The fight against illicit wildlife trade in Africa received a significant boost on 18 July, with the launch of the region’s first-ever transboundary information system on wildlife crime, known as Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS), in Nairobi, Kenya. Developed by the United Nations University (UNU), WEMS will strengthen participating countries’ capacity to track, apprehend and deter smugglers by establishing a regional information-sharing platform.
Speaking at the inauguration event, Kenya’s Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Dr. Noah Wekesa, said WEMS will “mark a new beginning in the history of Africa, where we show the world an example of good governance in Africa”.
A flagship project of UNU Institute of Advance Studies (UNU-IAS), WEMS is the culmination of seven years of interdisciplinary field research. It provides a comprehensive system for monitoring, analysing and reporting illicit wildlife seizures, identifying transit routes and tracing contraband back to its source-point.
Attending the launch, UNU Vice-Rector Prof. Govindan Parayil, Director of UNU-IAS, stressed the need for informed governance in dealing with illegal trade of natural resources.
“Illegal wildlife trade is an issue where facts are uncertain, values are in dispute, stakes are high and the need to make appropriate decisions is urgent”, he said. “With WEMS implementation in Africa, we are transforming policy institutions to the next stage of governance — an open and transparent government. As much as I am proud of my team members who worked relentlessly to bring this initiative to a success, I am equally thankful for the overwhelming cooperation and commitment shown by our partner agencies.”
Speaking at the African Elephant Law Enforcement Day on 20 July, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya endorsed WEMS and congratulated law enforcement officers for their role in tackling animal smuggling in Africa.
“Wildlife resources in Africa continue to play a significant role in socio-economic development. It is, therefore, imperative that we step up measures to protect and develop our wildlife resources,” President Kibaki said. “WEMS will provide the platform for our enforcement agencies to collect and share information on the trends and patterns of wildlife crime.”
“The cross-border nature of wildlife crime underscores the need to enhance cooperation among our governments and to pool financial and human resources,” he added. “I am confident that [WEMS] will go a long way in enhancing our capacity to protect our wildlife resources.”
To highlight the challenges confronting efforts to curb wildlife smuggling, President Kibaki presided over the burning of more than five tones of contraband ivory, including 335 tusks and some forty-one thousand ivory hanko (name seals).
“We cannot afford to sit back and allow criminal networks to destroy our common future”, President Kibaki stressed.“ Through the burning of contraband ivory, therefore, we are sending a clear message to poachers and illegal traders in wildlife about our collective resolve to fight this crime in our region and beyond. Poachers and illegal traders in ivory must know that their days are numbered and severe punishment will be meted to those engaging in wildlife crime. ”
Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have begun implementing the pilot phase of WEMS. Congo, Lesotho and Zambia will participate in the system′s second phase (WEMS 2.0), which is currently being developed by UNU.