Saturday, September 01, 2007

Zambian community suspends it own village wildlife scouts…

The Community Resource Board (CRB) for the Luembe chiefdom of Zambia’s southern Luangwa valley, on Thursday, 30 August, took the decision to suspend all their 12 village wildlife scouts. For over 30 years – in particular from the time of the takeover in November 1999 of wildlife and protected area affairs by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the region has been in the grip of a crime syndicate made up of the very people supposed to protect wildlife. The supplier of the ammunition, the transport for collecting the dried game meat, and the supervision of the actual poaching operation is the officer-in-charge of ZAWA Nyimba sector, Collins Chibeka, and the two ZAWA Wildlife Police Officers (WPOs) in charge of two ZAWA camps, Ben Mwale and Joseph Mbo, assisted by all the village scouts and the other WPO.

This action by the CRB and its capable Chairman, Axon Lungu, is highly significant, for along with the Nawalya CRB further up in the Luangwa, who opposed the removal of their hunting safari operator by ZAWA without due legal process, it shows that rural people living in Game Management Areas are starting to resist the heavy hand of ZAWA, and that of corrupt chiefs, in the management of their lives.

The Luembe Chiefdom is in the midst of a major attempt to remove its chief, Senior Chief Luembe, for selling off their land and for a litany of human rights abuses carried out by him against them. Removed once from office, then replaced by a Government Minister, he will shortly appear in the Kabwe High Court. Investigations are also underway against him and the Chairman of the MMD ruling political party, Whiteson Njobvu, for their part in the illegal alienation of the adjoining West Mvuvye National Forest No. 54 and in the chief’s case, his failure to place a caveat against the 99 year alienation of the M’Nyamadzi game ranch. Both these men were trustees of the Luembe Conservancy Trust, whose mission was to conserve the wildlife and land for the benefit of the villagers.

Since July 2005, the concession holders of the area, Mbeza Safaris, has been apprehending WPOs and village scouts poaching. On 3 July 2007, the Secretary of the Luembe Headmen Traditional Committee wrote in outrage to the Director-General of ZAWA, saying that nothing was being done about the poaching of elephant and other game. In particular, he produced proof of the involvement of the WPO Ben Mwale in the killing of two elephant, and of Collins Chibeka for collecting bags of meat and taking it to Lusaka. He also supplied an affidavit signed by 27 men and woman, admitting that they had worked in Ben Mwale’s fields in return for elephant meat.

The Association has yet to receive a reply, and Mwale and Mbo and Chibeka have not been suspended, let alone prosecuted. And no action has been taken by ZAWA to suspend the village scouts.

I have written elsewhere of catching Mbo and village scouts at their meat filled poaching camp, and of finding Chibeka waiting nearby at another camp. Although I took them to the police, I was not able to prosecute as we could discover no bullet in the impala we found. Their well-oiled story of ’we found poachers and their camp, fired in the air, they ran away’ has served them and their predecessors well since 1976, accounting for all the Zambian rhino and in excess of a 100,000 elephant and countless buffalo and other game.

The sad part of all this is that village scouts are recruited from villager ranks. They are part of the community, with the ZAWA officers coming from elsewhere and being placed in charge of them. As they have not been paid by ZAWA for many months, it is hardly surprising that they poach. But they are directed in this by the permanently employed WPO civil servants.

Ben Mwale recently was given a pair of tusks recovered from an elephant by the fisherman, Ghandi,but has received no reward as is customary. Ghandi states that this ivory has not been handed into the Nyimba office for registration.

The Chairman of the CRB told me yesterday that his CRB had received no funds from ZAWA this year, though Mbeza paid its concession fees in April.

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