But elephant poachers featured in Leonardo DiCaprio film are released due to faulty prosecutions
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania––The Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court on December 8, 2021 re-sentenced “Ivory Queen” Yang Feng Glan and two alleged Tanzanian co-conspirators to 15 years imprisonment each for illegally trafficking 860 elephant tusks.
Former Tanzanian president John Magufuli (1959-2021), who cultivated an image as the “Donald Trump of Africa,” used the 2019 “Ivory Queen” prosecution and the 2017 convictions of Boniface Mathew Malyango, and his brother Lucas to bolster claims that his government was environmentally concerned and aware.
Poachers made handy foils
That image served Tanzania both in attracting tourism, which contributed about 11% of the Tanzanian gross domestic product before the global COVID-19 pandemic cut travel to Tanzania by more than half, and in obtaining international investment.
The “Ivory Queen” and the Malyango brothers, who allegedly ran poaching rings that killed 10,000 elephants in five nations, made convenient foils for Magufuli, even as the Magufuli government promoted development projects posing colossal risks to wildlife and protected habitat.
Apparently hoping to rebuild tourism, Magufuli also denied the existence of COVID-19 in Tanzania, at confirmed cost of at least 734 human lives and probable cost of thousands.
But both the initial “Ivory Queen” sentencing and the Malyango convictions fell apart on appeal because of sloppy and allegedly corrupt legal proceedings.
“The devil without mercy”
Boniface Mathew Malyango, called “Shetani Hana Huruma,” meaning in Swahili “The devil without mercy,” and his brother Lucas, were “made infamous through Leonardo Di Caprio’s award-winning documentary film, The Ivory Game,” released in 2016, recalled Chris Morris for International Policy Digest on April 21, 2021.
Nonetheless, both Malyangos were released just four years and nine months into their original 10-year prison sentences when Ibrahim Juma, chief justice of Tanzania, ruled on June 18, 2020 that the evidence presented in court did not support their convictions.
Explained Morris, “The arrest of Boniface Mathew Malyango was conducted by officers of the National & Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit ,” who “are not the regular police but a unit of handpicked officers from law enforcement and the military.
“No attempt was made to produce evidence”
“They have credentials,” Morris conceded. “Since approximately 2014, and supported by the PAMS Foundation, a Tanzanian non-profit that aims to empower people who protect wilderness and wildlife, they have accrued an impressive list of arrests with convictions, including that of the ‘Ivory Queen,’ and a previous arrest of Boniface Mathew Malyango in June 2014.”
However, Morris pointed out, despite the widespread perception whetted by Di Caprio, the Malyangos were not found in actual possession of ivory.
And, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime alleged in September 2021, “No attempt was made to produce evidence showing how the syndicate financed its operations, where the money originated, how it flowed, or how it was laundered.”
Apparently the Magufuli government wanted a high-profile conviction without bothering to do the investigative work needed to secure it, which might have revealed corruption within the government itself.
Sentenced before conviction
The case against the “Ivory Queen” and her alleged confederates was stronger, but as
Kaunga Maulid of the government-owned Tanzania Daily News reported, their convictions were “nullified by the High Court after observing that the trial magistrate had not convicted them before imposing the sentence in question.”
Upon actual conviction, Yang Feng Glan and Tanzanian co-defendants Manase Philemon and Salivius Matembo again were sentenced to serve 15 years in prison each, and to either pay fine of twice the estimated market value of the ivory they allegedly trafficked or serve two additional years in prison.
In addition, Yang Feng Glan was ordered to forfeit a farm she owned at Mheza in Tanga City, where ivory from poached elephants was found to have been stored.
Dam built in World Heritage Site wildlife refuge
The original Yang Feng Glan conviction in February 2019 appeared to end a case pending since September 2015, two months before Magufuli took office as president, and came at a most politically opportune time for Magufuli.
Elected on an anti-corruption platform, Magufuli had in February 2019 just reversed orders evicting 366 human settlements from nominally protected wildlife habitat.
Further, Magufuli had in December 2018 signed deals with two Egyptian firms, El Sewedy Electric Co. and Arab Contractors, to build a $3 billion hydroelectric dam called the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station on the Rufigi River at Stiegler’s Gorge, within the 20,000-square mile Selous Game Reserve, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.
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.
“The country might have been duped”
“The project has been widely condemned for its large-scale destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site,” noted Kenyan journalist Jane Mwangasha in August 2021 reports for Kenya Construction and The Nation newspaper.
“It has been reported that about 2.6 million trees were felled” to clear the dam site, Mwangasha explained.
However, Mwangasha continued, the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station is now more than two-thirds complete, and is beginning to impound water. Electrical power generation is to begin in April 2022, reaching peak output by June 2022––if drought does not interfere.
Observed Alex Nelson Malanga for the English-language newspaper The Citizen on November 19, 2021, “Analysts are of the view that the country might have been duped into putting most of its energies in a multi-trillion shilling hydropower project at the expense of other sources such as natural gas, wind and solar among others.”
“Autocrat with thin skin”
If Tanzania was duped by the Magufuli regime, it would scarcely have been the first time.
Recounted Dickens Olewe for BBC News on March 18, 2021, after Magufuli’s death was confirmed following weeks of rumors, “Magufuli was in his element on February 24, 2021 while unveiling a massive road project in Dar es Salaam ––an accomplishment he boasted could only be achieved by the ruling CCM party.
“It was completed on time because no one used corona as an excuse to delay it,” he said.
“Three days later Magufuli would be seen in public for the last time.
“Critics said he was an autocrat with thin skin, a man obsessed with building a personality cult, who did not entertain any slights or jests,” Olewe explained.
“He instilled such fear in the country that even during his more than two-week absence from public, his draconian policies continued unabated. Police arrested those who speculated about the president’s whereabouts or asked simply: ‘Where is Magufuli?’
“He also muzzled Tanzanian media, shutting down several newspapers, radio and TV stations, and social media platforms simply for reporting what the government didn’t like,” while pushing conspiracy theories “about plots to harm Tanzanians while expressing doubt about the safety of masks and vaccines,” denying the existence of COVID-19 in Tanzania and even forbidding testing to detect it––until, opposition media allege, he died of it.
Assessed Olewe, “Magufuli appealed to many because he was unencumbered by institutional limits. He issued edicts and things happened and to many citizens who had grown frustrated by incompetence in government, this was refreshing.
“But equally many Africans want to live in law-based countries, to enjoy a life of dignity, free of brutality, to have leaders who govern honesty and truthfully, and a government that respects them and does not hide information
“Magufuli’s death has been blamed on ‘heart problems,’ Olewe finished, “but many will still suspect that he succumbed to COVID-19.”
Samia Suluhu Hassan
Magufulis successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first female president of Tanzania, upon taking office immediately reversed his policies of COVID-19 denial, and on July 28, 2021 initiated a nationwide anti-COVID-19 vaccination campaign by receiving the first dose.
The re-trial, conviction, and re-sentencing of Yang Feng Glan and associates seems to signify that the Samia Suluhu Hassan government is both committed to restoring public confidence in legal procedures and to prosecuting environmental criminals.
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 has invested more than $6 billion in Tanzania infrastructure in recent years, the Exim Development Bank of China loaned Tanzania $1.2 billion to finance building the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station, and China does trade volume of $4.6 billion a year with Tanzania.
China has not protected ivory poachers & traffickers
Many of the biggest deals are believed to have been negotiated at Yang Feng Glan’s restaurant.
But China has done nothing visible to protect either Yang Feng Glan or six other Chinese citizens convicted in Tanzania since 2015 for ivory trafficking.
“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,” reported Reuters correspondent Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala after Yang Feng Glan was first convicted.
“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.
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.”
Yang Feng Glan may change her view of Tanzania in prison––if she did not already, during the short time she served before winning the appeal that led to her re-conviction and re-sentencing.