Rwanda’s place in Africa is indisputably on the rise. 2016 closed upon Rwanda having played host to a number of high profile international events such as the World Economic Forum and the African Union Summit with over 35 heads of state and 3000 delegates.
2017 has seen her open her flight routes to Mumbai. London and New York are on the way. Tourism saw a double digit growth in 2016 w (see http://www.reuters.com/article/rwanda-tourism-idUSL8N1BF05H).
Rwanda’s rise reflects a well planned and meticulous approach to growth and regeneration.
In July 2015, Rwanda reintroduced lions into Akagera park, fifteen years after they disappeared. In May 2017, they announced the return of around 20 rhinos from South Africa, to the same park . The world applauded.
But where does this leave her wildlife under the law– the iconic mountain gorilla that Rwanda is perhaps most famous for, together with golden monkeys, lions and these recently introduced rhinos?
Rwanda’s law that directly governs protected species dates back to 2005. Article 8 articulates the intention of the law being primarily focussed on 6 areas, none of which concern protected species. And whilst trading, keeping or import/export of animals and animal products requires special permission, the offences provided are hopelessly inadequate.
There is ONE offence in this legislation governing protected species under article 96. The penalty is imprisonment of 2 months to 2 years and/or between 350USD to 2400USD. And to convict, the prosecution must prove that the killing occurred IN a protected area. Remember Cecil the lion?
A Ministerial Order in 2010 governs import/export of animals but no offences are created therein and it doesn’t cover trophies. For such offences, one would have to look to the East African Community Customs Management Act 2004 that provides for stiffer penalties of up to 5 years. That or perhaps the penal code for general offences.
With porous borders and neighbours that are yet to set a strong track record when it comes to wildlife protection, Rwanda urgently needs to update the available laws and penalties governing protected species.
This needn’t be a complex task to repeal the existing s94 and s96 that governs protected species and to create an “organic law for crime against protected species and protected areas’. Should it capture a bare minimum of ‘core’ offences (of which there are about ten), alongside clear investigation and prosecution powers, then Rwanda can at least say that its legislative framework provides for a crucial deterrent against such crimes. At the moment, she cannot.