Launch Event: An Illusion of Complicity: Terrorism and the Illegal Ivory Trade in East Africa

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RUSI's new Occasional Paper, An Illusion of complicity: Terrorism and the Illegal Ivory Trade in East Africa examines three questions: whether – and how – the terrorist group Al-Shabaab has been involved in the East African ivory trade; whether the trade represents a significant funding source for the group; and how any Al-Shabaab involvement compares to that of other key actors and factors, in particular organised crime and corruption.

A nuanced examination of these questions is crucial given established powerful narratives regarding ivory-fuelled threat finance and the ‘crime-conflict-terror nexus’. The benefits several militant groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army have gained from ivory is now well-documented, but it is the alleged involvement of designated terrorist groups that has caused greatest concern.

This report contends that if Al-Shabaab has been involved, this has occurred in a far smaller-scale, opportunistic manner than originally feared. It argues equally that any involvement is dwarfed by the facilitating role played by organised criminal networks and corrupt officials across East Africa and any gains substantially overshadowed by more crucial funding sources like charcoal. A deeper understanding of these roles is vital to designing policies and strategies to tackle both the vast flows of ivory transiting the region and the most significant dimensions of Al-Shabaab’s financing portfolio.

The event will begin with RUSI’s new chairman The Rt Hon William Hague providing his own insights based on a longstanding personal interest in tackling the illegal wildlife trade. Author Tom Maguire will then present the main findings and recommendations, based on fieldwork interviews conducted in East Africa and beyond. The Environmental Investigation Agency’s Executive Director Mary Rice will provide further expert commentary. The panel will then welcome questions from the floor.

The report will be released on 22 September and hard copies will be available at the launch.

This report formed the central component of RUSI’s first John Garnett Fellowship. John Garnett (1936-2012) was the UK’s leading scholar in the field of Strategic Studies, working in academia, government and the think tank community. This fellowship is intended to continue John’s tremendous legacy of enriching individuals that went on to become the next generation of leaders of the discipline.

Refreshments will be served from 1030, with the launch from 1100-1200, followed by a buffet lunch.

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