“Will the ivory burn?”

“Will the ivory burn? You must be sure of that,” President Moi asked, cautiously.

In 1989, the President of Kenya worried about the reaction of Kenyan citizens at the idea of burning at least 3 million dollars worth of ivory. He was aghast when Richard Leakey approached him with the idea, fearful that Kenyans would think it would be an absolute waste of a well-traded commodity, amongst other things. After a lengthy period of persuasion, which was apparently met with much hesitation, he agreed. Moi may not have had the best track record in other fields, but I think this was one of the best decisions he made. For in July in 1989, 12 tonnes of elephant tusks were torched for the first time, making a bold statement that strengthened the country’s credibility in their war against the trade. Subsequently, after the burn, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, banned the trade. Worldwide.

Turn the clock forward 27 years, and President Kenyatta repeats the same event in Nairobi, only this time, it was met with raving support from Kenyans and international audiences, celebrities, the private sector and civil society.

How things have changed. Through the doom, gloom and anger that we see permeating the social media space, perhaps we should also take a moment to look back, reflect, and take stock of how much progress has been made since then.

There’s a time to angry- but it’s another thing to be able to effectively turn that anger into a driver of positive change.

We need a unified stance from all African countries in order to halt the trade altogether. CITES will be meeting 26 September at another roundtable in Sandton in Joburg to discuss the way forward. Here’s hoping they will reach a consensus that the trade should be banned once and for all.


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