This is a guest post by Allen Grane, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.
Amid a public debate over the presidential succession, President Robert Mugabe named Emmerson Mnangagwa vice-president of Zimbabwe on December 10, 2014. It would seem that Mnangagwa, nicknamed ‘Ngwena’ or ‘Crocodile,’ is now the heir apparent to Zimbabwe’s president. Mnangagwa has been a member of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party since the 1960’s, and fought alongside Mugabe in the Zimbabwe war of liberation from white rule, which lasted from 1964 to 1979. Among other duties, Mnangagwa has served as Zimbabwe’s minister of state security, and, most recently, he was the minister of justice.
Mnangagwa’s appointment to vice-president may spell bad news for Zimbabwe’s conservancies and animal populations.
Under Mugabe, national parks have been state-owned, while conservancies have remained privately owned game reserves. His government instituted a program known as the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE), a community based resource management program that gave local communities control of revenue from hunting licenses. Since its introduction, CAMPFIRE has been used as an example for other conservation programs in southern Africa.
More recently however, powerful elites have begun to seize wildlife conservancies for their own personal use and invasions of park areas by Zimbabwe’s ‘war veterans’ have led to higher levels of animal poaching. Even the CAMPFIRE program has been hit: financial disbursements for local communities have declined by over 75 percent since 2000. In this climate, where conservation is already faltering, enters a man known for profiting from endangered species.
In 2009, Mnangagwa was implicated in the arrest of a Chinese national attempting to smuggle six rhino horns out of Zimbabwe. A police investigation into the incident discovered that an illegal rhino poaching network, known as the ‘Crocodile Gang,’ was filling orders of rhino horns for Chinese buyers. Mnangagwa was identified as the supposed ‘Godfather’ of this illegal network. However, prior to any judicial hearings or convictions, the police docket, in the hands of then Attorney General Johannes Tomana, disappeared.
As it currently stands, Zimbabwe has a poor reputation for conservation. It has recently been criticized for selling a significant number of animals, including at least thirty-six young elephants and ten lions, to foreign governments. Due to political and economic pressure from senior ZANU-PF leaders and foreign investors Mugabe’s government has allowed the exploitation of Zimbabwe’s wildlife. However, Mugabe has criticized government officials for their seizures of conservancies, even calling that these captured lands be turned into national parks. Under a potential Mnangagwa led government, with apparently little concern for conservation, these conservancies and the animals in them may prove to be ‘open game.’