24 February 2024

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Interview: Rehema Kahurananga on IUCN’s strategic agenda on nature, WWD 2023 

I am responsible for looking at IUCN ESARO’s priorities and developing that into a communication strategy to position IUCN as the go-to entity on matters to do with conservation. 
IUCN

Rehema Kahurananga a recent training in Nairobi, Kenya. Courtesy photo.

Last Updated on: 3rd June 2023, 08:34 am

Every year on March 3, the World celebrates World Wildlife Day (WWD). The theme for 2023, “Partnerships for wildlife conservation” honors people who are making a difference. The IUCN is one of the many organizations working to conserve nature. 

According to the United Nations (UN) March 3, is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.

Today, the UN says it grants varying degrees of protection to more than 37,000 species of animals and plants.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, and today, like previously, they are a big part of the 2023 celebrations.

TND News’ Milton Emmy Akwam interviewed the Regional Communications and Constituency Manager for Eastern and Southern Africa at IUCN, Rehema Kahurananga, and below are excerpts. 

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Milton Emmy Akwam and Rehema Kahurananga during the InfoNile Editors’ Biodiversity Program 2023 in Kasese last month. Photo by Chris Kobel of InfoNile.

Rehema, welcome to TNDQuestions, TND News’ premium program. Take us through the IUCN’s roles as a global body promoting biodiversity.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organizations. By harnessing the experience, resources, and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organizations and the input of some 15,000 experts, IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

Our Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO) program of work is guided by core beliefs and principles. That’s where biodiversity comes in. We believe that biodiversity and natural resources are central to the development and well-being of current and future generations. At the heart of this lies governance. 

We also recognise that the complexity of the challenges today is unlikely to be resolved by any one entity and we, therefore strive to work in a manner that maximizes IUCN’s unique strength in being able to work in partnership across the different parts of the Union – Government and NGO Members, Commissions of experts and the Secretariat – in order to continue to build and strengthen a collaborative movement for conservation across the region and beyond.

As a regional communications and constituency manager for Eastern and Southern Africa, what are your key tasks and are there some successes since you joined?

From the communication angle, it’s very simple: to demonstrate impact. I am responsible for looking at IUCN ESARO’s priorities and developing that into a communication strategy to position IUCN as the go-to entity on matters to do with conservation. 

This involves employing a range of communication methods including storytelling and media outreach across our internal and external platforms. We need to be able to provide the right information to the right audience at the right time. Most importantly, we also need to be accessible so that the flow of information is two-way.

How is the conservation agenda in Africa through strategic partnerships going to help the continent to reclaim some of its depleted ecosystems?

It’s not a coincidence that the theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day is themed “Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation”. The issue of biodiversity cannot be seen as a stand-alone area of practice. In addition, preserving our biodiversity cannot be seen as one entity’s responsibility. 

In his World Wildlife Day statement, Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle of IUCN states that “One of the greatest challenges facing the planet today is protecting and, where possible, restoring its biodiversity. Working together is the key to overcoming this challenge.” The same is true for Africa.

In June 2021, the United Nations Environment Programme urged countries in Africa to restore their ecosystems. The UN agency said doing so will be central to green recovery. As someone manning East and Southern Africa, do you see any hope, determination and goodwill toward recovery?

Yes, there is good will from countries across Africa. For instance in Africa, 33 countries have committed in AFR100 to restore 129.27 million hectares by mobilising $1B in development finance and $481M in private sector commitments. The AFR100 contributes to the Bonn Challenge, the New York Declaration on Forests, the African Resilient Landscapes Initiative (ARLI), the African Union Agenda 2063, the Sustainable Development Goals and other targets. By honouring these pledges, African countries are expected to boost their green recovery and sustainability pathways.

On the conservation agenda, recently, your organisation partnered with InfoNile, TRAFFIC International East Africa, Internews, and others to build the capacity of editors in Uganda on Biodiversity. Could this be a big step as far as emphasizing conservation needs?

 Absolutely. I am a storyteller at heart and believe in the power of stories; they play a critical role in creating awareness and buy-in and there is data to back this. I recently came across a Forbes article citing a study on the game-changing factor that stories bring to the table. A simple Google search will provide plenty of content on the topic of powerful stories. 

Members of the media are critical partners in being able to raise awareness and help shape behavior change. In addition to that, there is a large opportunity for positive stories about conservation that can also be told – to balance the alarming narratives that tend to be focused on. There is a lot that is happening that can be shared as successes – let’s look for those angles too.

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InfoNile’s Co-Founder Fredrick Mugira engages Editors during the program in February. Photo by Chris Kobel of InfoNile.

Investments worth $26b in 15 countries or so have helped restore 14 million hectares of depleted landscapes, according to IUCN’s Restoration Barometer. How significant is this achievement?

This is a great achievement so far. The countries had pledged under Bonn Challenge/AFR100 to restore a total of 48 million hectares by 2030, and by 2022, they had restored 14 million hectares, or 29% of their pledge. It is also important to see the finances mobilised to undertake this restoration across the countries with a greater share coming from total domestic public expenditure (64%). Nevertheless, these countries are not even a quarter of those who have committed to restoration. There is a need for other countries to report on their progress using this Restoration Barometer going forward.

Lastly, what should be done now, not tomorrow?

We need to look at what we can each do in our respective spheres of influence. Can you print less paper at home or the office? Instead of getting your takeaway from the restaurant in disposable containers, can you think about carrying reusable ones from home? 

If you have children, can you teach them about the importance of not littering in public? There are many things that are within our control. 

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