In a favour of a lesser good

The latest round of negotiations on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has left little doubt that the South must fight for its rights, or else the North will continue to act as big brother, reports Anju Sharma from Harare

 
Published: Tuesday 15 July 1997

In a favour of a lesser good

African elephants vie with hum (Credit: WWF)The less fortunate have had their say, and elephants must pay their way to conservation. Three southern African nations -Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia -have been given the go-ahead to trade in elephant products at the 10th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which concluded on June 20 in Harare, Zimbabwe. While the decision indicated significant shifts in environmental policies, it also left people in the protectionist camp high and dry -and weeping with frustration. The vote was taken by secret ballot amidst accusations that Western environmental groups were threatening poor countries to conform to their viewpoint else face sanctions or withdrawal of aid. While secret ballot was used only once at the last COP, this time round it was resorted to a dozen times -speaking of the lack of confidence in open dialogue. In fact, over the years, CITES has become a battleground of sorts between the North and the South. While groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) voiced concern over lack of transparency of process at the convention, developing countries like Zimbabwe, who had insisted on secrecy in the vote on ivory trade, reminded them that the ballot was an essential tool of democracy in the West. The quibbling and the accusations called into %testion the effectiveness of the convention (see box: An unconventional solution). The divide between the North and the South was apparent at the conference, with poorer countries suggesting that the rich wanted to keep them underdeveloped and force their version of 'sustainable development' on them. For most countries of the South, the issdes had more than facevalue, and the decision to allow strictly controlled international trade in ivory was a big moral victory.

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