Joseph Kony’s child army and the ivory trade that pays its bills

Once, the Lord’s Resistance Army preyed on elephants for food in the bush, but now it is ‘white gold’ they seek

Share
Related Topics

“We would kill animals big and small. We would just kill them. It did not matter what kind of animal. If we saw it, we killed it,” admits Florence Amito, a recently returned abductee, forced to join Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 1995.

For 20 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorised northern Uganda under the leadership of Joseph Kony, still the International Criminal Court’s most wanted man. Maimed limbs, children married off and raped, torture and massive killings are the cruel legacy of that war.

As his soldiers – many of them children – stalked the Ugandan bush, elephants, hippos and lions were an important source of food and medicine, Ms Amito says. The 29-year-old was abducted by the LRA aged 11, but managed to escape. She was married off at 13 to an old man and was punished for complaining about sex with him being painful. She moved with the LRA from northern Uganda to Sudan and was forced to participate in the killings of both people and animals.

But times have changed since then. The tonnes of meat on an African elephant are as nothing in value compared to the ‘white gold’ of its tusks.

A 2013 USAID report shows that Kony ordered his fighters to bring them to him.

“We do not know where they took the tusks. We heard that there are people who come and take them for money,” admitted another defector, under the condition of anonymity, who says she took part in poaching.

The guns have all but fallen silent in northern Uganda, but Kony continues to destabilise Central African Republic (CAR) where he is believed to be hiding. Again, and more so than ever, the victim of the LRA’s wrath is elephants.

Rangers in the Garamba national park in CAR have had running battles with Kony rebels as they try to poach. The rangers say that when hunting ivory, the resource-poor LRA uses ammunition unsparingly – an indication that the tusks are very valuable to them. Eyewitnesses have seen helicopters arriving to collect ivory, but the nature of the deals is known only to the LRA’s commanders.

Critics compare the trade in ivory to Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds – with every group, including national armed forces, cashing in.

In 2012, a Ugandan army helicopter was reportedly seen collecting ivory in Garamba national park. Officers denied any involvement.

Defections, depleted resources and a mysterious malaise have led to reports that Kony is moving closer to surrender. But those who have worked with him warn that he is cunning. “He does not have the heart to stop,” says Ms Amito. “He told us he will fight even if he is the only one left.”

Rangers insist that the trade could only go ahead through the involvement of people at the highest political levels. The 2013 USAID report implicates the South Sudanese, Sudanese and Ugandan armed forces in the trade.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described wildlife crime as a serious threat to the security, stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries. Indeed, in CAR, both rebel groups and the army have found ways to make money out of chaos. Joseph Kony (in white), head of the LRA

Now, without intervention, Africa’s elephants are on a fast road to extinction. The UN estimates that Africa has already lost 50 to 90 per cent of her elephants. Most of the ivory is taken to China where there is huge demand for it.

“It is a highly organised racket,” says Julius Obwona, a warden in Uganda. For him, national laws remain weak, sometimes imposing lower fines than the value of the ivory. Poverty, corruption and instability create the perfect conditions for criminality.

But the biggest victims are the African people who live in a continent with enormous resources whose benefits they are yet to see and whose beauty is eroding fast.

To donate to the Independent's anti-poaching campaign now, go here

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Freeman, centre, with Lord Gladwyn, left, and Harold Wilson on the programme The Great Divide in 1963  

John Freeman was a man of note who chose to erase himself from history

Terence Blacker
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'