OF PROFITS AND POWER: official collusion in Northern Mozambique’s ivory poaching
Hazel Friedman
26th May 2015

Two hundred metres from Pemba’s popular Wimbi Beach towers an opulent mansion. Initially it could be mistaken for the home belonging to one of Mozambique’s burgeoning oil, gas and mining millionaires. But the owner of this mansion, Dora Manjate, is a public servant. She is the former Police Commander of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s northern-most province.

Manjate is one of many officials implicated in the ivory poaching scourge currently afflicting Mozambique. It is suspected that her mansion has been funded by profits from this trade. She is accused of facilitating the smuggling of ivory for Chinese companies, particularly, the ‘Mozambique First International Development’ or Mofidi – a forestry company owned by Chinese businessman Liu Chaoying. In 2011 a large ivory consignment was discovered camouflaged among the timber in Mofidi’s shipping containers. Although six government inspectors were suspended for their involvement, Mofidi was let off the hook. A 2013 undercover investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency also exposed the friendship between Mofidi’s Chaoying and Mozambique’s Minister of Agriculture, Jose Pancheco. The minister has refused to comment on the relationship.

In 2014 a customs official who attempted to search one of Mofidi’s containers was locked in a cell for eight days, allegedly under Manjate’s orders.

‘Anyone who tries to confront the commander is threatened or arrested’, says Estacio Valoi, a Mozambican investigative journalist, who has exposed official corruption on all tiers of Mozambique’s criminal justice system. Despite a brief suspension in the wake of Valoi’s investigations, Manjate was simply transferred to another province, without being charged. She has not responded to Valoi’s repeated attempts to contact her for comment.

Valoi describes ivory poaching in Northern Mozambique as slaughter on an ‘industrialised scale‘. He cites 15 cases involving armed poachers in the Quirimbas National Park, in Cabo Delgado, between 2009 and 2013. The cases were forwarded to the police, the prosecuting attorney and the provincial court – with no outcome.

Although these cases date to 2013, in 2015 alleged complicity by Mozambican officials continues, unabated. For example, in April this year two Cabo Delgado policemen were arrested on charges of ivory smuggling. Like Manjate, they are merely links in a chain of corruption that is subverting efforts to effectively fight Mozambique’s poaching scourge.

The corruption appears so pervasive that global conservation bodies are demanding that sanctions be imposed against Mozambique.

At an international CITES meeting in Bangkok during March 2013, Mozambique was singled out for its lack of political will to stem the scourge and was urged to implement punitive laws against poaching. The government subsequently introduced stricter wildlife legislation but these laws have not yet been passed.

At a follow-up meeting convened by the CITES Standing Committee (SC) in Geneva, during July 2014, Mozambique was identified as one of eight countries of concern in relation to illegal trade of rhino and elephant products. The SC recommended that Mozambique compile a detailed National Ivory and Rhino Action Plan (NIRAP) to be submitted to CITES by 31 October 2014. Mozambique submitted only the first draft of its NIRAP to CITES in January 2015. It has yet to finalise the new Conservation Law, further delaying efforts to crack down on the poaching epidemic that is destroying not only Mozambique’s wildlife population, but the rest of the continent’s natural reserves as well.

But Mozambique is not the only country displaying a disturbingly sluggish approach to the crisis. In April 2014 South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mozambique covering rhino poaching. At the time, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa hailed the memorandum as ‘a game-changer’. A year later, an Implementation Agreement consolidating the MOU has not even been signed. In fact, very little practical headway has been reached between the two countries, apart from a low-key meeting held in March, between Molewa and her Mozambican counterpart, Celso Ismael Correia, to discuss joint anti-poaching initiatives with Mozambique’s Fauna Bravia Unit around the Limpopo National Park.

‘Africa’s wildlife crises provide spectacular examples of rotten leadership,’ says conservationist, Ian Michler, who has exposed the nefarious links between poaching and political power in South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania.

The link between poaching, profit and political power has augmented the scale of the slaughter. Poaching levels are the worst they have been since 1989, when CITES declared an international ban on the ivory trade. Between 2009 and 2014 a staggering 170 tons of ivory was smuggled out of Mozambique.

While the growth of ‘conspicuous consumption’, by China’s new affluent class has increased the demand for ivory, it cannot be supplied without official collusion. From the savannah to the sea, whether transported in small consignments or massive containers, there are always official palms to be greased, ensuring eyes are conveniently averted from the illicit cargo being trafficked, via Tanzania, Zanzibar and the Middle East, to Asia.

For example, during October 2014, in the village of Chamba, intersecting the border of Mozambique and Tanzania, members of Niassa’s anti-poaching task units were ambushed and assaulted after arresting a suspected poacher attempting to cross the border into Tanzania. Shockingly, the perpetrators were not poachers, but members of the Mozambique Border Police – the very authorities who should be fighting alongside the scouts to combat poaching.

Even at station level, corruption is rife, as confirmed by the recent so-called ‘escape’ of two of Mozambique’s most notorious poaching kingpins: Antonio Bernardo and Paolo Nyenje. Bernardo is linked to poaching in the Kruger National Park and Nyenje allegedly has close ties with Tanzanian syndicates. Both have been arrested several times for poaching and weapons possession, yet subsequently released, allegedly by bribing prosecutors and police officers. In October 2014 the pair were re-arrested and detained at Mecula Police Station. A week later, both absconded, apparently through a tiny toilet window. Bernardo was subsequently recaptured but Nyenje remains a fugitive. No officers at Mecula Police Station were arrested for aiding their escape.

The rot seeps through every level of officialdom, from traditional village chiefs and police officers to the highest echelons of political power. Even Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo party, has been accused of using revenue from the illegal ivory trade to fund its 2013 10th anniversary congress in Pemba. At the time the government refused to comment on the allegations. A report published in April this year by the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security accuses former Frelimo military officials of providing political protection to criminal groups involved in poaching. In exchange for the profits they reap from poaching deals, they protect the syndicates from prosecution. Weapons and uniforms used by the Mozambican armed and security forces are often found in poaching areas.

In fact, army and police officers, public prosecutors and politically connected Mozambicans are often regarded as ‘untouchable’. Those who expose their corruption run the risk of being killed. The most visible rewards of this nefarious link between profits and power can be seen along the Pemba coastline, in the form of mansions, like the house belonging to Commander Manjate, built from a trade steeped in violence and greed.

Hazel Friedman is a Senior producer with Special Assignment. She has assisted Valoi with his investigations into poaching in Northern Mozambique.