• September 5, 2012
  • From the Team
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Elephant poaching claims highlight need for better investigations into LRA (and UPDF) activity


Yesterday we posted a blog analyzing the New York Times piece on the increase of elephant poaching in central Africa, particularly allegations that both the LRA and the Ugandan military are involved in the illegal trade of elephant tusks. Today we discuss how these allegations relate to a larger challenge facing international policymakers: improving mechanisms to investigate where LRA groups are located and how they sustain themselves.

In order to develop effective counter- LRA strategies, policymakers need such basic information as where LRA groups are located and if they benefit from external support or trade to help sustain themselves. However, despite the UN Security Council’s approval of a joint UN/AU LRA strategy in June, little is being done to investigate substantial developments in LRA activity and movements. This extends beyond the lack of investigation into whether LRA groups are poaching for ivory. Substantial reports have circulated in the media and in diplomatic circles for months that senior LRA commanders, including Joseph Kony, are hiding in South Darfur, but US, UN, and AU officials have been unable to publicly confirm or deny the allegations.

The lack of clarity on the allegations of Kony being in Darfur– which the reports of the LRA’s involvement in the ivory trade could help corroborate – is increasingly making the current US and UN/AU counter-LRA strategies seem out of touch with reality. These strategies, though encompassing a broad range of civilian and military initiatives, rely heavily on the hopes that the Ugandan military can succeed in capturing or killing senior LRA commanders, including Kony. However, tension between Uganda and Sudan precludes Ugandan troop deployments in South Darfur, meaning that if Kony is in Darfur he will remain out of their reach.

However, because Kony’s alleged presence in Darfur is uncertain, attention remains focused on Ugandan military operations (which are currently limited mostly to CAR) and little diplomatic capital is spent engaging Sudan on how to ensure Kony is not given safe haven in its territory.

Last month we saw a small step forward in this regard when the UN Security Council – led by the US, the UK, and others – insisted on including language in UNAMID’s mandate encouraging it to collect information on LRA activity in Darfur, despite strong objections from Sudan and China. Though the language should make UNAMID more proactive in monitoring reported LRA activity in Darfur, in reality it has little capacity to do so. International diplomats have reportedly raised the issue with Sudanese officials, but not at a sufficiently high level: Sudanese officials have yet to agree to discuss the allegations with the lead UN and AU officials on the LRA, Special Representative for Central Africa Abou Moussa and AU Special Envoy on the LRA Francisco Madeira.

More senior US, UN, and AU officials should complement the efforts of Moussa and Madeira, and push Khartoum to allow a joint UN/AU team full access to South Darfur and the Kafia Kingi enclave to investigate reports of LRA activity there, including whether LRA groups are participating in the illegal ivory trade. UNAMID should participate, as should personnel from the AU’s new LRA Joint Operations Center in Yambio, South Sudan.

Similarly, more must be done to investigate allegations of the Ugandan military’s involvement in illegal elephant poaching. US advisers working with Ugandan forces can play a key investigative role, as can the UN-led Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) cell in Dungu, Congo. If these allegations are confirmed, any perpetrators must be held accountable and the Ugandan government should be required to provide some form of compensation to the park and the Congolese government. Further investigations are also needed to examine if this incident is part of a broader pattern of natural resource exploitation by the Ugandan government in LRA-affected areas (allegations that we’ve examined in previous reports). If so, the US should reevaluate its support to Ugandan forces pursuing the LRA and consider taking stronger measures to discourage such behavior.

About the Author

Paul Ronan
Paul Ronan

Paul Ronan is Project Director for The Resolve. @pauldronan