366 settlements on “protected land” to become incorporated villages––and “dam the Rufigi River” goes full speed ahead
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania––Resolving a case pending since September 2015, and ruling at a politically opportune time for Tanzanian president John Magufuli, Kisutu Court magistrate Huruma Shaidi on February 19, 2019 sentenced reputed “Ivory Queen” Yang Feng Glan and two confederates in ivory trafficking, Salivius Matembo and Manase Philemon, to serve 15 years apiece in prison.
The sentence bolsters the conservation credentials of the Magufuli government. Elected in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform, Magufuli had just reversed orders evicting 366 human settlements from nominally protected land.
350 elephants died for their sins
Yang Feng Glan, Matembo, and Philemon were convicted of bootlegging the tusks of more than 350 elephants, while the Tanzanian elephant population declined from 110,000 in 2009 to 43,000 at the time of their arrests. In addition to their 15-year sentences, Yang Feng Glan, Matembo, and Philemon were ordered to “either pay twice the market value of the elephant tusks,” as restitution, “or face another two years in prison,” wrote Reuters correspondent Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala.
Yang Feng Glan, before her arrest, had since 1998 run a Dar es Salaam restaurant popular with Chinese visitors, and was secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council.
China supports prosecution
China has invested nearly $6 billion in Tanzania infrastructure in recent years, and does trade volume of $4.6 billion a year with Tanzania. Many of the biggest deals are believed to have been negotiated at Yang Feng Glan’s restaurant.
But if Yang Feng Glan and associates expected help from the Chinese government, they were disappointed.
“Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said China had firm laws on protecting endangered wildlife and went after those who broke the law,” Ng’wanakilala continued.
“We do not shield illegal activities”
“We do not shield the illegal activities of Chinese citizens, and support the relevant Tanzanian authority’s just investigation of and trying of this case in accordance with the law,” Geng Shuang told media.
Yang Feng Glan “is not the first Chinese person to be convicted of ivory smuggling in Tanzania in recent years,” Ng’wanakilala recalled. “In March 2016, two Chinese men were sentenced to 35 years each in prison; in December 2015, another court sentenced four Chinese men to 20 years each for smuggling rhino horns.”
CNN reported that Yang Feng Glan entered Tanzania in 1975 “as a translator for a Chinese company that was building a railroad linking the port of Dar es Salaam to Zambia. She was one of the first Chinese people to learn fluent Swahili.
“According to an interview she gave to the China Daily newspaper in 2014,” CNN said, “she quickly fell in love with the country. She even named her daughter Feizhou, the Mandarin character for Africa.”
Stiegler’s Gorge dam proceeds after 112 years
Yang Feng Glan, Matembo, and Philemon were convicted and sentenced two months after Tanzanian president John Magufuli in December 2018 signed deals with two Egyptian firms, El Sewedy Electric Co. and Arab Contractors, to build a $3 billion hydroelectric dam on the Rufigi River at Stiegler’s Gorge, within the 20,000-square mile Selous Game Reserve.
Stiegler’s Gorge is named for a Swiss or German explorer named Stiegler who reputedly planned to build a dam there in 1907, but was instead killed by an elephant he had just shot nearby.
Tanzanian energy minister Medard Kalemani told state television the Stiegler’s Gorge dam will double Tanzanian electricity output, a matter of urgency in a nation whose human population has grown from about nine million in 1960 to 55 million today, many of whom still rely on firewood or charcoal for cooking and heating.
Deforestation, desertification, global warming
Logging and woodcutting to supply the need for firewood and charcoal is in turn a major cause of deforestation and desertification, along with effects of global warming which have severely retarded the Tanzanian vegetation regrowth cycle.
The Selous Game Reserve, six times the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., is a World Heritage Site recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization. The reserve is known for abundant elephants, black rhinos and giraffes.
The World Wildlife Fund argued in a July 2017 report that the soon-to-be built dam “puts protected areas of global importance, as well as the livelihoods of over 200,000 people who depend upon the environment, at risk.”
Responded Magufuli, “The dam will become a major source of water, and the cheap electricity to be produced from the dam will reduce the number of people who cut trees for firewood.”
32.5% of Tanzania reserved for wildlife
Despite the human population growth of the past 60 years, Magufuli added, Tanzania has allocated 32.5 percent of its land mass to conservation, more than almost any other nation.
Nonetheless, lamented Brennan Peterson Wood and Adam C. Stein in the February 14, 2019 edition of The Revelator, an online periodical published by the Center for Biological Diversity, “Some of the most important habitats in Tanzania could soon be inundated with farmers and livestock following a recent decree by President John Magufuli that orders relisting protected lands as village property.
“This threat wasn’t on the horizon for most conservationists,” Wood and Stein said. “Prior to the announcement, the government had actually earmarked more than 300 human settlements for removal from protected areas. Some of these forest invaders have been identified as foreign nationals who settled in as recently as July of last year.
“Give ‘forests’ without trees to farmers”
“The president’s recent directive stopped the eviction of those settlements and directed ministries to begin the process to formalize them into villages,” Wood and Stein continued.
“In his statement Magufuli also ordered ‘leaders in the ministries concerned to identify conservancies and forest reserves that have no wildlife so that the same are given to landless pastoralists and farmers.’ He decreed that forest reserves lacking trees should also be handed over to farmers, and directed an inquiry into changing a current law that prohibits cultivation of crops within about 200 feet of any river — a law already often ignored, at the expense of the health of the country’s waterways.”
Wood and Stein did not mention that the law is often ignored, despite the risk to farmers engaged in riverbank cultivation from crocodiles and hippopotamuses, because the women of Tanzania often must deliver water for irrigation and personal use in heavy jars balanced upon their heads.
In absence of the electricity needed to drive pumps, forbidding cultivation within 200 feet of a river is impractical, inconsiderate, and downright inhumane, a white man’s idea translocated from nations with abundant water, energy, and vehicular transportation into a place which has historically had little of any.
“As the human population has increased, so too has the number of domesticated animals. The country currently holds more than 35 million heads of livestock,” Wood and Stein continued.
“Given Tanzania’s rate of human and livestock population growth and reliance on foreign aid,” Wood and Stein allowed, “the president’s call to increase land areas for human activities is understandable. But Tanzania relies heavily on wildlife tourism, which accounts for more than $2 billion annually and over 12% of employment,” more even than is earned by the booming wildlife tourism sector in neighboring Kenya.
“Further loss of protected areas — which are crucial to the survival of both isolated endemic species and long-ranging mammals such as lions and elephants — will likely result in a decrease in the tourism income that is vital for the economic health of the country,” Wood and Stein projected.
But “further loss of protected areas” does not necessarily follow from Magufuli’s directive recognizing that protecting the former “protected areas”, which have already been encroached upon, was beyond the capacity of the Tanzanian government.
Displacing 366,000+ people prescribes encroachment
Neither does it follow that displacing hundreds of thousands of people from 366 existing communities would actually result in any net increase in protected land. Having nowhere else to go, the displaced people––and their livestock––would almost certainly soon encroach upon other “protected areas.”
Wood and Stein expressed anxiety that turning deforested land over to farmers might encourage others to encroach upon and deforest other “protected areas,” in hopes of gaining “squatter’s rights.”
Yet, while that could happen if the Magufuli government fails to fully protect the considerable remaining “protected areas,” wholesale evictions would appear to practically guarantee further encroachment and deforestation.