Tales of Simotua and The Illegal Trade in Wildlife - Speech by UNEP Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw at the Africa Model United Nations Thu, Mar 24, 2016

We all know that Africa has the best "yard" on the planet, with 10 per cent of the world's freshwater reserves, 17 per cent of its forests, almost a quarter of its plant and mammal species, 10 per cent of known global oil reserves and grossly under-explored minerals.

Find out more about #Simotua

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the United Nations in Nairobi - the global headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you, because every item on this year's AFROMUN agenda relates to the work UNEP is doing: on the immigration and refugee crisis; on food security and political instability; on conflict prevention, disaster response, disease and fiscal development; and on terrorism, along with the role of women in peace and security.

For many of you, these topics will appear to have little to do with the environment. That's why I want to share what I would call a live situation. I want to share the speech I used recently to trigger a ministerial discussion at the African Union. And I want to share it with you for three reasons. First, because it highlights how the issues are connected and why we need an integrated approach to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Second, because I originally shared the speech with people of my own age and experience. Today is a unique opportunity to get an entirely different perspective - from you. A perspective I want to share with world leaders at the summit on illegal trade in wildlife, happening here in Kenya next month, when they will burn the biggest ever stock of illegal ivory. And third, because last autumn, UNEP named South Africa's Black Mambas anti-poaching squad as Champions of the Earth. Siphiwe Sithole, a member of this amazing mainly female team, has a great saying about: "Starting to protect whatever you have in your yard-then you will know how to fight for other things as well."

We all know that Africa has the best "yard" on the planet, with 10 per cent of the world's freshwater reserves, 17 per cent of its forests, almost a quarter of its plant and mammal species, 10 per cent of known global oil reserves and grossly under-explored minerals. So this should be an unrivaled natural treasure chest for the people of Africa. In these times of global economic shocks, the services sector accounted for more than half of real economic growth in 30 out of 54 African countries. This drives key milestones in health and life expectancy, with reduced poverty and child mortality. However, serious risks remain for our future peace, socio-economic development, prosperity, and ultimately, the happiness and wellbeing of the African people. The foundation of all of this is our natural resources, our most precious resources, which are in danger from small-scale poachers, illegal loggers, international criminal networks and terror groups.

Transnational organized criminals have already wiped out the great apes of Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo and they continue - with another 3,000 animals lost every year. They kill over 1,000 rhinos each year, leaving just 5,000 from over almost 25,000 black rhino of 20 years ago. And they butcher an elephant every 20 minutes, steal the ivory and leave the young to suffer. This is something we were reminded of again this week, when the Sheldrick Trust announced the death of Simotua, an orphan they had been fighting to save since poachers killed his mother last June and left him with a spear in his head and a snare on his leg.

Shocking as this is, it is just the tip of an illegal wildlife trade by criminal groups that loot our precious patrimony for export and dump chemicals and waste as they see fit. Environmental crime is an international business, which Interpol estimates robs developing countries of up to US$213 billion a year compared to an annual official development assistance output of US$135 billion.

Sadly, Africa's unrivaled natural resources proportionately attract criminal networks that do not hesitate to deprive entire nations of peace, security and economic development. It is painful to think that criminal groups, non-state armed groups, rebels and even terrorists are using Africa's wealth as threat finance to cause instability, carry out attacks and constrain development. But the stakes are high, that's why plundering Africa's natural resources has cost the lives of 1,000 park rangers in the last decade. Wildlife is the fourth largest illegal trade behind drugs and the trafficking of people and arms and 40 per cent of intrastate conflicts in the last 60 years were linked to natural resources.

It's a cruel irony that the finance lost through the abuse of natural resources costs countries double the amount they receive in international aid. But it's an extra twist of the poacher's knife that illegal trade robs the most vulnerable people in Africa not once, not twice, but three times over. First, they lose revenue and resources, which they are legally entitled to and which they need to survive and develop. Second they lose the health care, education, jobs and infrastructure that should be funded by trade and tax. And third, they lose any hope of a better future for their children, not only through the destruction of their natural, cultural and economic heritage, but through increased health risks, as we've seen with the introduction of Ebola following ape poaching in the Congo Basin.

Yet those natural resources should hold an extraordinary key to a better and more secure future for countries right across Africa. If you look at the economic opportunities, then elephants are worth 76 times more alive than dead: poached tusks will bring in about $21,000 for the seller, while a living elephant is worth more than $1.6 million in ecotourism for the entire country. Local ape poachers might get $50 and the value at the end of the supply chain can be up to $30,000. Yet Uganda earns around $1 million per year per mountain gorilla, while Rwanda's eco-tourism industry is worth over $300 million and growing rapidly.

Mesdames et messieurs, outre les conséquences économiques et le coût humain lié à la vente illicite de ses richesses, l'Afrique fait face à une insécurité croissante. A-t-on suffisamment parlé du rapport entre les richesses naturelles et les conflits en Afrique? Une étude sur les conflits armés majeurs a révélé que 90% des conflits ont eu lieu dans des pays riches en biodiversité. Un autre a révélé qu'au cours des 40 années précédentes, les pays en développement ne disposant pas de richesses naturelles s'étaient développés 2 ou 3 fois plus rapidement que les pays riches en ressources naturelles rares.

Mais il faut mieux comprendre. Car aujourd'hui, le niveau de gravité et de sophistication du commerce illicite des ressources naturelles a atteint des proportions inégalées. Il détruit les écosystèmes, asphyxie le tourisme et le développement, déstabilise les états et menace la sécurité mondiale. Il est plus vicieux que le trafic de drogue et alimente des conflits souvent sciemment entretenus pour durer, car la paix et la stabilité n'arrangent en rien les trafiquants. Prenons l'exemple de la République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), où une étude récente a démontré que le pillage de l'or, du bois et du charbon de bois, de minéraux divers et de la faune, dérobe plus d'un milliard de dollars par an à l'Est de la RDC . Environ 12 millions en sont réinvestis en RDC, non pour le développement, mais pour financer entre 25 et 49 groupes armés non-étatiques. Ce système est savamment entretenu de telle sorte qu'aucun groupe ne domine l'autre, maintenant ainsi une situation d'insécurité permanente.

Quoi de plus choquant de constater qu'au lieu d'être utilisé pour assurer le développement économique et social d'une nation qui en a tant besoin, le patrimoine national est en fait transformé en armes de guerre, par des trafiquants internationaux, lesquelles armes sont retournées contre les enfants du pays ? En Somalie, le commerce illicite de charbon a pu générer des revenus pouvant aller jusqu'à 56 millions de dollars au profit d'« al-Shabaab ». Au total, ce commerce est estimé entre 360 et 384 millions de dollars par an, entrainant une déforestation massive, fragilisant davantage l'économie rurale et maintenant le pays dans un cercle vicieux, oscillant entre marginalisation économique, extrémisme religieux et violence. Tous les groupes terroristes opérant en Afrique sont fortement impliqués dans le vol des ressources naturelles, l'extorsion des populations, l'extraction des ressources naturelles, les commerces de drogue et de produits contrefaits.

Le moteur du développement économique et social africain carbure aux ressources naturelles. Comment en effet, imaginer une Afrique qui décollerait en laissant en rade ses richesses naturelles ? Feu professeur Joseph Ki-Zerbo du Burkina Faso disait : « Dormir sur la natte des autres, c'est comme si l'on dormait par terre ». L'Afrique dormira sur sa propre natte et comptera sur elle-même, avant de faire appel aux nattes des autres, et ce en application d'un principe très simple: « on se développe, on ne développe pas ».

Si l'Afrique doit se développer et puisqu'elle souhaite dormir sur sa propre natte, elle devra mieux maîtriser son programme de développement, en contrôlant et gérant ses ressources naturelles suivant ses propres termes. La question que l'on peut se poser ici, est de savoir : quel rôle la diplomatie africaine - y compris vous-même présent aujourd'hui - peut-elle dans ce combat contre le bradage des richesses naturelles du continent ?

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is the challenge before you today - how can the current and future diplomatic community turn this situation around?

I can share your thoughts and ideas with African and world leaders next month, but first I need to hear them. Hopefully I will get to hear from some of you today, but if you want time to think after all of the sessions have finished, then please just come and find me on twitter. I really do want to get your opinion

Thank you.

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