Featured Article: An Unusual NGOs-Government Partnership in Central Africa to Protect Wildlife

Featured Article: An Unusual NGOs-Government Partnership in Central Africa to Protect Wildlife

This resource is part of a series that INECE is conducting which profiles selected articles from the Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. 

In this featured article, the head of the legal department in Cameroon, Alain Bernard Ononino, presented an exemplary report on Establishing Regional Wildlife Law Enforcement: Lessons from an Unusual NGOs-Government Partnership in the Central African Subregion. The article focuses on operations led by The Last Great Ape Organization in Cameroon, with replicating activities in Gabon, Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

Ononino describes the richness in natural resources of the Congo Basin, which are over-exploited for use and illegal trade resulting in harmful environmental effects. According to the article, government action in the region was jumpstarted by the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Throughout the 1980s and 90s, several countries in the Central African sub-region developed legislation to protect wildlife and yet illegal hunting and trading was on the rise given the poor enforcement program.

The partnership between NGOs and government was  born out of the need to address the lack of good governance on the issue. Through this partnership, Ononino argues that wildlife has “moved rapidly from being sovereign resources of the state to being resources co-managed by many actors including international and non-governmental organizations.” Moreover, he mentions that prior to these partnerships, “law enforcement was regarded as a very delicate and sensitive issue…avoided by conservation non-state actors.”

The article gives an overview of wildlife traffic in Central Africa, describing how syndicates, with members throughout the subregion, move in and out of international borders to smuggle wildlife, escape the law, or seek refuge. The article describes how smugglers use fraudulent documents required by CITES in their proceedings, many of which have recently started to be done through the internet in Cameroon. Given the “porosity of boundaries coupled with the involvement as accomplices of some customs authorities,” the author stresses the importance of taking regional and international action in order to have a successful law enforcement program.

To describe the accomplishments of this partnership, this article discusses the work of a Cameroon-based NGO, The Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA), and government entities in the country. Established in 2003, this NGO has devised a model for collaboration to foster effective law enforcement in the wildlife sector, and conducts an average of one major dealer prosecution every week. The NGO also reached out to other NGOs in the Central African subregion to build capacity. The nature of its operations consists of four steps: investigations, field arrest operations, legal assistance and media promotion, and reporting. The article  provides a clear description of the process conducted by the NGO at each step.

Ononino mentions the different law enforcement agencies in Central Africa that take part of the process; aside from governmental agencies, international authorities such as Interpol also are involved. Having identified government players, Ononino mentions that “the problem lies in the lack of collaboration between these agencies and wildlife authorities.”

Ononino  comments on the success that Cameroon has achieved through this partnership in providing wildlife enforcement and mentions that replication projects in the subregion, though younger, already show promising results. He provides examples of different prosecutions in the subregion, mentioning the arrest of ivory and parrot dealers in Douala, Cameroon, as well as other arrests in Gabon, Central African Republic, and The Republic of Congo.

Ononino concludes that these operations “illustrate the fact that regional law enforcement is no longer at the project stage but is becoming a reality in Central Africa.” Despite the success of the program, he mentions that the greatest challenge of law enforcement in Central Africa is fighting corruption, which is seen in over 80% of cases in Cameroon. Ononino emphasizes that the “immediate goal [of the program] is to extend the replication activities to other countries of the subregion and throughout Africa.”

This summary was prepared by USEPA Intern Jonathan Brenes Salazar


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