Professor Keith Somerville, a writer and lecturer on African affairs, warns those interested in the truth about ivory poaching and smuggling to treat with extreme caution the recent stories in The Mirror and Independent, and repeated by the Environmental Investigation Agency, which offer no supporting evidence of Boko Haram’s alleged role in ivory poaching in Gabon.
There is no evidence as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have told me, that Boko Haram, Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, has any role in ivory poaching. They do not poach or trade in ivory.
Gabon’s elephants are killed in large numbers by local, poor poachers who do it to survive. They are commissioned by criminal syndicates (also involved in the illegal bushmeat trade) who smuggle the ivory out via Cameroon or through to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania or Mombasa in Kenya.
There is a major Chinese role though. Poaching and bushmeat hunting has worsened as Chinese-run or funded construction projects have carved roads into rainforests near parks.
Gabon, despite huge oil wealth, puts little cash into poverty alleviation or anti-poaching, which is one reason poaching has continued. Read my book, Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa and Poaching. Wildlife Trafficking and Security in Africa: Myths and Realities, a joint publication from the independent think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and King’s College London’s Marjan Centre for the Study of War and the Non-Human Sphere, to get the full story, not the convenient fiction that suits corrupt governments and NGOs hungry for any publicity.
The British army has a small training team in Gabon, trying to teach the understaffed and underpaid rangers how to combat organised poaching, and no doubt it serves both the Gabonese and British governments well to present the role as one of protecting elephants and fighting terror.
But Gabon is distant from northern Nigeria and no reputable international wildlife organisations or ivory trade researchers have found any link between Boko Haram and the ivory trade.
Like the fictitious ‘Al Shabaab funding itself from ivory’ story, which was disproved by the authors of the RUSI and King’s publication, it is convenient for African and some Western governments to promote this joining of two evils, but the real problems of poverty, corruption and greed are driving poaching, not insurgency.
Professor Keith Somerville is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. He is also research associate at the Marjan Centre for the Study of War and the Non-Human Sphere at King’s College, London and a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. His latest publications are Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa and Africa’s Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent.