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    Is this man supporting terrorism, insurgency, regional destabilization or just making a buck?

In recent years we have all been advised by a series of pundits that the trade in illegal wildlife products (ivory, rhino horn, lion body parts and cub smuggling, pangolins, shark fins, rosewood, ebony, sandalwood, etc, etc) is driven by criminal syndicates. Organized crime. We have been told the profits benefit terrorist groups, insurgent militias, and unscrupulous dealers and individuals who support them at high levels in government and in the business community. We have been told that wildlife crime contributes to the destabilization not only of governments but entire regions, and also will lead to the destruction of the wildlife populations that are so important to our global heritage. 

We are told that campaigns are mounting to stop the trade, including better law enforcement, better intelligence sharing, better customs controls, agreements between source and destination countries to better control supply and demand, more public and private funds being mobilized to control illegal offtake (anti-poaching), more awareness raising campaigns in source and destination countries to educate people about the consequences of buying and selling, etc.  This all sounds positive and encouraging.

However, a recent and excellent report from the Institute of Security Studies (The Evolution of Organized Crime in Africa – Towards a New Response; Mark Shaw and Tuesday Reitano, April 2013) shows that organized crime had been well established in many of the countries well before the recent poaching crisis; that organized crime has penetrated deeply into state institutions and private enterprises as a result of long and mutually beneficial associations; and that organized crime is highly flexible, responsive to new opportunities, and moves more quickly than policymakers can respond. States with dysfunctional governments (fragile states) are key areas of operation, but more stable states are key areas of investment of profits and also serve as regional hubs.

The ISS report, while not dealing much with wildlife crime, has some very important things to say and I recommend a careful read if you are interested in possible ways of reducing wildlife crime. The report makes these key points:

•Organized crime became established in the 1970’s largely operating from South Africa and Nigeria. At the end of the Cold War, many armed groups involved in local insurgencies sought alliances with foreign criminal groups to fund armed conflict. Increasingly, such criminal groups began to buy collusion at the highest levels in many states. In the new millennium, a consolidation phase started, and there is evidence of greater ownership and initiative of African criminal groups. 

•Nowadays, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Lagos form the core triangle of urban hubs involved in organized crime but cities like Cape Town, Dakar, Kinshasa and Addis Ababa also play distinctive roles.

•The report estimates that by 2010, Africa was linked in some way to 7-10% of the global illicit trade. The global revenue accruing to organized crime is thought to be in the region of $1.3 trillion. By contrast, legal African trade accounts for only 3% of global trade in goods and services and only 2.4% of global GDP in the legal economy. 

•West Africa has emerged as a major transit and repackaging hub for Latin American cocaine. At least 25 tons of cocaine per year is trafficked out of Guinea Bissau to Europe, with a street value of $4.29 billion.

•Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon are ranked among the top world countries in terms of global cybercrime, valued at $600 million annually.

•The US State Department estimates that Kenya’s financial institutions launder over $100 million per year.

•Illicit trafficking of gold and natural resources, principally out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is estimated to be worth $1.2 billion per year.

•Illicit financial outflows alone (money laundering) from Sub-Saharan Africa outpaced development assistance to the area by a ratio of 2:1. 

•Part of the problem in attempting to combat organized crime in Africa is that criminal networks are difficult to disentangle from the activities of warlords, insurgent groups, and even some political, military and community groups. 

•Increased demand for natural resources from Asian economies, most notably China, have led to many African countries becoming increasingly linked to China via the legitimate and illegitimate markets. It is estimated that the global value of the Chinese illegitimate market was $2.18 trillion between 2000 and 2009.

•The port of Mombasa has become notorious for linkages with organized crime. A previous report stated “Mombasa is like a tunnel. All illicit business happens here, and it is controlled by traders supported by customs personnel and powerful people in government. Whoever controls the port controls the illicit business in Kenya.”

•Efforts by the international community to combat organized criminality in Africa have had minimal impact as there is minimal activity by the states themselves. There is a great need to combat the underlying reasons for the proliferation of organized crime in all sectors, including targeting income inequality, building a broad base for the rule of law and democratic governance, fighting corruption and increasing community-level participation. 

The authors sum up their report as follows:

•The traditional way of responding to organized crime has been to view it as a criminal justice or security issue requiring strengthened cross border and domestic law enforcement, border control and intelligence-gathering capability. However, it is clear from organized crime’s evolution across the continent that fighting this phenomenon can no longer be understood in terms of curbing the illicit trade. Given the almost continent-wide interdependence of organized crime and corruption at the highest levels, and the degree of entrenchment within communities, addressing organized crime in the future will also involve preventing and reversing the criminalization of governments and providing sustainable economic alternatives for its citizens. 

So where does this leave the efforts to combat wildlife crime, that by all indicators intend to proceed along lines that have not worked in the past? The authors have some suggestions for the overall situation and I combine these with some specific ones of my own:

•National ownership of any plan to control organized crime is crucial, and should not largely depend on the will of those in power. Citizens should insist on ownership of their natural resources and require that state institutions do not allow channelling of profits only to elites.  

•Rather than concentrating on combating individual criminal groups, the supply chains need to be closed down, necessitating cross-border and international collaboration. 

•There cannot be any level of impunity for those involved – lack of prosecution undermines citizens’ trust in democratic institutions and encourages new recruitment into illegal activities.

•There should be a strong emphasis on re-establishment of community and social control, and known members of crime networks ostracized rather than tolerated and even celebrated. Rather than expecting control to come from governments, there should be a much larger focus on grassroots initiatives. Key among these will be funding for projects stimulating alternative and sustainable income streams.

•Support to community structures, civil society organizations and independent media can provide momentum against organized crime where state institutions or political will are lacking.  

•Combating organized crime has always been a reactive process, playing into the hands of syndicates that are dynamic, flexible, opportunistic and very good at anticipating control measures, in no small part due to information received from penetrated institutions. Information gathering by international institutions is crucial, but is currently dominated by concerns about terrorism. A much more dedicated approach to specific wildlife crime activities is required.

•Those involved in wildlife crimes are often well-known to national and international agencies. While prosecution nationally could be a difficult issue given levels of immunity, certainly their names should be published (as are those of known drug kingpins) to discourage anyone dealing with them at international levels and international assets frozen?

We also need a much better definition of what constitutes wildlife crime. At present, it is accepted that the illegal wildlife trade ranks in the top five of illegal trade activities (after drugs, human trafficking, counterfeiting and weapons) and is worth somewhere between $7-$10 billion per year. However, wildlife crime is largely classified as “poaching” in very many African countries, and poaching carries very light penalties and fines. Also, the illegal wildlife trade has only recently been given significant prominence because Hillary Clinton said the profits were used by terrorist groups. 

So overall, the whole definition of wildlife crime lingers in a grey area. Is an ivory poacher an illegal wildlife trafficker? Is a middleman caught with hundreds of kilos of ivory supporting terrorism? If the ultimate destination of most of the poached ivory is China, is China therefore funding terrorism? 

Certainly, at present, those trading in drugs and arms are given high penalties when caught. But at a local level poaching is still treated as a misdemeanour. Until we know what actually constitutes illegal wildlife trafficking, and until appropriate penalties are assigned for various levels of involvement, we are no further in combating the crime, even though there is plenty of evidence that wildlife trafficking is conducted by organized crime syndicates. Until all those caught up in the rush of needing to combat wildlife crime come up with some much better definitions of what they mean by wildlife crime, and until they learn what they are up against from reports like that of the ISS, it remains a lot of flag waving parades banging drums. 

For further reading, see also this article

Picture credit: Standard Tribune


Posted by Pieter Kat at 10:39

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