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September 10, 2019

Ethiopia Shines A Light On Animal Protection: The 3rd Africa Animal Welfare Conference

A blog post by CALS LLM alum Judy Muriithi ’19
  • Judy and Tony at 3rd Africa Animal Welfare Conference
  • 3rd Africa Animal Welfare Conference Audience
  • Millions of donkeys are at risk because of the rapidly growing demand for their skin
  • Attendees at the 3rd Africa Animal Welfare Conference

By CALS LL.M. Alum (’19) Judy Muriithi

A country home to mountains, volcanoes and deserts - Ethiopia stands strong in animal welfare matters across Africa. Pegged on an Islamic and Christian faith, Ethiopia strives to uphold animal welfare with many organisations training Ethiopians on animal care and humane treatment of draught animals.

The esteemed country was the host for this year’s Africa Animal Welfare Conference in Addis Ababa from September 2-4, 2019. Third of its series, the Conference sought to join issues of animals, environment, law and policies. This year’s theme was “Environment and Sustainable Development in the 21st Century Africa: An Interlinked Approach”. The Conference covered a variety of interdisciplinary topics in animal welfare such as: (1) linking sustainable development goals and animal welfare; (2) attainment of sustainable development through improved animal welfare; and (3) implications of climate change on achievement of sustainable development goals.

Animal and humans share diseases and there is a very direct link between how animals are treated and how diseases are spread by humans. It is on this backdrop that this year’s Conference brought together delegates from different parts of the world with a common objective: Discussing ways in which animal welfare can be improved in Africa.

I attended the Conference with my fellow Center for Animal Law Studies LL.M. Alum Tony Gerrans (’19), and we shared our insights with Conference attendees from an animal law perspective. Tony also presented on “Sustainability and Welfare: The Role of Animal Law” on the first day of the Conference as discussed in more detail below.

The Conference would not have been possible without the support of generous sponsors, including the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School, and our co-hosts Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) in collaboration with UN Environment. It was an exciting two days full of engaged animal advocates. A summary of the Conference follows:

Day 1: Various government officials from Kenya and Ethiopia graced the occasion. The officials spoke in a harmonious voice on the plight of the animals in their country. For example, the State Minister for Agriculture for Ethiopia highlighted the demographics of the state and stated that the increasing population of Ethiopia may affect animal welfare as farmers will be seeking to increase economies of scale. He also highlighted the importance of agricultural animals in the society.

Discussing the problems of factory farming, Mia MacDonald and Emma Slawinski both described what factory farming was and provided an example of a farm in Nairobi. Mia showed how chickens were kept in deplorable conditions in a bid to maximise profits. In highlighting the impact of globalization and urbanization, Mia emphasized the need of Africans embracing veganism as she was worried that establishment of certain franchises were increasing demand for chicken and driving the need for continuing the establishments in America. She concluded with an example of Martha Karua highlighting how her holistic approach to sustainable development has been instrumental to conservationists.

The emphasis on the link and the importance of understanding the concept was highlighted by various speakers, with each highlighting how children may be desensitized against forms of violence when they are exposed to animal cruelty. Tony Gerrans (CALS’ alum, ’19) discussed how animal law can be effectively used to improve the welfare standards of animals. He walked through the legal principle of standing and how it was an important aspect when advancing the rights of animals. He stated that the Judiciary was important in advancing the rights of animals as well and should be used judiciously in a bid to improve animal welfare. He gave an example of the South African courts and how they stood the test of time when they provided obiter dictum that explained that animals are sentient. He then explained how the commodification of animals is slowly bringing them to extinction. He gave an example of how South Africa is insistent on continuing the trade of rhino horn, yet the general population of rhinos is going extinct. He continued by stating the role of the legislature and how it was important to have legislatures who understood the plight of animals who therefore advance laws which protected animal welfare matters.

Joe Ryding gave a compelling discussion of how data collected by space technology could be used in improving animal welfare. With technology rapidly evolving, data collected can be used to improve welfare systems while understanding how the environment can be improved. He explained how geo-mapping can be used to track movements of animals – by monitoring animal heartbeats, land terrains space technology can be used to understand the health status of animals.

Day 2: United Nations (U.N.) officials attended the second day of the Conference. Each Delegate emphasised the importance of animal welfare groups being part of the accreditation process of the U.N. 

Alexander Juras discussed the place that United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has in regard to animal welfare. With the place that animals hold in the environmental sphere, Alexander reiterated the importance of accreditation of animal welfare groups to the U.N. He added that if animal welfare groups actively participate in activities by the U.N, they will influence resolutions and bring in the angle of animal welfare.

Isaiah Otieno discussed the role of civil society in UNEP. He discussed the accreditation process and the importance of civil society in reporting any animal welfare issues. He expressed the concern of African governments to increase enforcement regarding wildlife animals with the exclusion of domestic animals. He added that it was the obligation of the civil society to highlight such issues and direct the government in the direction of highlighting atrocities on all animals.

A common issue that was highlighted in the session was the fact that the general public’s outcry in relation to environmental degradation was left unheard. The audience gave various examples, and there was unanimous agreement that there was a need for a specific mechanism that was to be developed in a bid to improve reporting by people.

Animal well-being intersects with the most pressing issues of our time, a key example is how livestock is crucial to food security. Unfortunately, our collective response to the growing demand for animal products has led to the mushrooming of low-welfare intensive farming practices. Wolf Gordon Clifton took the stage and discussed how animal protections impact all the 17 sustainable development goals bearing in mind the place animals hold in environmental conservation. He highlighted how human greed and self gratification have brought negative effects on both wild and domestic animals. 

Poaching and bushmeat issues were discussed as well. Damien Mander gave an impressive presentation of how he is incorporating women rangers in the fight against poaching in Zimbabwe. Jose Louies from India gave the statistics of animals lost due to snares and cruel traps set up by poachers in the country. Dennis Bahati explained the prevalence of bushmeat consumption in Kenya, noting that the general public needs to understand the correlation between deplorable medical disasters in Kenya and bushmeat consumption.

Finally, with the theme on donkeys, the event had a round table discussion on the plight of donkeys and the donkey skin trade. The key highlight in this session was that millions of donkeys are at risk because of the rapidly growing demand for their skin which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Owing to this fact, many believe that donkeys may become extinct in the next 10 years. There was concern regarding the slaughterhouses in Kenya and the concession made by the Kenyan Government in relation to the donkey trade between the two states. There was a decision by the stakeholders present to exert pressure on the government to bring accountability on their part.

Conference Conclusion

Animals are sentient and have the cognitive ability to understand what surrounds them” was the parting thought from the Conference. From Donkeys, Birds, Elephants to Rhinos, many speakers took the stage and talked on spectacular steps that they are taking to improve animal welfare - with a common voice and message of hope. As the Conference drew to a close, delegates resolved to draw inspiration from already set up projects and partner to strengthen their alliances.

Addressing the audience, Henry Ndede emphasized the need to take stock of various resolutions and have a reporting mechanism that would ensure accountability and follow up. Other speakers highlighted the need for having a Secretariat that would foresee implementation. The Secretariat would act as a check and balance and report in each Conference on the position of each resolution.

Building on this momentum, delegates had the opportunity to address the full scope of the problem by adopting a resolution that strengthens sustainable animal welfare practices ahead of the 2020 African Animal Welfare Conference to be held in Ghana. At the top of the list was the need to have an accessible reporting mechanism that would allow the general public to report animal welfare issues. The reporting mechanism was also to have a means to measure accountability to determine its effectiveness.

Delegates also recognised the non-uniformity of the laws and sought to come up with a way in which laws can be standardised and make them more punitive.

In the lead-up to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in 2021, there is an opportunity to influence how the world confronts animal welfare. Animal welfare groups should identify the issues and seek representation at the next UNEA.

I look forward to the 2020 African Animal Welfare Conference in Ghana, and hope that it will bring with it better solutions and positive impacts from each country’s experience.