By Consultancy Africa Intelligence
One proposed solution to limit the illegal trafficking of ivory and rhino horn, and the topic of much debate, is the legalisation of the sale of these items. This potential solution needs to take into consideration the implications that it will have on terrorist activities as the issue of poaching is no longer only a concern for conservationists and environmentalists, but spans the very limits of peace and security in Africa and the world.
The ‘white gold’ of jihad
According to the Elephant Action League (EAL), approximately 40% of al-Shabaab and Boko Haram funds stem from the trading and trafficking of illegal ivory and rhino horn, Â resulting in the region being faced with an increasingly complex and deeper set of issues. According to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), 2013 was the worst year for rhino poaching to date in Southern Africa, with a total of 1,004 rhino’s poached in the sub-continent. This was a significant increase from the 668 poached in 2012. Statistics for 2014 show that from the beginning of the year until 10 July, 558 rhinos had already been poached in the region. This means 2014 is on track to meet or exceed Â the total number of rhinos poached in 2013. The DEA rhino poaching arrest statistics for the first half of 2014 show that 157 arrests have been made, projecting the total amount of arrests by the end of 2014 to be approximately 320, a number short of the 343 arrests made in 2013.
Apart from a rise in elephant and rhino poaching, sub-Saharan Africa has also been witness to an increase in the severity and frequency of terrorist activity and attacks as documented by the recent events in Kenya, Nigeria and Somalia. In 2010, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, gained control of the southern half of Somalia close to the Kenyan border, which has had trans-national implications. The al-Shabaab militant group has been responsible for an increasing number of terrorist attacks in Kenya since 2011, one of the most severe being the 21 September 2013 Nairobi Westgate Mall terrorist attack where 67 people were killed. Samantha Lewthwaite, commonly known as the ‘White Widow’ and a member of al-Shabaab, is said to be one of the main players behind the attack, and was recently linked to the illegal trade and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn. After the Westgate attack, the EAL’s Andrea Crosta stated that “You can easily say that the terrorist activity in Kenya last weekend was funded by many sources, one of them ivory.” Crosta, co-author of Africa’s White Gold of Jihad: Al-Shabaab and Conflict Ivory adds that al-Shabaab earns up to US$ 600,000 monthly through the sale of illegal ivory.
Insight Box | The economics of wildlife trade
There is an evolving body of academic research on the economics of wildlife trade. A June 2014 peer-reviewed study by Professor Alejandro Nadal and Francisco Aguayo of the University of Manchester has thrust the law of unintended consequences into the debate on whether to legalise trade in wildlife amid escalating poaching. The conventional theory in support of wildlife trade is summed up thus: bans push trading underground and drive up prices and profits amid continued high demand, which encourages yet more poaching; on the other hand, legal markets drive down prices, which removes incentives for poaching.
The premise is that markets are self-regulating and allocate resources efficiently. However, the authors list many deficiencies with this theory, in particular that there are serious deficiencies when it comes to understanding market structure, strategic behaviour and multi-product operations in the supply chain. Nadal and Aguayo argue that while enthusiasm for alternative policy instruments is understandable given the brutal intensification of poaching, the push for a policy recommendation to facilitate trade as a conservation solution on the basis of “inadequate command of economic theory is an act of recklessness.” Thus, a cautionary stance on wildlife trading is not necessarily an oppositional stance.
Furthermore, it should be noted that legalisation would not turn the trans-national criminals who dominate wildlife trade into philanthropists, in the same way that cutting off wildlife profits to terrorists would not transform them into human rights advocates. Conflict is sustained from financial flows from many other high-value natural resources besides wildlife, such as diamonds, gold and timber.
While al-Shabaab has control over areas in the Horn of Africa, Boko Haram operates from within Nigeria, and predominantly in its north-eastern region of Borno. This terrorist organisation has been responsible for recent terror attacks in Nigeria, the most alarming being the abduction of over 200 girls from Chibok on the night of 14 April 2014. Boko Haram’s terrorist activity has also spilled over into neighbouring Cameroon where evidence exists that the group is conducting elephant poaching operations. According to a report entitled Ivory’s Curse: The Militarisation and Professionalisation of Poaching in Africa, “On the surface, all these crimes have in common that they happened on the same continent. But there is an intimate connection: like many terrorist organisations in Africa, Boko Haram is funded by sales of illegal ivory.”
The pro-legalisation debate
Capital is one of the strongest motives that the pro-legalisation debate offers. Rhino conservationist John Hume, who keeps nearly 800 of the almost extinct animals on his farm near South Africa’s Kruger Park, contends that the farming of rhinos and the legalisation of the sale of rhino horn will save the species from extinction as a living rhino will become more valuable than a dead one, yielding up to 70 kg of horn in its lifetime. To adequately compete against poaching, it is imperative that conservationists, game-rangers, anti-poaching units and other government troops benefit from the taxation and sale of rhino horn and ivory rather than poachers and terrorists doing so.
The EAL attributes al-Shabaab’s success to an ability to pay its soldiers adequately. Each young fighter earns approximately a US$ 300 per monthÂ loyalty fee in addition to free food, water, khat (a local drug) and weaponry. By comparison, the salary of a Somalian Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldier is around US$ 200 every two months. TFG soldiers, who often collectively find themselves in combat against terrorists, also reportedly went without pay for four consecutive months in 2011.
The opponents of the legalisation of controlled sale of rhino horn are sceptical that any such sales can be truly controlled, and it will make it more difficult to distinguish legitimately trafficked parts from illicit or poached parts. To them, extinction of two of Africa’s Big Five animals, elephants and rhinos, will be hastened and not slowed. However, these opponents do not set forth ways to stop current poaching or have suggestions to thwart the financing of terror groups via poaching.
Insight Box | The invisible hand of the market
As the failed global war on drugs has demonstrated, even when all the resources of the richest and most powerful countries on earth are brought to bear, they are no match for the invisible hand of the market. While legalisation and regulation of the trade in rhino horn, ivory, and other rare animal products may seem distasteful to some conservationists, interdiction - as proven by the failed war on drugs - is simply not an economically viable option. Privatising the defense of such products is the only genuine policy option to ensure long-term survival of these endangered species.
Breaking the causal chain
In essence, capital from illegal poaching enables terrorist organisations to recruit previously employed government soldiers to their cause and to maintain control over those who are not religiously or radically motivated. Profits from illegal poaching contribute to the funding of certain terrorist organisations enabling them to expand in support and supplies, and to deliver increasingly devastating attacks. The legalisation of rhino horn and ivory will generate legal profits that could be redistributed into sectors fighting against poaching and terrorism alike, as well as break the causal chain between the two. In legalising the trade in rhino horn, it may be possible to not only save the mammals from extinction, but simultaneously thwart Islamic fundamentalist operations and halt the expansion of terrorism in Africa. The deadly path of conflict ivory and rhino horn and the link that has been formed between illegal poaching and Islamic fundamentalism has consequences starting with the slaughter of innocent animals and ending in the slaughter of innocent people.
Written by Carla Sterley (1)
(1) Carla Sterley is a consultant with CAI and has expertise in international trade, peacekeeping and conflict resolution, international political economy, and China-Africa relations. Contact Carlai at firstname.lastname@example.org. Edited by Dominique Gilbert.
This article is extracted from the August 2014 edition of CAI’s Africa Conflict Monthly Monitor (ACMM). The essential +-70 page monthly report that dissects conflict developments and trends across the African continent to guide businesses, governments, academics and other stakeholders in Africa’s growth and stability.