Sho Shibata, Blog Writer

How do militant groups – especially those who perpetrate genocide – gain the means to perform violent acts on a mass scale? This topic is undoubtedly very broad, crossing a range of disciplines; however, by examining the specific case study of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and its domestic struggle with the illegal ivory trade, one can garner some insight as to the intricacies of funding mass violence. Born Free USA – a national animal advocacy non profit – hosted a report titled Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa that builds upon findings that al-Shabaab funds its activity by poaching elephant tusk in Northern Kenya – widely considered as a transhipment hub for the ivory black market.

Unsurprisingly, criminal activity such as poaching persists in countries where the political infrastructure is weak or unstable. Holes in the system with regards to the rule of law, particularly in dense and isolated areas, enable these illegal activities to continue with little resistance; though, numerous other factors, like geographic expansiveness or human conflict, further compound the problem. For instance, between 1995 and 2006, armed non-state actors would use the remoteness of Garamba Park to distance themselves from the authority of state institutions. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an insurgent group originating from within Uganda, controls a large portion of the park. Other non-state actors involved in other areas include, M23, the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda) of Rwanda, and the ADF-NALU (Allied Democratic Forces). These groups are considered criminal enterprises since the market of their activities ranges from mining to logging to smuggling. Poaching is merely one avenue by which these groups fund their aims.

To provide a scope of how lucrative this market is, conservative estimates suggest that one elephant yields 10 kg worth of ivory, which amounts to approximately $30, 000. Around 5,000 elephants currently live within the DRC, a sharp decline from the 100,000 of fifty years ago. Unfortunately, Garamba is one of six major protected parks susceptible to “low-intensity armed violence,” and the proximity of militant groups to the parks presents ideal circumstances to take advantage of the potential profit in order to finance their activities.

The DRC borders numerous countries, namely the Central African Republic and South Sudan, where human rights abuses – symptomatic of genocide – pervade. Access to the world market requires the product to transfer hands through such countries, after which it is then distributed globally. These enterprises transcend national boundaries, aggravating pre-existing conflicts in their path. Their manoeuvrability propels this illegal market, interconnecting militant groups motivated by profit and violence. These networks are truly global in scope, similar issues are found in the Middle East where Islamic State militants employ similar tactics with their market in stolen antiquities. In considering preventative methodologies to genocide, the dialogue will benefit from analysing the sources of militant funding and stemming the flow of illegal trade in humans, animals and goods.

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