The saying, “Good things happen to people who wait,” is becoming somewhat of an unofficial tagline to our partner, the East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS). Last year, thanks in part to an important advocacy role played by the Society, Kenya finally adopted a new and improved wildlife law after “over ten years of waiting”. Just last week the Tanzanian and Kenyan forest agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which the EAWLS and its partner, the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum, recommended they do more than two years ago.
But such waiting is expected “when dealing with policy issues,” explains Michael Gachanja, Executive Director of the Society. When you add two governments, lawyers, and practitioners to the mix, then suddenly the MoU seems like an amazing feat. It certainly is a great accomplishment for the two countries as well as the Society, who dedicated a year with TNRF researching and identifying effective strategies to address the pervasive illegal trade in timber and forest products between Kenya and Tanzania. EAWLS and TNRF recommended a MoU as an important first step meant to, “address issues of harmonization and regulation of laws, policies and procedures; information sharing and standardization of data; promotion of accountability in wood and wood products trade.” Thanks to WWF and TRAFFIC East Africa, which both played important roles in facilitating the MoU process over the last two years, the MoU is now in place.
“Signing the MoU is one thing, but implementing it is another,” said Gachanja. He’s hoping to see more NGO involvement on the implementing technical committee and sees the Society as having an important oversight role in this process – ensuring there is enough interaction between the two countries “to keep the issue alive.” If this stays alive and active it could serve as a useful model for what cross-border collaboration can do in stopping other harmful trans-boundary problems, such as wildlife trafficking.
When EAWLS and TNRF first started this initiative there was serious concern that information wouldn’t be openly shared between the two countries. However, they were able to overcome this challenge by establishing a participatory and transparent process from the beginning. “Nothing is impossible,” says Michael – sometimes it’s just a matter of being patient.