The Central African Bush Meat Crisis: A Personal Perspective from Personal Experience

8 February 2016 News

In the book: 'Africa in Chaos", George B. N. Ayittey, a Ghanaian Economics Professor at an American University, discusses "Political Correctness" and makes the following point:

"Political correctness prevents whites from criticizing inane policies of African leaders, while black Americans often blindly defend these leaders in the name of 'racial solidarity'. As result there is much confusion about what Africa must do to overcome its woes."

I have come to the conclusion that the above applies to the bush meat problem as well.

"Food Security" and "Poverty Alleviation" are part of the politically correct terminology which allows the discussion of the bush meat issue without the risk of being accused of being culturally insensitive. However the root cause of the crisis, as is the case with most of the social and economic woes affecting sub-Saharan Africa, has largely to do with bad leadership, ineffective governments and corruption.

If the range countries concerned had made or were willing to make a serious effort in enforcing national laws, as they relate to hunting and wildlife protection, there would not be any need for conference after conference to discuss the issue. There would be no bush meat problem.

As long as the governor of the Eastern Province of Cameroon expects to eat gorilla meat at every official function, the hunter pulling the trigger is not the problem.

Focusing on the hunter, designing grass roots projects around him, will only go so far. As long as the demand exists there will be a supply. And we are not talking about the pygmy hunter selling a snared duiker to his Bantu neighbour in some forest village. We are talking about the tons of bush meat daily reaching the urban centres where the elite is prepared to pay two to three times as much for certain bush meat cuts than they would have to pay for beef or pork.

The growing captive audience for bush meat in the cities, combined with the improved transport infrastructure - mostly new logging roads - is responsible for a large segment of the unsustainable demand characteristics which has led to the bush meat crisis.

The solution is as much in the urban centres, with the elite, as it is in the forest with the hunter who pulls the trigger, but there is little hope that the political leadership of the countries concerned will muster the political will to deal with the issue as long as the donor and conservation community allows them to hide behind the "Poverty Alleviation and Food Security" slogans and helps confusing the issue.

None of the costly and highly publicised grass roots pilot projects will go anywhere, using the bottom up approach, as long as there is no real political will allowing for it to be matched with a top down one.

While the awareness level has increased in the developed world as well as in the range countries, I have seen no project proposals geared to create political will from the top down. It will of course never happen as long as the main donors, like the EU, consider donor driven projects to be politically incorrect and are only willing to deal with an issue once there is an "African Ownership". To create an "African Ownership" will need an arsenal of sticks and carrots which at present are not up for discussion. If the policy of : "The one who pays the fiddler calls the tune!" is not an applicable option, I see no other.

However, in my opinion, the bush meat issue like few others has the potential to reach and motivate the average tax payer and voter in the developed world. The fact is that the general donor fatigue syndrome in Africa is compounded by an Africa fatigue syndrome. The average concerned person in the west has a long time ago given up trying to figure out who are the good and bad guys in conflicts like the one in the Congo, the one in Liberia, the one in Angola, the one in the Central African Republic or the one in Somalia and Sudan. In other parts of the world our leadership and the court of public opinion finds it a lot easier to decide who the aggressor and victims are. Kuwait, Kosovo, East Timor and now Afghanistan are typical such examples.

I have always looked at flagship species such as the great apes and the elephants as the vehicles to drive the message home as to who the aggressor and victims are on the bush meat front. Creating a public opinion back lash in the west, in this context has to be the first step to get OUR politicians to feel they have to act and react. Once we have their eyes and ears, we might be able to push their fingers towards the purse strings, hopefully coming up with the kinds of carrots or sticks which represent real negotiating power when trying to confront the top leadership in the bush meat range states.

If we can use the bush meat issue to stimulate a massive public outcry, demanding and assisting with better governance in the countries concerned, the ultimate beneficiaries will not just be the great apes, the elephants and other creatures but the average citizen of these nations and their future generations.

Selling 'band aids', in the form of pilot projects, in this context will not heal the patient which is dying of cancer.

The National Geographic and Discovery type of emphasis on wildlife documentaries have helped create the "World in Order Image" as far as the environment and wildlife is concerned, whereby today some two thirds of the American public believes that Africa is doing an outstanding job on the environmental front. In this context it is not surprising that the US ranks last among the 22 rich nations in terms of percentage of the gross domestic product devoted to development aid.

At the moment we are detracting from the seriousness of the crisis and we must stop. We are spending precious time and resources on more and more 'feel good' pilot projects, organising more and more conferences, and holding more and more meetings with middle level African bureaucrats who, even with the best intentions, would not be able to instigate and lead cultural change or law enforcement policies. If we cannot elevate the bush meat issue to the same status as HIV/AIDS, where the top African Leadership is starting to accept that they will have to play an active role in leading cultural change, the wildlife and tropical rain forests of Central Africa will go the way those of West Africa have gone. And once again, at the end of the day, it will be the little man in the street who pays the price: More starving children running across the TV screens in the west. One way or the other this is another African problem which will come home to haunt us.

Karl Ammann

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