Poaching and Ivory trafficking fueling LRA crisis in Sudan and CAR

Kony cropped

WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: Fugitive Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony

Mineral and Ivory trafficking has been cited as one of the major factors fueling the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in Sudan and some parts of the Central African Republic (CAR). The rebel group is believed to be widely engaged in the illicit trade to sustain itself .

“Poaching ivory remains one of the group’s survival strategies in addition to looting small communities, trafficking illicit gold and diamonds with a network of collaborators”, reads the latest LRA Crisis Tracker report.

The authors of the scathing report say LRA leader Joseph Kony has been rewarding his commanders with promotions upon successful completion of poaching missions.

One of these commanders is Owila, who delivered 50 elephant tusks poached from Garamba National Park in the DR Congo to Kony last year.

The report says Ivory, gold and diamond are delivered to Joseph Kony’s group, which operates along the border of northeastern Central African Republic, Kafia Kingi and South Darfur in Sudan.

LRA then “sells or trades illicit materials to military interlocutors and traders,” Lisa Dougan, the Director of Civic Engagement at Invisible Children.

According to this report, Kony, who is wanted by both the Hague-based International Criminal Court and US is holed up in Kafia Kingi area around the disputed Darfur region in Sudan. Kony has a $5 million on his head.
Evidence available indicates there are elements within Sudan military circles that have interfaced and traded with the LRA.

“But we do not believe that this is because of a formal government sanctioning but we feel that the responsibility is still upon the government of Sudan to ensure that its space is not used by the LRA to give it a lifeline,” Patrick Munduga, the Regional Head of Office Invisible Children said upon release of the report.

The report calls on the Khartoum government to ensure its territory is not used or misused by the LRA as it conducts its illicit activities.
It also urges the international community to engage with Khartoum to ensure Kony has no safe haven.
Also found in the latest report is the fact that former Seleka soldiers in the CAR have engaged in the gold and diamonds trade. Defectors from the notorious rebel group have said this trade helps Kony and his fighters get food and other supplies.

Invisible Children singles out south Darfur and Kafia Kingi areas as some of the hotbeds of the LRA’s illegal trade.
The report entitled The State of the LRA in 2015 also indicates although counter LRA efforts continue to degrade the group’s command and control structure, and fighting capacity, LRA attacks and abductions rose by 10% and 32% respectively in 2014 compared to 2013.

Among the factors that have recently incapacitated LRA is the defection and capture of 13 Ugandan LRA combatants including the widely publicized Dominic Ongwen who is currently facing trial at the ICC.

These defections or losses on the battlefield notwithstanding, the report says LRA is still a threat to regional security as evidenced by “sporadic attacks tarageting the most remote and marginalized communities of CAR.”

The report also highlights that since 2012, Joseph Kony has lost at least a dozen senior commanders who either defected, were killed by the Uganda military and allies or were executed on Kony’s orders.

This has greatly impacted Kony’s ability to motivate and control remaining fighters. Subsequent to the losses, Kony promoted his loyalties and two oldest sons Ali and Salim to key roles in planning operations and managing LRA finances and logistics.

Aligac, Kony’s former bodyguard was promoted to help fill the position left when former commander Okot Odhiambo was allegedly killed in December 2013.

Highlights of the Report:
– 127 women and children quit LRA
– 13 Ugandan male fighters defected or were captured in 2014 allowing integration of non-Acholi abductees into the LRA’s junior officer ranks
– LRA now estimated to be 150 combatants
– Rise in LRA attacks and abductions in 2014 reverses consistent decline from 2011-2013
– Continued evidence that the LRA has engaged in illicit ivory, gold and diamond trafficking with a network of collaborators
– The defection of Dominic Ongwen, the only living ICC indicted LRA commander other than Joseph Kony, represents a significant deterioration of morale and loss of experienced leadership within LRA.
LRA Command structure Defections and Deaths:
-Ceasar Achellam-Defected in May 2012
-Otim Ferry- Died in October 2012
– Binany Okumu-Died January 2013
– Otto Agweng- Died March 2013
– Denis Obol- Died June 2013
– Thomas Okello “ Odano” Died in July 2013
-Samuel Kangul-Died in November 2013
Okello Okutti- Defected in December 2013
Okot Odhiambo-Died in December 2013
Sam Opio- Defected in June 2014
Dominic Ongwen – Defected in January 2015