This op-ed by Enough Project Senior Policy Analyst Sasha Lezhnev and LRA Field Researcher Kasper Agger originally appeared on The Hill blog.
“We had our orders: kill the elephants, and give the tusks to our commanders to give to Kony. Those orders are still standing,” Robert, one of the most recent defectors from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, told us last week in Gulu, northern Uganda. Jacob, another LRA defector added, “We could eat the elephant meat, which was good, because it’s difficult for us to farm because we are moving all the time. But our orders were to give the elephant tusks to the commander, so they could hide them in a secret place. We didn’t know the purpose of the tusks.”
Over the past 26 years, the LRA has caused immense human suffering. They have abducted an estimated 66,000 boys, young men, and girls to be used as child soldiers, and at the height of the war, they displaced over two million people from their homes. An estimated 350,000 people remain displaced today.
Today, Kony is spreading his killing fields to elephants. In a bid to raise revenues from the lucrative, illicit regional ivory trade, Kony and his troops now target elephants, particularly those in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park, a U.N. World Heritage Site and one of the oldest, most diverse parks in Africa. Other armed groups have also benefited from elephant poaching, including the Somalia-based Islamist extremist group Al Shabaab, which has killed large numbers of Somalis and recently claimed responsibility for the killing of 72 people at Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in September.