Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Jessica Davis Ba at the “GIS Database Standards to Help Combat Wildlife Trafficking in Africa” Workshop

Deputy Chief of Mission Jessica Davis Ba delivering remarks at the GIS workshop
Deputy Chief of Mission Jessica Davis Ba delivering remarks at the GIS workshop

Excellencies, Honorable Guests:

  • Director General Sultan Mohammed of the Ethiopian Geospatial Information Agency (optional: & current Africa Executive Board Chair of the Committee of Experts for the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management);
  • Director General Kumara Wakjira of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority;
  • Director Lee Schwartz of the Department of State’s Office of the Geographer and Global Issues;
  • Leah Naess from the African Union;
  • Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you all for the privilege of delivering opening remarks at this important workshop today.  It is a pleasure to be here. The United States applauds your contributions to expand regional cooperation to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.

The illegal trade of wildlife constitutes theft of national and community resources.  This illegal trade also generates an estimated twenty billion dollars a year for transnational organized criminal networks.

The impact of these crimes is especially concerning as there is evidence that the proceeds of the illegal wildlife trade are fueling terrorist activities in the region.

Combating wildlife trafficking is a priority for the United States.  Our wildlife Task Force brings together 17 agencies in the U.S. Government to implement our National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.

The multifaceted nature and worldwide extent of this problem calls for cooperation at global, regional, national and local levels.  One of the three pillars of our National Strategy is to strengthen international cooperation.

To enhance cooperation and collaboration, we work closely with countries that are the sources of wildlife being trafficked and are building strong partnerships with demand and transit countries.  We ensure that our work complements the efforts of others.

In addition to our extensive United States Agency for International Development investments in biodiversity conservation throughout Africa, our Department of State bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement invested USD 40 million in the last five years to combat wildlife trafficking in Africa.

We provided the African Wildlife Foundation USD 4 million to strengthen regional law enforcement capacity to combat wildlife trafficking and support canine units in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon and Botswana. The United States recognizes the importance of collaboration across Africa’s Regional Economic Communities.

The Department of State funded the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime USD 6 million to strengthen prosecutorial and judicial capacity to combat wildlife crime by increasing prosecutions in Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana.

Recognizing the value of scientific innovation, we provided almost USD 1 million for wildlife DNA forensics to improve the collection and analysis of DNA evidence. Through this project in Gabon, Tanzania, and Kenya, our partnerships ensure that enforcement agencies and the scientific community leverage the potential of wildlife DNA forensics. Together, they are improving the production of intelligence generated from illegal wildlife seizures to disseminate data for law enforcement action.

Yet another example of investment in regional collaboration is our work to support the Horn of Africa Wildlife enforcement Network, or HAWEN.

In 2012, the Regional Environment Office team from our U.S. Embassy here in Addis worked with IGAD, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Center, and other partners to lay the groundwork for the HAWEN initiative.

In November 2017, we came together with our partners to launch the HAWEN at the AU.

Speaking of the AU, I want to highlight the significance of holding this event here in Addis Ababa—the home of both the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and a diverse international community committed to building the capacity of AU member states.

The African Union is making important strides toward regional integration, as evidenced by last week’s signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. In this context, the United States encourages the African Union to make a clarion call against wildlife trafficking.

As an organization with continental reach, the AU is an indispensable leader in setting common standards to which all member states should adhere.  Given the AU’s focus in 2018 on anticorruption and the symbiotic nature between corruption and wildlife trafficking, there is no better time for the AU to set common standards for Africa to combat wildlife trafficking.

Combatting wildlife trafficking is everyone’s responsibility.  It is our hope that this collaborative effort will continue to evolve and most importantly, evolve under African leadership.

With that in mind, this workshop’s objective is to formulate a common language or “data dictionary” for the full range of GIS databases being used by many of you in this room.

Developing a common language will not only promote interoperability but help harmonize information across the continent.

I hope the “data dictionary” that you all formulate over the next three days will become an important tool for HAWEN as it begins its operations in the coming year.

The U.S. Task Force is eager to see the results of your efforts and to help amplify the adoption of the data dictionary you are all here to craft.

Our common end goal is to stamp out all illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.

Given the growing sophistication of wildlife traffickers, no single law enforcement official or agency or nation, for that matter, can fight this battle alone.  This is our shared fight.  Setting shared GIS database standards is critical to us all playing on one team.

In closing, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get to know as many of the participants around the room as you can.

Friendships you develop here will help expand your investigations and give you access to previously untapped expertise, resources, and creative approaches that help us put wildlife criminals behind bars.

Unless we take decisive action now, we face a future of great loss.   It is not just large and magnificent animals that will disappear, but also many other less visible but no less valuable species.  We must safeguard our environment for the generations that follow.

The future of our wildlife is truly in our hands.  I reaffirm the commitment of the United States in partnering as we, together; lead the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Group photo of the opening ceremony participants