Somalia’s al-Shabaab militia, responsible for the Westgate mall siege in Nairobi, is being partly financed by the illegal ivory trade, according to international conservation group The Elephant Action League (EAL). It believes the trade could be supplying up to 40% of the group’s funds.
“The network is sophisticated and is composed of poachers, small and big-time brokers, and informants, all linked to the trade in ivory and rhino horn. Our enquiries reached across the border into neighbouring Somalia where we established a link between the traders and Al Shabab… Shabaab has been actively buying and selling ivory as a means of funding their militant operations,” Andrea Costra, EAL executive director said.
The EAL also says there has been evidence of ties between the poaching trade and militant groups like Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) or Darfur’s Janjaweed, cited in a United Nations (UN) report published in May.
According to sources within al-Shabaab, one to three tons of ivory pass through the ports in southern Somalia every month, selling for an estimated $200 per kilo.
Al-Shabaab’s ability to profit from the trade was undermined when it lost control of the southern ports of Kismayo and Merca, but the group still controls other hubs.
Andrea Costra, EAL executive director, says “We need to become a bit more confrontational with China, which is the origin of problem, because they are buying most of the ivory”.
Ivory trade has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1990. The illegal trade is mostly by demand in Asia (particularly China and Thailand) and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhino horns are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments.
Activists hope that emphasizing the links between groups that commit violence and the illicit trade may encourage governments to crack down on the practice.
“We’re asking the international community to start considering all the ivory (and rhino horn) trade’s stakeholders, ivory consumers, ivory shops and even governments, de-facto accessories to manslaughter, human exploitation and even terrorism,” Crosta said.
“Shabaab’s strength and conviction to continue its fight will increase its need for fighters, arms, ammunition and other equipment, and increase its need for funds. As the West continues to fight radical terrorist organisations through seizing assets in offshore bank accounts, straw companies and ‘charities’, these organisations, including al-Shabaab, will rely increasingly on trafficking in contraband as a source of finance,” theEAL investigation reveals.
Meanwhile, the Clinton Global Initiative is supporting an $80m renewed effort to protect African elephants from poachers chasing lucrative profits. The crackdown on 50 poaching hot spots in Africa involves several conservation groups and African governments. But conservation leaders, unveiling the plan at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting, went out of their way to credit Hillary Clinton lending her profile and giving prominence to the issue of the illegal trade in wildlife while she was US secretary of state. The CGI anti-poaching plan was the first big international cause championed by Clinton after she stepped down at the beginning of 2013, after four years in the job. Clinton also gave prominence to wildlife trafficking as a national security threat during her time in the Obama administration.
The funds now mobilised will be used to hire and train 3,100 park rangers at 50 sites in eastern and central Africa; to fund sniffer-dog teams along the top smuggling routes; and to train law-enforcement officials and judges responsible for prosecuting international trafficking gangs. The CGI wants to raise an additional $70m for the anti-poaching plan over the next three years.
The money will also be used to lobby for a ban on all commercial ivory sales until elephant populations are brought back to healthy levels in Africa, conservation leaders said.
The latest initiative announced brings together the main conservation groups, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, the African Wildlife Foundation, Conservation International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a number of African governments. These include Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi and Uganda.