The next day we met Salim and another dealer, Daudi, at a petrol station. They got in our car and Daudi produced a tusk that still had dried blood on it. I asked, ‘Do many mzungus [white people] buy these, or is it mainly the Chinese?’
‘All the time the Chinese come. Many, yes! Yes!’ exclaimed Daudi.
In the 1970s, thousands of Chinese labourers were imported to build a railway from Dar es Salaam to Zambia’s copper belt. They took down the portraits of Chairman Mao years ago, but today you see Chinese everywhere in Dar es Salaam. In Africa, there are now two million nationals from the People’s Republic. They are here to extract Africa’s resources: its oil, its minerals.
But they are also eating Africa. At the camps for Chinese road gangs there are piles of empty tortoise shells. Locals say there is not a dog for miles around, nor many donkeys. Elephant carcasses are mysteriously shorn of their testicles. China is ripping out Africa’s timber, the sandalwood, rhino horn, the fish, the seahorses, the sea slugs. Now Asia’s tigers are almost gone, Africa’s big cats are next: their claws and their vital organs being turned into medicines.
The new illegal ivory trade is booming because China’s middle classes want to buy ivory trinkets like chopsticks.
Later in the report, one of the dealers claims that Chinese diplomats and high officials are also responsible for the smuggling:
Then he claimed that last year Chinese officials who flew into Dar es Salaam accompanying President Hu Jintao on his state visit to Tanzania used it as a chance to buy illegal ivory.
‘You know when President of China, Hu Jintao, was coming to Tanzania… remember? They come to take many things here…’ I was surprised and asked, ‘When Hu Jintao visited here, they went away with a lot of ivory?’
‘Yeah,’ said Daudi. ‘But that was not for Hu Jintao, it was the whole group. He didn’t have a chance to visit. Then they go direct to the airport because VIP, no one checks your bags, you just carry.’ Daudi claimed it was a profitable day.
I asked, ‘How much did you charge?’
‘$1,000 for one tusk.’
The report accompanies a Channel 4 documentary, “Unreported World: End of the Elephant?” which can be watched online in some areas until April 20.