Tanzania’s head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT), Dr. Hamisi Kigwangalla, stirred controversy again in late Jan., this time by publicly accusing at least seven hunting operators of supporting “the poaching syndicate” at a press conference. As reported by Tanzania Daily News (www.allafrica.com/stories/201801260119.html), Kigwangalla indicated that he already has “potential incriminating evidence” and that those named will need to appear before a special task force.
We have been following the roller-coaster ride since Kigwangalla’s Oct. announcement of plans to revoke hunting block allocations and to reallocate blocks by auction before the 2018 hunting season (see articles 4181 and 4182). This action violated legally binding allocation contracts granted in accordance with the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act, and Tanzanian hunting operators protested as a body. The situation reached an awkward but acceptable solution, with the MNRT extending current block allocations (originally for five years) through the end of 2019. At minimum, this allows operators to honor existing bookings and to market hunts for the upcoming season.
Several of the operators named by Kigwangalla are prominent members of the Tanzania Hunting Operators Association and Tanzania Professional Hunters Association (TPHA). TPHA has released a statement to Tanzanian media stating that they are not opposed to the proper investigation of any criminal activity but that Kigwangalla’s statement shows a disregard for due process. TPHA has also stated that no action has been taken yet by the MNRT to question those accused of wildlife crimes. Criminal investigations typically involve a summons to appear for questioning.
Unfortunately, Kigwangalla’s press conference likely will be interpreted by the broader public as proof of corruption in the hunting sector, even though the minister provided no information to back his litany of accusations. Tanzania Daily News ran its story on the press conference with the title “Poaching Syndicate Exposed.” This is simply grist to the mill of antihunting activists and NGOs.
It should be noted that Kigwangalla cited unspecified “corruption” of safari operators as justification for revoking legal block allocations. He also made these new accusations after the Tanzanian hunting industry defied his attempts to illegally cancel their concessions. The minister appears to have no understanding of the hunting industry or the laws that regulate it, and his reactions to demands for due process seem more like childish acts of revenge. This pattern of behavior will only undermine the ethical, legal and sustainable hunting operations in Tanzania and hurt the country’s wildlife management. We hope that Kigwangalla will not continue to take unilateral actions that contravene Tanzanian law, and that he will avoid further public airing of unsubstantiated charges.