By ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT
Ivory trade in Kinshasa’s notorious ivory markets has gone underground following increased enforcement activity a new TRAFFIC report reveals.
Until quite recently, the market for elephant ivory was flourishing in DRC, despite the illegality of the trade. Some markets – the most famous of which is Bikeko, which sits across from the seat of the government in the city centre – exhibits and sells ivory objects in full view of ordinary citizens and enforcement authorities alike.
The illegal trade in ivory was quietly tolerated for years and the open market would see unscrupulous traders flout their business in broad daylight with little fear of repercussions. This historical tolerance of the open ivory market has slowly been reversed since 2015, however, and seizures and arrests have occurred with increasing frequency.
Enforcement efforts have resulted in the seizure of 590.8 kg of ivory between 2015 and 2016 and the arrest of approximately 50 traffickers and traders.
DRC’s legal framework and the enforcement regime for wildlife crime has strengthened following the enactment of Law No. 14/003 of 11 February 2014 on the Conservation of Nature. The development and implementation of the CITES mandated National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) between March – April 2015 was an additional impetus to the fight against ivory trafficking in the country.
The NIAP aims to strengthen the fight against elephant poaching and illicit ivory trafficking through co-ordinated collaborative, regulative and enforcement action.
The DRC’s involvement in illicit ivory trafficking extends to an international level also. The report finds that “between 2015 and 2016, seizures that identified the DRC as part of the commercial chain involved 3,745 kg of ivory. The seizures in question involved 14 cases in Angola, Hong Kong SAR, Kenya, Malaysia, Belgium, China, Ethiopia, France and Thailand.”
Ivory products openly displayed in an open market in Kinshasa, DRC. PHOTO/COURTESY
This study confirms that the ivory market in Kinshasa remains open–given that ivory products are openly displayed from time to time–the overall market tendency seems to indicate the trade is shifting underground in the face of increased law enforcement actions.
Although Kinshasa is not a major centre for domestic ivory consumption, the city does serve as a conduit for the exportation of ivory to major consumption centres elsewhere, especially those in Asian countries.
In April 2017, as part of the overall strategy for the closure of the ivory market, a series of raids by the inspectors of the Kinshasa-Gombe Prosecutor’s Office and elements of the Congolese National Police, were carried out at the Bikeko market.
The raids represented a scaling up of enforcement actions intended to enforce the relevant provisions of Law No. 14/003 of 11 February 2014 on Nature Conservation. These various actions have led to the closure of the Bikeko ivory market in the royal square.
“It is essential that the law enforcement momentum from these significant results should continue as there is much work still to be done. The Government, with the support of its partners, should work to ensure that not one more piece of ivory is sold illegally in the DRC,” said Cléo Mashini Mwatha of TRAFFIC, main author of the report.
This study was carried out by TRAFFIC, in collaboration with WWF DRC and JURISTRALE. Financial support has been provided by the German Government through the BENGO / BMZ facility, and USAID through CAFEC.