The year 2013 was a grim one for peace and governance on the African continent: inequality soared, conflicts in the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic came to a head, and the numbers of elephants and rhinos illegally poached set records in many countries. While the last item may not immediately appear connected to issues of governance, on the contrary, poaching represents cause for concern in many countries because of its far-reaching implications. Poaching, primarily resulting from foreign demand for ivory, equates to the theft of economic opportunity from African citizens and multiplies the risk of violent conflict, corruption, and instability on the continent.
Most obviously, illegal poaching has a direct impact on the tourism industry in many Sub-Saharan countries. Villagers in northern Kenya took up arms against local poachers not because of an underlying sense of altruism, but because of the collective realization that wildlife in the region is “worth more alive than dead” due to the associated tourist revenues the animals represent. Safaris in many African states compose a central pillar of tourism industries, much of which goes directly into surrounding communities, providing a significant source of income for rural inhabitants.
Perhaps even more worrying than the potential loss of tourist dollars, however, is that poaching gangs represent sophisticated criminal syndicates. As previously alluded to, a considerable amount of money results from the foreign demand for ivory. Funds from ivory sales are commonly used to purchase weapons, in turn fueling regional conflicts. Armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistence Army in Uganda, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the janjaweed in Sudan, have all been linked to the illegal ivory trade. Even when not formally associated with armed groups, poaching contributes to other activities detrimental to development: corruption, violent crime, money counterfeiting, and general instability. In many instances, poachers and park rangers engage in violent shootouts, accounting for an unforeseen loss of human life. Though laws against poaching already exist, the huge demand and potential for quick economic gain often proves too enticing for would-be poachers to ignore.
Concentrated on the African continent, poaching is a transnational crime, disproportionately impacting African nationals. Illegal poaching presents a considerable problem for resource-limited African states on a number of levels: provision of physical and economic security to citizens, preservation of national treasures, and prevention of the rise of a homegrown international criminal enterprise. The international community has the opportunity to subdue the poaching epidemic in Africa while simultaneously promoting economic well-being and security on the continent.