To burn or not to burn: Muckraking Extra on Malawi ivory

“The world’s poorest country,” wrote The Independent of the UK earlier last week, “is to make the world’s most expensive bonfire.”

President Mutharika and the VP inspect Ivory heaped at the Parliament building - Pic by Stanley Makuti

President Mutharika and the VP inspect Ivory heaped at the Parliament building – Pic by Stanley Makuti

The insinuation may have been irreverent but the message was poignant. Malawi was scheduled to burn four metric tonnes of ivory worth over US $7 million. The stockpile was made from accumulated contraband seized from poachers and smugglers who were planning to launder them in the Far East, notably in China.

But it all ended up to be an anti-climax as President Mutharika announced that Malawi was postponing the incineration of the ivory because government has realised there are at least 2.6 million metric tonnes more tied up in courts as evidential exhibits in trials of smugglers and poachers.

If the reason sounded hollow it is perhaps because it is. Look, if we are going to wait for all pieces of ivory to be on the stockpile before we set alight the pyre then we may never ever burn any ivory. For starters, our courts are notoriously slow in dispensing justice. Besides, because of the lucrative nature of the business more and more poachers and smugglers will continue killing more and more elephants for their trophy tusks.

Or perhaps somebody called from Beijing and said, “Hey, for sure we could make better use of those tusks and surely with Western capitals still shunning you guys could really do with a US $7 million cheque.”

News of the intended burning of the tusks inevitably divided opinion in Malawi. While some argued that selling them would encourage more poaching, others thought Malawi would lose twice for the jumbos are already dead anyway and we should not let such serious potential money be reduced to cold ash.

Both schools of thought are persuasive. With corruption levels still high in Malawi, some people with deep pockets and the right connections may kill more elephants and connive with authorities to pretend to have the ivory seized so that government should later legally sell it for them.

And indeed when the Malawi Revenue Authority seizes property whose owners are failing to pay taxes on them it does not destroy such property; it auctions it. So why not auction the ivory?

Suffice to say, however, there is more to controlling poaching and ivory smuggling than just making expensive bonfires from seized ivory. Look at how mis-treated are our game rangers. If they are not getting paid their field allowances on time, they are not being provided with the right gear.

Imagine a game ranger whose family back home has spent days on end without a proper meal comes face to face with a poacher laden with a pocketful of money.

Or imagine he is armed with an obsolete gun that can only fire one bullet at a time and his feet are shod in Zonke that is not ideal to navigate the thorn-filled foliage. And he is up against a poacher armed to the teeth with a machine gun and properly dressed for the jungle.

If we are to save the remaining 2,000 or so jumbos still left in Malawi let us invest in forest and game reserve and national park policing and management. Whether we get the money for such an investment from selling seized ivory is subject for another discussion.

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30 thoughts on “To burn or not to burn: Muckraking Extra on Malawi ivory”

  1. Ambele says:

    No.21 clueless are you living in this world you say CITES says there is no market ?
    tayerekezani mukataye kuntaya ma tasks’wo then muona kuti within a week m’Malawi muno sizipezekanso zikhala zili ku China, UK, USA, Japan mopanda vuto. You think people killed Elephants for marketless tusks?? msika ndi wosayamba. OK apatseni anthu atakate muone

  2. Chief Advisor says:

    I beg to differ with all those who are saying we should either burn or sell the ivory. Much as we appreciate that it is illegal to sell the Jumbo tasks, did the so called CITES tell us altenative ways to get rid of the said illegal items? I think Malawians can decide on the best way to do away with the ivory by considering certain situations the country is facing. I would suggest keeping the ivory for posterity. When we have depleted all the elephants, our kids will not believe that there were such animals in the past. Just as we do not believe in animal like dinasours to have been there a long time ago. We could build a tower made of ivory at Lilongwe Nature Sactuary or near the lonely Kamuzu Tower that would attract tourists and earn income. The tower could be constructed in such a way that people should not steal the ivory. We have some good designers in Malawi that can come up with a good structure. Our children will in future praise us for keeping such resources. Every time an elephant is killed the tasks would be added on to the tower. CITES would be invited to the annual additions of the ivory to the tower and they will not come empty handed. But not making a bone fire of the valuable tasks!! I am Just thinking aloud Mr. President.

  3. Pedant says:

    ‘government has realised there are at
    least 2.6 million metric tonnes more tied up in
    Sure? 2.6 MILLION tonnes? How many dead elephants would that be?

  4. kakarate says:

    Musatinamizepo apa; Masangwi waupeza kale msika wa zimenezi, poti zina zinali zake ndikale. Adzaocha warehouse yake atachotsamo kale katunduyu.

  5. Kasparov says:

    Just like the proceeds of the presidential jet sale.

  6. Zithanie [email protected] says:

    If they want to burn let them do so after all who will benefit fm these ,if not peter & mukhito & ben phiri , god shd remember us because these so called readers of this country , they dont think 4 the puwa, but they think 4 themselves how to become billioners while the taxem puwa are suffering

  7. Nabanda says:

    Unless you people are mad really… How can you burn money??? Dont burn, sale the stuff…money realized help the needy. The Chiefs and Councilors should come up with names from their wards to the Government and get supported. Government should also look at how to take care of the less previlaged… Put in place a salary to all Malawians who are not working please…

  8. phiri la dzunje says:

    mind yanu yonse yapita kwa ivory wheather to sale or not we have so many to deal with our judicial where are you with cashgate cases?

  9. clueless says:

    Amalawi kuchuluka nzeru too much
    The ivory had to be torched. According to CITES (Google it Please), there is no legal market for confisticated ivory. The Director of Wildlife knows better about these issues in his field than you journalists who think you know it all. The problem with malawians is that you think you know everything.

  10. cmk says:

    Musapange Cashgate inanso,paja inu amboma kuba ndi hobby yanu….mukagulitsa ndalamazo mudya ndi Ana anu ndi abale anu.Mudzasanza magazi pa imfa yanu nonse ndikubiba mphutsi.

  11. sakamundende says:

    Izitu anapangana ndi ma chinese kuti anyamule apite nazo ku china

  12. kamanga says:

    The constitution do not allow this issue of ivory trade. So, this is what we agreed, i think burning them will be the best way to solve this out. Imagine, what will our commentators do if these ivory goes on the market? Remember, kenya and ethiopia they once had a case like this one. They burned, so why not us?

  13. Andy Ndaonazino says:

    Do not worry Ralph. Our President does not even know how to differentiate between the sign “$” and “8”. We are being ruled by a headless chicken and puppet President via his homosexual partner.

  14. Tangokumana says:

    The issue under discussion is Ivory…..George Mdeza or Nankhumwa…..ndiye utinso?

  15. Destroyee says:

    Dont destroy the ivory from the already destroyed elephant and destroyed already tourism industry. The burning will also destroy the ozone layer and contribute to carbon dioxide footprint. If we dont kill murderers, why bother burning ivory. Unless you tell us that we burn thieves and murderers (mob justice) to discourage the act. Sell the ivory and it will compesate for the loss of many elephants

  16. Charter says:

    Malawi should keep its ivory until window opens to sell ivory legally on the international market.

  17. Mac Hendy says:

    za ivory ndilibe nazo filimu kweni kweni. sindidya nawo. ine mungondiuzako kuti kodi mpila wa bullets watha bwanji

  18. we don’t have to burn but rather sell ivory to get money for the protection of remaining elephants

  19. mbuvu says:

    It should be sold and funds used by packs for protecting our game after all the elephants are already gone and burning will nt save their lives. My opinion plse

  20. KUKHALA says:


  21. kahovd says:

    Sell it or burn wil never change n nthng wil help

  22. Kes says:

    A very useless article. Mr Tenthani they is no Market for ivory, you can not sell nor export ivory. The only market available is the Black market in Asia. So your last statement is useless and proves again that you are a clueless know it all, whose writing lacks substance.

  23. Milward says:

    Bwana Tenthani, zoona inu mukhale wonena anzanu kuti alibe zovala zabwino? Nkhani imeneyo muyimaliza? There was a time Game Rangers used to have more powerful firearms than those of the Army and Police. Its not a case of how many bullets the fire arm can fire. Snipers don’t use machine guns!

  24. John says:

    My advice is that Govt should seriously start implementing Family Planning Programme if it is to support the ever-growing Malawi population. This country will remain poor if we don’t manage our population. Our resources are too little to support the ever-growing population. We are sitting on time bomb!

  25. Njalayamalamuchiuno says:

    Government has backtracked on it’s own publicised decision to burn the Ivory. One wonders the level of consultation that takes place in such important decisions. One only hopes that the intention to withhold the campfire is in the National interest and that we shall not witness some suspicious warehouse fire where the stocks of these Ivory might have been stored! Hopefully transparency and accountability will continue to prevail on either the permission to sell or destruction of the said ivory.

  26. Kenkkk says:

    Ralph, you havd forgotten one thing. There is no legal or formal market for ivory, so our govt can’t sell it either!!! This is what people who keep on saying we or the govt should sell it must understand!!! The govt can’t be seen to be using the ivory black market because that is illegal and it will be breaking the law and set bad example.

    We are poorest and we can’t waste the ivory without getting something out of it. We need to seek compensation from the west or wildlife conservation organisations of the equivalent value of the ivory we are going to burn, this time it is $7mn and I think they will understand our predicament.

    So you dpp govt start taliking and negotiate with the west and its conservation activists. If we succeed to get compensation, the govt should come openly and tell malawians exactly what has been achieved and how the money is going to be used for. I suppose it will be used to protect the wildlife and improve ranger and wildlife services. That is the only useful reason that the west can even consider giving us any money.

    No corruption or misuse of compensation money should be tolerated.

  27. John says:

    That mafia DPP guy, whats his name again? Yes the guy involved in illegal selling of timber? Jaaaah am sure he will buy all that ivory and for himself. Thats DPP for you!!

  28. Makiu says:

    i dont support the burning. they should just export to raise money for protection of animals in our game reserves.

  29. onjoya says:

    To burn or not, i don’t advise to hon. min K. Nankhumwa (MJ CENTRAL) Do you know that PP led govt used taxpayers money to construct a police station pa Chinakanaka and now PP Officials are using the house as their office. Please Mr Nankhumwa look into it. Its our money.we need police station here anthu okuba avuta kwambiri

    1. makito says:

      You are unbelievable. Crazy to say the least. Find a right forum.

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