Blood ivory funds election tensions?

by Oxpeckers reporters

Was blood money from ivory trafficking used to fuel tensions in the run-up to elections in Mozambique?

Municipal elections were held in late November 2013 and presidential, parliamentary and regional assembly elections will be held on October 15, 2014. Violent flare-ups between the ruling party Frelimo and the opposition, Renamo, in recent months, have led to fears that the civil war which ravaged Mozambique from 1975 to 1992 may be rekindled.

Conservationists in northern Mozambique, where an average of three to four elephants are being poached a day, have implicated local authorities in the killing spree. Rangers say the weapons used include helicopters and heavy-calibre guns normally used by military forces.

In Niassa National Reserve, where elephant numbers have dropped from more than 20,000 in 2009 to about 9,000 in the most recent count earlier this year, Frelimo has been accused of using the proceeds of ivory sales to fund its 10th anniversary congress in nearby Pemba, in September2012.

Rangers involved in anti-poaching patrols in Niassa, who did not want to be named for fear of losing their jobs, said they had noticed the use of heavy artillery and helicopters in poaching activities in the lead-up to the Frelimo conference.

The rangers said they had been excluded from an area near the party’s district headquarters in Mecula, near the Niassa reserve, where the carcasses of more than 50 elephants had been stacked. Their efforts to report the slaughter to police officials and border guards were fruitless.

A report on poaching in neighbouring Quirimbas National Park, in Cabo Delgado province, compiled by the Mozambican Tourism Ministry in late 2011 noted that poachers were using “sophisticated weapons” and helicopters.

A private tourism operator in the national park, Jabobs von Landsberg, said at least 89 elephants had been poached in his 35,000 ha concession area of the 750,000 ha national park in the past eighteen months. Before the poaching started taking off from 2009, elephant numbers in his tourism concession had steadily increased since the end of the civil war to about 150, he said.

António Frangoulis, a criminologist at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo and former Frelimo luminary, said he had received reports from various sources claming that local authorities were conniving in the poaching and that military weapons were being used.

“We are talking about weapons normally used by the police and military forces,” he said. “We are talking about the involvement of official authorities.” Frangoulis was a member of Parliament and head of the Mozambican police investigative division until he was sacked in 2009 for criticising Frelimo.

Alastair Nelson, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Mozambique, said the proceeds from ivory, which is smuggled via the nearby port of Pemba or across the border into Tanzania, were fuelling corruption in northern Mozambique. Many of the armed skirmishes between Frelimo and Renamo in recent months have occurred in the northern regions of the country.

“Ivory poaching and trafficking fuels petty corruption, especially in sensitive border areas,” Nelson said. “It’s a governance issue. Tackling the petty corruption will improve border security, export control, customs receipts, and help to release the local population from having to live with corruption.”

Renamo, which has pulled out of the elections and been on the run since the army attacked its military base in early July, has not been directly linked to ivory smuggling.

Frelimo party spokesperson Damiao Jose and presidential spokesperson Edson Macuacua said they were busy organising the municipal elections this week and were not available to discuss the poaching allegations. —