A disgraced Grace!
That there would be investigations into the functioning style of ousted Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe, was a foregone conclusion but that his wife, Grace, was allegedly running a huge ivory poaching network has come as a shocker. The Zimbabwe police have launched an investigation into allegations that she headed a poaching and smuggling syndicate which illegally exported tonnes of elephant tusks, gold, and diamonds from the country. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the President of Zimbabwe has sanctioned an "urgent" investigation into the former First Lady's activities after "very strong" evidence was uncovered by Adrian Steirn, an Australian photojournalist. Grace Mugabe wielded significant power in Zimbabwean politics until her husband was ousted last November. Zimbabwe is home to about 86,000 elephants, or the second largest population of elephants in Africa, according to a census published in 2016. That figure represented a 10 per cent drop in numbers since 2005. Although the population is considered healthy in the north-west of the country, losses have been heavy in other parts. About 900 elephants were lost to poachers between 2013 and 2016, nearly 250 of them poisoned with cyanide or shot. The name of Grace was linked to large-scale wildlife trafficking following a four-month investigation by Steirn, who posed as a customer for contraband ivory in order to infiltrate the smuggling and poaching networks preying on the country's national parks. Steirn said he decided to launch the investigation after hearing rumours about Grace's complicity in trade during several years reporting on wildlife crime in Africa. "For years I've been documenting the frontline poachers who end up serving 20 years for shooting a giraffe. Meanwhile, she was taking billions of dollars out of the country," he said. Undercover footage filmed by Steirn has shown several sources, including suspected poachers and intelligence, wildlife and aviation officials, describing how Grace Mugabe smuggled ivory poached in national parks or looted from government warehouses out of the country by exploiting an exemption from airport security screening as First Lady. In order for it to pass through customs, the goods of the First Lady were not searched. She had immunity from the government.
On expected lines, Christopher Mutsvangwa, a special adviser to President Mnangagwa, said the President was aware of the allegations and had sanctioned the investigation into high-profile figures including Grace Mugabe based on the information revealed. There was mounting evidence that the gang included high-ranking members of Mugabe's security apparatus and that the systemic smuggling also involved rhino horn, diamonds, and gold. Ivory is just one part of it. While Grace Mugabe's alleged customers have not been named, Mutswanga said the buyers are assumed to be organised criminal groups operating out of China and Malaysia. Such gangs have been linked to multi-million dollar poaching operations across Africa and have a reputation for extreme violence. Corruption often runs deep with power. Grace Mugabe has disgraced herself and that is still saying little.