Today we partnered with the Enough Project and Invisible Children to release Kony’s Ivory: How Elephant Poaching in Congo Helps Support the Lord’s Resistance Army. Jonathan Hutson and Kasper Agger at Enough Project authored the report, and we provided some of the research material. I’ve asked our researcher Paul Ronan to share the key takeaways by answering five questions below. Gimme the basics – how often are LRA fighters killing elephants and where?
The LRA’s poaching of elephants has been concentrated in Garamba National Park, a large reserve in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo). LRA fighters first moved into Garamba in September 2005, and rumors of LRA fighters killing elephants and harvesting ivory have been circulating since at least 2008. However, in the past year a number of LRA escapees have provided eyewitness testimony of increased poaching by LRA, which has been corroborated by clashes between park rangers and suspected LRA poaching parties. For now, it remains unclear how much ivory the LRA has harvested in the past several years.
Is the poaching the work of rogue LRA groups, or do orders come from the top?
Most signs point to Joseph Kony directly ordering LRA fighters to kill elephants in Garamba and harvest ivory, as has been reported by several Congolese and Ugandan defectors who escaped the LRA since early 2012. Kony reportedly tasked Lt. Col. Binansio “Binany” Okumu, who oversaw LRA operations in Congo, with collecting the ivory. Binany was killed in January 2013 by Ugandan troops after returning from a meeting with Kony in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave. With Binany dead, it’s unclear how frequently the LRA continues to poach elephants.
Does the LRA’s harvesting of ivory signal a shift in their survival tactics?
Possibly. Kony has never before ordered LRA fighters to trade in extremely valuable goods, making his order to poach elephants significant (even if looting small communities remains the LRA’s primary survival tactic). However, Kony’s decision could backfire, especially if remaining LRA combatants become more disillusioned and believe the LRA is drifting further from its core goal of seizing power in Uganda and is becoming just another bandit group in the region. More....