The East African parliament has passed a new law that opens space for the region to debate freely whether Tanzania should go ahead with the controversial sale of its ivory stockpile.
The EAC Tourism and Wildlife Management Bill was passed into law at a session of the East African Legislative Assembly held in Kampala, Uganda from February 8-19.
It awaits assent by the Heads of State of the five partner states.
The legislation will establish a Commission made up of professionals who will be responsible for the overall supervision, coordination and management of the tourism and wildlife industries in the region.
Kenya and Rwanda accuse Tanzania of betraying the East African Community’s spirit of consultation by pushing for a one-off sale of its 90 tonnes of ivory piled up in storage buildings in the country.
Top on the Commission’s agenda is to review Tanzania’s reluctance to call off the sale.
“The Commission will advise us on whether the sale of ivory is beneficial to the region and designate hunting areas as well,” said Safina Kwekwe Tsungu, Kenya’s representative to the EALA and a member of the Committee of Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources.
The Assembly’s position now leaves room for Tanzania to lobby for the support of other partner states.
But the increased fear of poaching might stand in the way.
According to statistics from the Kenya Wildlife Service for instance, the elephant population in the country dropped from 168,000 in 1969 to 16,000 in 1989, when the ban on ivory trade came into effect — then it slowly began to recover and now stands at 35,000.
Although Uganda is on Tanzania’s side, the country is hesitant about a blanket cover that allows East Africa to lift the ban on ivory trade.
“Each country is faced with its unique circumstances. If Tanzania wants to sell its stock, it is free to do so. A blanket cover would, for instance, impact negatively on Uganda’s elephant population, which is small,” said Serapio Rukundo, Uganda’s Minister for Tourism.
At the debate in Kampala which was presided over by Abdirahin Haithar Abdi, some members were of the view that Tanzania’s insistence to sell its ivory would deprive the region of valuable tourism potential.
“Why should we want to make a quick buck by killing elephants to sell ivory? We must preserve our heritage,” said Gervase Akhaabi, a member of the East African parliament, from Kenya.