Closing Remarks to CITES Closing Plenary Session

The Chairman of the closing Plenary session invited the Ivory Education Institute to provide its impressions of the meeting. Unlike nearly every other speaker who heaped praise on all those involved in CoP18 from the security guards to the translators, I decided not to mince my words. Having been warned the night before that the Chairman might call on me, I decided to commit what I had to say to writing. Here is the transcript of my remarks:

PRESENTATION (AS GIVEN)

OF GODFREY HARRIS, 

MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE IVORY EDUCATION INSTITUTE, BEFORE THE 

CLOSING PLENARY SESSION OF THE THE 18TH CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES TO THE CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES

Mr. Chairman. The Ivory Education Institute is dedicated to an understanding of the historic, practical, and artistic uses of ivory. For CITES — an organization that pays an enormous amount of lip service to the scientific basis for its decisions — getting you and your colleagues facts about this unique material is a difficult task.

One participant here even told me that he really didn’t care what I said, what I wrote or what I thought about anything to do with ivory. He didn’t want to know about the abundant number of animals who contribute to the pool of ivory or the various special uses of ivory over the years. We have won. There is nothing you can do. ivory is finished as a substance for any use or purpose.

I hope not. It has a continuing role to play in our culture. I trust there are still people in this room who relish the chance to think rather than rearrange their prejudices.

This was a less productive CoP than many think. The agenda was too long, the interventions of parties too numerous and unproductive, the lack of back and forth debate too obvious, and the committee chairs too parsimonious in seeking the views of observers.

Because of these reasons, I have a question for the Western delegates here.

  • What gives you the right to repeat the colonial mistakes of the 19thcentury? How dare you dictate to Africa — or other former colonial areas — how they should manage their natural resources?
  • There seems little difference between the millions spent to corrupt Africa’s leadership and the arrogance that Bismark, Rhodes, Livingston and others brought to Africa with their version of civilization (Western), their favored style of religion, and their form of economics (government-protected capitalism).
  • Bribing the leadership of former colonies through board memberships, speaking honoraria, luxury travel, training scholarships and other gifts is wrong. Using these mechanisms to push poor nations to accept Western attitudes and beliefs about how wildlife should be treated is as racist an approach as any white nationalist expresses.

Thank you Mr Chairman for this opportunity to give you and your colleagues the truth about CITES as some of us have come to see it.

Geneva, Switzerland

August 28, 2019

The address was met with a pleasing amount of applause in the vast hall and a number of African delegates immediately came to my desk to shake my hand out of appreciation for the words. A Japanese observer thanked me for my passion; a professor of environmental studies told me that my words were very important. Reporters from a number of media outlets came to make sure they had my name and title correctly. Then I was asked by ITV of Tanzania to film an interview for their evening news. If the interview makes air, they have promised to send me a clip and I will be pleased to send it along.

The Ivory Education Institute worked hard to save mammoth ivory from being put on the “threatened” list, but was not as successful at freeing the ivory stocks and elephant populations of southern Africa free of their restrictions. While we didn’t make as much of a dent on the substantive issues as we had hoped, we do know that the conservation world now knows that the Ivory Education Institute is a force to be reckoned with.

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