Talking Truth To Power

Keynote address of Godfrey Harris To a conservation workshop of the IWMC World Conservation Trust

July 31, 2017


Mr. Minister, M. LaPointe, distinguished representatives of the Southern African Development Community (Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) interested guests: Know first that I am immensely honored by the invitation of the IWMC World Conservation Trust to share my ideas on the future of ivory and how this can be linked to worldwide attitudes toward Africa’s wildlife.

Note also that these ideas are rooted in an absolute abhorrence of the evils of poaching as well as a total rejection of the notion that all flora and fauna deserve to exist without human interference. Managed conservation means doing the hard work to balance the interests of man with the well being of the plants and animals that live among us. That’s why we are here.

Third preliminary note: Although my professional training is that of a diplomat, my daily activities are heavily involved with domestic and international politics. As you know, this is a tough arena in which to compete, primarily because it is occupied by the big guys who play for big prizes. For too long, though, those of us who understand and favor sustainable conservation techniques have been much too patient, much too polite, and much too diffident — in a word, much too diplomatic — in articulating our views and in expressing our disagreements with the major animal interventionist groups.

My hope is that right here, right now, we agree to talk the unvarnished truth directly and relentlessly to those among the animal rights groups who spend big money telling the world what is best for the people and wildlife of Africa. But in order for the rich and powerful from these animal rights groups to hear the truth from us — and in order for the public to accept it — requires a major change in the terms of the debate. We have to put those who oppose us on the defensive, starting right here and right now.

Straight talk about wildlife and human life in Africa can be our unique political contribution to the dominant social and economic trend of the 21st century. As you know, that trend is to be unapologetically disruptive of the status quo. The more, the better. We need to startle the American animal rights elites and their governmental and international supporters in the same way that Donald Trump uses TWEETS to break through what he sees as media barriers to reach his core supporters. Note these major disruptions in the social and economic order in the last few years:

Uber has become the world’s largest taxi company despite the fact that it owns no vehicles; Facebook is the world’ most popular media company but creates no content; Alibaba is the most valuable retailer in the world but owns no products; Airbnb has over 3,000,000 lodging listed in 65,000 cities in 191 countries — by far the world’s largest accommodation provider — and owns no hotels.

The disruption in politics at the outset of the 21st century is no less startling. The vote in the UK for BREXIT and the election of Donald Trump in the United States were the unmistakable expression of the unhappiness of voters with how governments now conduct the public’s business. The world’s democracies are no longer perceived by their citizens as instruments of, by, and for the people’s benefit.

Instead, governments are now seen by most citizens as vehicles to serve big business, big associations, big universities, big labor, and big nonprofits that employ career technocrats and an army of lawyers to ensure that their interests and their needs are met first.

I call this particular phenomenon of the 21st century, LOBBYCRATIC GOVERNANCE — the worldwide control of the major democracies by senior civil servants working with the staffs of large institutions to manage the levers of power through elected officials who serve as their enablers. Elections today are more like the shadows in kabuki theatre. The policies that emerge after the votes are counted are likely to turn out to be the same whether the Party of Tweedle Dee or the Party of Tweedle Dum wins. Why? Because career civil servants and their lawyers working with professional lobbyists have no intention of loosening their firm grip on the mechanisms of government.

Look at the field of conservation. The bureaucrats and the lobbyists from the big organizations control both public attitudes and government policy. Think about it! Dan Ashe, an obscure technocrat working in the back offices of the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representative starts working closely with representatives from the big animal rights groups. Eventually he leaves the legislative side of the U.S. government for its executive branch where he becomes head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the explicit blessing of the big animal rights groups.

After years of supporting the interests of these groups within and through the U.S. government, he has been rewarded with a three-fold increase in salary — from $140,000 per year to $540,000 — as the new President of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. As of January 1, 2017, Ashe becomes a big time lobbyist seeking government support for the organization’s interests and doling out political contributions in return. Mr. Ashe, who had a big say in the decisions and public perceptions of CoP17, indicates that he expects to exercise similar power over CoP18 in Colombo. Tweedle dee, Tweedle dum.

Until we break through this revolving door of power sharing among the Western conservation elites, we will continue to cry wolf to a world that won’t hear us, won’t pay attention to us, and won’t care about us. Interventionist groups are really in the business of raising money to sustain their power and nothing raises money as effectively as the suffering of animals at the hands of sinister criminals and those who are seen to support their nefarious activities.

  • Culling deer overrunning homes in the U.S. northeast is forbidden because no one wants to shoot Bambi or his mother. But someone needs to start talking about the human deaths that will occur from the 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease caused by the ticks these deer carry. We ought to be that megaphone.
  • Wild mustang horses in the U.S. west have overwhelmed their ranges. Now it is costing $49 million a year to buy sufficient feed so these horses won’t starve. But no one is allowed to cull the herds because of Black Beauty. How else could that money be spent for the benefit of the people of the United States? We need to tell that story.

It takes brave souls to swim against the tide — whether in the U.S., the U.K., or Africa. To make a difference, we have to be disruptive, we need to become the Uber of the conservation movement. To do so, we have to recognize what a famous baseball manager said years ago:


We have been too nice for too long. To finish in front — to WIN — requires a new disruptive direction. Getting started in this new direction reminds me of the story of the pastor who bought a mule to help him make the rounds of his parish. The problem was that once he took possession of the mule, the mule refused to move.

A farmer happens to see the stubborn animal willfully ignoring the pastor. Without a word, the farmer picks up a tree branch and approaches the mule. He is about to whack the mule on the side the head when the pastor says, “Wait. How will hitting the mule get it to do what I want?” “It won’t” admitted the farmer, “but first you have to get its attention before you can give it instructions.”

That is exactly what we have to do — we have to whack the world hard enough to get it’s attention. Once we have it, our ideas for change and improvement in the treatment of wildlife and human life will have the audience it needs.

How do you “hit” most of the animal rights groups, their enablers in Western governments, and the big international organizations hard enough to get their attention? In my view, you challenge their righteously adopted, smugly held, elitist attitudes of knowing exactly what is best for Africa’s wildlife and Africa’s future.

We could start by ridiculing their insistence that they can defy the laws of economics. They can’t, no matter how much money they throw at the problem from their patios in the Hollywood Hills, their balconies overlooking Fifth Avenue and their sitting rooms in Mayfair. By continually insisting that poaching will stop when the profits from ivory are eliminated, they are forgetting the immutable fact that prices increase when supply decreases. Choking off trade in ivory will only make it more valuable, enhancing the potential profits from poaching. By increasing the price of ivory through their misguided and unworkable proposed ban, these economic dimwits actually make the poaching problem worse.

We know this. But we never say it forcefully or loudly enough. We tend to make the point as if we were teaching economic theory in a university classroom in Cape Town — politely, reasonably, quietly. Why shout about something so obvious? Well, we forget that the do-gooders in Los Angeles, New York, and London tend to react viscerally rather than intellectually to facts. Economic arguments are boring compared to emotional stories. Fancy words versus gripping pictures. No contest. People who skip the book to wait for the movie tend to rearrange their prejudices rather than think afresh when new evidence arises.

We need to change this dynamic. We have to point out to most of these deaf and dumb Neanderthals that the methods used by the U.S. establishment to control illegal activities in the past have been blatant failures.

  • Take the failure of prohibition. Did the absolute ban on liquor imports into the United States stop alcohol consumption in the 1920s? No. Consumption increased and the U.S. got organized crime, corrupt police, and disrespect for the law as a result.
  • Did the U.S. deal with illegal drugs pouring into the country in the 1980s and ’90s any more successfully? No. It did exactly the same thing: It said it had zero tolerance for illegal substances, it threw military weapons at the problem, and it filled its jails with low-level dealers. Did drug use decrease? Just the opposite. The U.S. had a crack cocain problem that has given way to a horrific opioid epidemic — more than 50,000 overdose deaths a year. As always, the U.S. sees the problem as a supply issue that military measures can solve with bombs, troops and technology. It hasn’t worked because domestic demand for drugs — note the legalization of marijuana in so many U.S. jurisdictions — remains strong.
  • How then does the Trump Administration propose to deal with illegal immigrants? Same way. Provide more technology in the form of drones, radars and sensors, hire thousands of additional border agents, and build a great wall to block people crossing the nation’s southern border. Will it work? Of course not. How tough is it to bribe a guard to look the other way or patrol another sector when the group you are shepherding — at $4,000 a head — is crossing? How hard is it to build a taller ladder to get over a steeper wall, dig a tunnel deep enough to get under any foundation, go to northwestern Canada and walk into Alaska through an open border? If you don’t deal with demand, supply continues. As Albert Einstein is reported to have said:

Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

To get the world to see the insanity promoted by most of the animal rights groups, we need to hit the mule — those self-certain do-gooders sitting around their la-di-da patios, balconies, and sitting rooms — up the side of the head. We need to do this by relentlessly labeling them, as Trump incessantly talked about CROOKED HILLARY and CRAZY BERNIE, for what they are and yet most abhor:


Tell me how what the big animal rights groups and their kept governments want is any different from what Livingston, Rhodes, Bismark or Leopold wanted? Tell me how these groups differ in attitude to the 19th century white men who brought, unbidden, Civilization, Christianity and Commerce to Africa? Tell me how Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States differs from Napoleon III’s prime minister, Jules Ferry, who said:

The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races.

Tell me why today’s racists know more about what is better for the people of Africa than the people of Africa know themselves. They don’t, but we are keeping this as much of a secret as the Manhattan Project’s atomic bomb. You need to remind Americans to fix their own wildlife issues before telling Africa what to do about theirs.

Labeling these mostly American, affluent, educated, younger, urban crazies as RACISTS must be done by Africans to fundamentally change the debate. I can’t and my organization can’t. These liberals, so good at spending other people’s money and forcing change on someone else’s way of life, will writhe in agony at the thought that they, of all people, are being called racists by those they only want to help. To prove they aren’t as racist as any greedy, 19th century European, they need to tell the people of Africa why they alone can repeal the laws of economics, why their views on preserving wildlife should ignore the devastation suffered by humans who live among them, why sustained conservation measures shouldn’t be adopted as the standard for wildlife and habitat preservation.

We need to provide the media with footage of the destruction that wildlife causes in the bush to balance the havoc that poachers cause to elephants or rhinos; we need to show the anguish of burying a child killed by a wild animal to counter the images of hunters posing with their trophies; we need to portray the utter devastation of losing a home, a crop, or even a goat, because of the mindless policies promoted by CITES, its member governments, and the animal interventionist groups that control them. Those who live in Africa can gather that footage and those of us from the West can publicize it.

To start down this new path, I hope this meeting gives the world the DECLARATION OF WINDHOEK. May I suggest some wording for your review:

The People of Africa cherish their land and the resources it yields. It not only provided the nourishment to allow mankind to populate the world millions of years ago, but it continues to provide sustenance for those who live here and contribute to man’s progress. Finding the balance to sustain all of Africa’s resources is Africa’s responsibility.

The delegates representing the member countries of the Southern African Development Community declare that Africa is capable of finding that balance on its own, in its best interests, on behalf of the people who live on this continent, and for the ultimate benefit of the world.

Done at Windhoek, Namibia, on July 31, 2017

But issuing a Declaration provides only a stirring beginning, not the beneficial end we seek. That end is the culmination of what we have discussed here today:


The Declaration of Windhoek now needs a plan of action, a means to fund that action, and a timetable for its success. I hope this meeting and those to follow can build this framework. I pledge the Ivory Education Institute will do its part in creating that framework.


About Godfrey Harris:
Godfrey Harris is a a public policy consultant in Los Angeles. He serves as managing director of the Ivory Education Institute.