. This is a good gesture but to me it looks like a way of diverting the attention of the society from the negative news about the Chinese community that is making waves in the country.
The Chinese want to preserve their lucrative business interests in the country. They are aware that these evil works by some of their countrymen have the potential of directly or indirectly affecting their legal businesses, hence this quick and short-term act of benevolence.
Personally, I would like to see them putting in place long-term mechanisms against illicit ivory trade. Within their (Chinese) meetings, they should make it a point that they always spread messages against this crime. In their companies’ corporate social responsibility, they can set aside more funds to the war against poaching on a yearly basis.
In a related development, the Confidente reports that the Namibian Police are now searching Chinese nationals thoroughly at police checkpoints, roadblocks and random stop and search operations. I applaud the police for these exercises. They will of great help, if they are done properly, consistently, and fairly.
The idea of coming up with a law that ensures that foreign nationals convicted for poaching never set foot in Namibia again is good. But more importantly, I would like to suggest that more checks must be done at the time when foreign nationals are applying for visas. Fellow Africans, even when they are well qualified, find it very difficult to get a Namibian visa. It, however, looks like it is very very easy for these Chinese nationals to get Namibian visas.
How do you allow someone to come into the country on business visa in order to just set up a shop at Okalongo, Ongenga and other rural places? What value is he bringing to the country? Aren’t the Namibians on the ground already well equipped for those kinds of businesses. These are the people who are busy running ivory trade syndicates in the background. The grocery businesses are just used to hoodwink the society.
Last but not least, some special mechanisms must be put in place to deal with the locals who are doing the actual poaching on the ground. When the Chinese are being brought before the law, some effort must be made to find out the people who supply them with the ivory. These too must face the law. The whole supply chain must be dealt with!
After a two-year investigation, John Grobler argues that a mysterious, tribal totem-based network of politicians, top officials, policemen and former soldiers, that deals with a web of Chinese, Zambian and Congolese smugglers is at the centre of this scourge. Grobler’s extensive writeup brings a new dimension to the whole poaching and smuggling issue. The Namibian government must do some serious self-examination.
If what Grobler is writing is correct, then even if the Chinese can be prevented from smuggling any horns from Namibia, new export destinations will be identified. The problem is within the house and not outside. Something must be done within the house before taking on outsiders.