On Tuesday 29 September, Mishcon de Reya hosted a lunch for Stop Ivory and the RSPCA in support of the Malawi Government's efforts to control the illegal wildlife trade. Malawi became the eighth country to join the Elephant Protection Initiative in March this year. The event launched a two-week knowledge-transfer secondment for senior Malawian law enforcement officials with their British Government counterparts, funded through the UK's Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.
The event was kicked off with a speech by the Malawian High Commissioner to the UK, His Excellency Mr Kena Mphonda. The 30 strong attendee list included senior UK Government Officials from DEFRA, FCO, the City of London Corporation, the Met Police, National Crime Agency and UK Border Force; as well as Donnamarie O'Connell, RSPCA International's Senior Policy and Programme Advisor.
The Malawian team explained their work and the serious challenges they are facing because the illegal wildlife trade – particularly in ivory – has been taken over by serious organised crime. The discussion explored two key reasons for this. First, certain wildlife products have become highly sought after for traditional medicine (including rhino horn) or status symbols (ivory) in emerging, newly affluent middle classes particularly in east Asia. Secondly, wildlife crime has not been considered to be a serious crime and penalties under law – and the enforcement of those laws – are weak. A presentation was made by Wellington Chindzakazi, Head of Malawi’s Central Intelligence Unit, on the status of the illegal wildlife trade in Malawi. This highlighted a comprehensive programme of work, including legal reform, law enforcement and awareness raising. One of the key responses has been the formation of an inter-agency committee to improve coordination and enforcement, which includes the Revenue Authority, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Police, the Financial Investigation Unit and Anti-Corruption Bureau andthe Judiciary.
Over lunch, James Woods, CEO of AJ Africa Consulting and 2015 Young African Achiever Award Winner, facilitated a panel discussion on how Malawi’s current framework of investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime can be further improved.
Solicitor Abby Brindley from Mishcon Private and Ali Dewji from 187 Fleet Street Chambers have provided pro-bono legal advice to the Malawian DPP in relation to the recent successful prosecution of two traffickers caught with 2.6 tonnes of ivory hidden under a lorry load of cement. Following Malawi's accession to the EPI, Stop Ivory is working closely with the country and has already inventoried and reviewed its ivory management systems and led a participatory process to develop Malawi's 10-year National Elephant Action Plan. Jasmine Williamson and Ruth Starkey from the Stop Ivory team attended the event, along with Saul Sender, Abby Brindley and Dina Shiloh from Mishcon. Dina is a trustee of the MicroLoan Foundation, a charity providing micro-loans to women in Malawi and Zambia.
The firm is holding a series of Africa related events over the next six weeks.