ArticlePDF Available

Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders: Evidence from Uganda



In the last decade, there has been a major growth in the illegal ivory trade. Although this trade has been analysed from a variety of angles, one perspective is missing in the literature, namely the individual ivory trader. Based on in-depth research among illegal ivory traders in Uganda—which is a major transit point of ivory—this article aims to fill this gap. In doing so, and by linking their activities with the literature on the informal economy and the criminalization of the state, the article shows how various structural circumstances—such as war, globalization and the presence of foreign buyers—had a profound impact on the ways in which the illegal ivory trade was conducted. Initially, these circumstances created an increased market, both in supply and demand, which led many traders to engage in this trade. However, an increased crackdown on the illegal ivory trade has made the conditions much more difficult. By analysing how ivory traders navigate these structural circumstances, the article shows a gradual criminalization of the trade. In other words, the more ivory became criminalized, the more criminal linkages were needed to remain active in the trade, and the more significant power differences became.
Understanding the illegal ivory trade
and traders: evidence from Uganda
International Aairs 94:  () –; : ./ia/iiy
© The Author(s) . Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International
Aairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:
The illegal trade in raw ivory constitutes a global problem: largely fuelled by
increasing demand and consumption in east and south-east Asia, it has been
escalating rapidly since . Data based on confiscated illegal ivory show that,
particularly since , this trade has reached unprecedentedly high levels. Some
positive signs have become apparent in the last few years: while poaching increased
from  onwards, it reached a peak in , with subsequent years showing
reductions. Moreover, in  the highest number of seizures took place since
commercial trade in ivory was banned by the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in . That said, the
level of illegal ivory trade transactions remains as high as before.
Given this peak, the illegal ivory trade has received a lot of attention, from a
variety of perspectives. For example, policy reports and journalistic articles have
been blaming the upsurge on the link between ivory trade and terrorism, arguing
that a number of rebel and terrorist groups are fuelling the poaching of elephants
and the ivory trade because this is an activity through which they are able to
finance their activities. Yet this alleged link between terrorism and the ivory
trade has been widely criticized and debunked as a myth: a number of articles
T. Milliken, R. W. Burn, F. M. Underwood and L. Sangalakula, The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS)
and the illicit trade in ivory, report to the th meeting of the conference of the parties, CITES ( Johannesburg,
), pp. , ; Fiona M. Underwood, Robert W. Burn and Tom Milliken, ‘Dissecting the illegal ivory
trade: an analysis of ivory seizures data’, PLOS ONE,  Oct. , pp. –; Kristof Titeca, ‘Illegal ivory
trade as transnational organized crime? An empirical study into ivory traders in Uganda’, The British Journal of
Criminology,  April , pp. –.
T. Milliken, F. M. Underwood, R. W. Burn and L. Sangalakula, Addendum to the report on the Elephant Trade
Information System (ETIS), th meeting of the conference of the parties, Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species (CITES) (Johannesburg, ).
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), CITES, International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) and TRAFFIC, Elephants in the dust – the African elephant crisis (Nairobi, ), pp. , .
CITES, ‘African elephant poaching down, ivory seizures up and hit record high’, press release,  Oct. ,
high_. (Unless otherwise noted at point of citation, all URLs cited in this article were accessible on
 July .)
Save the Rhino, ‘Is elephant and rhino poaching funding terrorism?’,  Oct. , https://www.savether-; International Fund
for Animal Welfare, Criminal nature: the global security implications of illegal wildlife trade (Yarmouth Port, MA,
), pp. –; Carla Sterley, Elephants and rhinos fund terror networks: illegal poaching in sub-Saharan Africa
funds Islamic fundamentalism (Consultancy Africa Intelligence,  Sept. ),
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1077 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
have been published illustrating that the link has been overemphasized, and is
based on limited and dubious sources. Another body of work focuses on ivory
markets, looking at ivory on display in markets, hotels, workspaces and other
places. There is also a significant literature analysing databases of seized ivory—
particularly ETIS (the Elephant Trade Information System), a global database of
reported seizures of illegal ivory.
Largely missing from this literature, however, is a central figure in the illegal
ivory trade: the individual ivory trader. What role do ivory traders play within the
illegal ivory trade, and how do they organize their trade? These questions largely
remain unanswered; yet they need to be addressed if we are to fully comprehend
the illegal ivory trade. This knowledge gap is emphasized in a number of reports:
the UN Oce on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), for example, argues that ‘a major
research gap is the groups, routes and methodology used to move ivory within
Africa, between the poaching sites and the ports of exit’. Milliken argues for more
understanding of the structure of the ivory trade, while a range of other reports
specifically argue that traders should be targeted.
This article attempts to address this gap by analysing the activities of illegal
ivory traders. As we will see below, Uganda is a major transit point for ivory,
making it an excellent case-study for analysis of the activities of the traders who
are responsible for transporting, buying and selling the ivory. Specifically, the
article aims to analyse the ways in which illegal ivory traders navigate structural
circumstances, which may facilitate or hinder their activities.
The first of the following sections sets out an overview of the methodology
used for this research. The second presents an overview of the debates on the
informal economy and criminalization, showing that existing analyses of the
illegal ivory trade (and illegal wildlife trade in general) take place from a variety of
theoretical perspectives and disciplines, but have not engaged with the literature
on the informal economy—a point which is associated with the relative absence
of the ivory trade(rs) from these debates. The third section looks in detail at the
life histories of a number of ivory traders in Uganda and how they have organized
their ivory-trading activities. In doing so, the article will pay particular attention
to the way in which the traders’ activities have been influenced by the structural
Tom Maguire and Cathy Haenlein, An illusion of complicity: terrorism and the illegal ivory trade in east Africa, occa-
sional paper (London: Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, Sept. ); Natasha
White, ‘The “white gold of jihad”: violence, legitimisation and contestation in anti-poaching strategies’,
Journal of Political Ecology : , , pp. –; Keith Somerville, Ivory, power and poaching in Africa (London:
Hurst, ).
Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin, ‘Japanese demand for ivory declines’, Oryx : , , pp. –; Esmond
Martin and Lucy Vigne, ‘The importance of ivory in Philippine culture’, Pachyderm, no. , , pp. –.
Milliken et al., The Elephant Trade Information System; Milliken et al., Addendum to the report on the Elephant Trade
Information System; Underwood et al., ‘Dissecting the illegal ivory trade’.
UNODC, Transnational organized crime in Eastern Africa: a threat assessment (Vienna, ), p. ; for a simi-
lar argument, see also Ciara Aucoin, ‘Wildlife crime: why diverse data will drive better responses’, ISS
Africa,  September ,
 Tom Milliken, Illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn: an assessment report to improve law enforcement under the wildlife
TRAPS project (Cambridge: USAID, IUCN and TRAFFIC, ), p. ; see also Keith Somerville, ‘Target the
traders in ivory war’, Mail and Guardian,  Dec. .---target-the-traders-
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1078 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
circumstances in which they operate, and how the various traders navigate these
This article is mainly based on in-depth research among illegal ivory traders in
Uganda—and, to a lesser extent, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
with whom semi-structured interviews were conducted between  and .
By their nature, illegal trade activities are hard to detect. Even so, research
on illegal activities has a long tradition. On illegal trade specifically, Ellis and
MacGaey emphasize the importance of adopting a ‘bottom-up’ approach,
in which the activities of a small number of illegal traders are followed, with
a ‘view to extrapolating from their activities in order to draw conclusions of
wider application’. Crucial in conducting this research is establishing trust and
rapport with the concerned actors, and engaging with them over time and space,
in order to see their evolution in dierent geographical areas and at dierent
times. Ethnographic research is particularly suited to this endeavour, owing to its
lengthy immersion in local life and its close contact with the research subjects.
I accordingly based my work on this subject on long-term ethnographic research
with illegal cross-border traders in the Uganda–DRC border region. Initially as
part of my doctoral research, I have been engaging with these actors since .
Through engagement with them over this extended period of time, trust and
rapport were established and developed: as I kept coming back over the years, and
as the traders’ disclosure of information had no negative impact on their activities,
my reputation as a trustworthy and reliable actor was strengthened. Initial suspi-
cions that I had a hidden agenda (for example, that I was working for national or
international intelligence authorities) therefore disappeared. Moreover, the fact
that a European outsider showed interest in their activities became a source of
pride for a number of them. Through snowball sampling—a technique which is
particularly useful for approaching hard-to-reach subgroups—I was introduced
 Je Ferrell and Mark Hamm, Ethnography at the edge: crime, deviance, and field research (Boston: Northeastern
University Press, ).
 Stephen Ellis and Janet MacGaey, ‘Research on sub-Saharan Africa’s unrecorded international trade: some
methodological and conceptual problems’, African Studies Review : ,  pp. –.
 Ellis and MacGaey, ‘Research’.
 Kristof Titeca, ‘Les OPEC boys en Ouganda, trafiquants de pétrole et acteurs politiques’, Politique Africaine,
no. , , pp. –; Kristof Titeca, The changing cross-border trade dynamics between north-western Uganda,
north-eastern Congo and southern Sudan, working paper no.  (series ), Crisis States Research Centre (London:
London School of Economics, Jan. ); Kristof Titeca, ‘The “Masai” and miraa: public authority, vigilance
and criminality in a Ugandan border town’, The Journal of Modern African Studies : , , pp. –;
Kristof Titeca and Tom de Herdt, ‘Regulation, cross-border trade and practical norms in West Nile, north-
western Uganda’, Africa : , , pp. –; Kristof Titeca, ‘Tycoons and contraband: informal cross-
border trade in West Nile, north-western Uganda’, Journal of Eastern African Studies : , , pp. –;
Mareike Schomerus and Kristof Titeca, ‘Deals and dealings: inconclusive peace and treacherous trade along
the South Sudan–Uganda border’, Africa Spectrum : –, , pp. –; Kristof Titeca and Rachel Flynn,
‘“Hybrid Governance”, legitimacy, and (il)legality in the informal cross-border trade in Panyimur, northwest
Uganda’, African Studies Review : , , pp. –.
 Georgia Robins Sadler, Hau-Chen Lee, Rod Seung-Hwam Lin and Judith Fullerton, ‘Recruitment of hard-
to-reach population subgroups via adaptations of the snowball sampling strategy’, Nursing and Health Sciences
: , , pp. –.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1079 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
to various traders in dierent locations (both along the Uganda–DRC border and
in the Ugandan capital Kampala). Engaging with these traders across both space
and time not only increased trust and rapport, it also allowed me to cross-check the
interview data across extended periods of time and in dierent places. The danger
of snowball sampling, particularly on sensitive and dicult-to-access subjects such
as illegal trade, is the risk of confinement to a particular narrow network, whose
members share more or less the same socio-economic characteristics and vision.
Again, the longevity of my research engagement with the subject and the region
helped to mitigate this possibility: for example, while at certain moments my
‘pool’ of informants remained rather limited, the return of old informants or
chance encounters, and introductions to new informants, helped to broaden my
exposure to dierent networks and visions. Research in the capital Kampala, away
from my core research area on the border, was particularly helpful in this respect.
Importantly, my research among these actors was always inductive in nature:
that is, research topics were strongly influenced by my informants’ activities, rather
than by predetermined research agendas on my side. Specifically, my interest in
ivory trade largely came from my informants’ engagement in this trade: initially,
my research paid no attention to the illegal ivory trade, focusing on it only when
it became increasingly prominent in my informants’ trading activities. As I will
show below, ivory became an increasingly important commodity in the Uganda–
DRC borderlands, and in the traders’ activities. Upon realizing this, I started
focusing more specifically on this commodity, and started actively looking for
other ivory traders. Snowball sampling again helped me to access dierent traders,
the main diculty being in gaining access to the best-connected traders. As I will
describe below, connections with politico-military elites play a central role in this
trade, and the best-connected traders proved the hardest to approach.
Between  and , I conducted  interviews with eleven dierent illegal
ivory traders in two specific locations, both of which are key nodes in this trade:
the Ugandan–DRC borderlands (more specifically the border towns Arua in
Uganda and Aru in the DRC) and the Ugandan capital Kampala. In this article,
their identities have been anonymized: I use not their real names, but pseudonyms.
I also conducted interviews with law-enforcement ocials, journalists, repre-
sentatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and analysts working
on this issue. My introductions to these individuals were also related to my
research history: as an area specialist, I have been studying Ugandan politics for
an extended period, over which I have developed long-term relations with a
 Sadler et al., ‘Recruitment’.
 For example, immediately after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Sudan, many of my
original informants moved to Sudan, and as a result I could no longer follow them. Most of them came back
after a few years.
 Tom Goodfellow and Kristof Titeca, ‘Presidential intervention and the changing “politics of survival” in
Kampala’s informal economy’, Cities : , Aug. , pp. –; Kristof Titeca, ‘The commercialisation of
Uganda’s  election in the urban informal economy’, in Sandrine Perrot, Sabiti Makara, Jerome Lafargue
and Marie-Aude Fouéré, eds, Elections in a hybrid regime: revisiting the 2011 Ugandan polls (Kampala, Uganda:
Fountain Publishers, ), pp. –.
 Anna Reuss and Kristof Titeca, ‘When revolutionaries grow old: the Museveni babies and the slow death of
the liberation’, Third World Quarterly : , , pp. –.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1080 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
number of analysts, journalists and other actors, who in turn have introduced me
to other relevant actors. Here again, I took care to ensure I was exposed to a range
of actors of suciently diverse backgrounds, conducting  interviews with 
dierent actors.
Based on the above interviews, this article takes as a central unit of analysis the
career paths of the illegal ivory traders: how did they become involved in the ivory
trade, how do they structure their trade, and what diculties did they encounter?
Following them up for several years allowed me both to follow up their activities
in real time, and also, through repeated interviews, to gain insight in how their
careers evolved. At the time of writing (–), this is the first study primarily
based on empirical research with illegal ivory traders.
The informal economy and gradations of criminalization
This article argues for the need to embed debates on the illegal ivory trade within
the academic debates on the informal economy. As I will show, this literature
allows us to better analyse power dynamics within the illegal ivory trade by looking
more closely at the central actors in this economy, that is, the traders themselves.
This perspective, which has hitherto been missing from the existing literature on
the ivory trade (and indeed from illegal wildlife trade in general), allows for more
nuanced thinking on the traders’ position within this illegal trade. More specifi-
cally, a central concern of this article is understanding the ability of actors to
navigate structural circumstances within a criminalized informal economy—an
issue which will be explored in this section.
The informal economy
Much has been written about actors who evade the state regulatory framework,
that is, who operate within the informal economy. An important premise of
this literature—and a point that is pertinent for this article—is that the informal
economy is not a homogeneous entity: informal economies are not monopolized
by one specific group (whether they are working poor or criminalized elites). On
the contrary, they contain a variety of actors commanding dierent resources,
contacts and skills. This great diversity of ‘actors, positions, agendas and
identities’ gives rise to a ‘highly dierentiated nature of informal economies’. A
key point is that dierent actors occupy dierent positions, and ‘actors with advan-
tageous positions in the informal economy may organize to maintain and further
those positions’. Informal economies are ‘traversed by multiple axes of power,
 Kate Meagher, ‘A back door to globalisation? Structural adjustment, globalisation and transborder trade in
west Africa’, Review of African Political Economy : , , pp. –.
 Asef Bayat, ‘Globalization and the politics of the informals in the global South’, in Ananya Roy and Nezar
AlSayyad, eds, Urban informality: transnational perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia
(Lanham, MD, and Boulder, CO: Lexington Books, ); K. T. Hansen and M. Vaa, eds, Reconsidering infor-
mality: perspectives from urban Africa (Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute, ); Ilda Lindell, ‘The multiple sites of
urban governance’, Urban Studies : , , pp. –; Ilda Lindell, ‘Introduction,’ in Ilda Lindell, ed.,
Africa’s informal workers (London: Zed, ), p. .
 Ilda Lindell, ‘Informality and collective organising’, Third World Quarterly : , , p. .
 Lindell, ‘Introduction’, p. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1081 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
along lines of income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. which interact
with each other to produce particular patterns of advantage and disadvantage’.
In other words, attention to power relations within the informal economy is of
critical importance.
Positions of power and hierarchies within the informal economy are not
permanent or fixed: they ‘must be actively maintained, but may also be contested
and put to the test by wider societal processes. As a result, positions of power
are often contested and redrawn: the point has been highlighted that informal
activities do not develop in a vacuum, but are shaped by a variety of forces, which
influence or reshape positions of power. This can happen in various ways. Scheld
describes how the arrival of Chinese entrepreneurs in Dakar led to competition
with local traders, exacerbating a number of conflicts and divisions and leading
to a reconfiguring of power alliances. Other work has shown how communal
security arrangements in Nigerias informal economy were hijacked by oppor-
tunistic powerful politicians, transforming informal security initiatives into
violent pawns in a brutal political struggle. In other words, informal economies
are not stable, but constantly in flux, and they involve actors with a variety of
positions of power. As the Nigerian example shows, informal economies can also
be criminalized—which brings us to the next point.
The criminalization of the informal economy
The informal economy can also be a site of criminal activities, whereby illegal
goods such as drugs, weapons or illegal wildlife bypass governmental regula-
tions. How do the dynamics identified above play out for criminal economies?
Specifically, how do various power dynamics within criminal economies manifest
themselves, and how are they changed? In addressing these questions here, partic-
ular attention will be paid to how actors within the criminal economy are able to
navigate the structural circumstances in which they operate.
First, the state plays a central and ambiguous role in the criminalization of the
economy, and has a profound impact on the power of actors to navigate it.
On the one hand, through rigid state sanctions and regulations, particular
activities and commodities are criminalized, and the conditions for illegality
are created. Bayart and colleagues define criminal activity as ‘those political,
social and economic practices which are the object of a “primary criminaliza-
tion” either by the laws and other texts of the states … in international law, or
according to international organizations or acknowledged guardians of interna-
tional morality’. As examples they give trades in humans and drugs, piracy and
banditry, and also trade in ivory and endangered species of wild animals. In the
 Lindell, ‘Informality and collective organising’, p. .
 Lindell, ‘Introduction’, p. .
 Suzanne Scheld, ‘The “China challenge”’, in Lindell, ed., Africa’s informal workers, pp. –.
 Kate Meagher, ‘Hijacking civil society: the inside story of the Bakassi Boys vigilante group of south-eastern
Nigeria’, Journal of Modern African Studies : , , pp. –.
 Jean-François Bayart, Stephen Ellis and Béatrice Hibou, The criminalization of the state in Africa (Oxford: James
Currey, ), p. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1082 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
words of Andreas, ‘through its monopoly on the power to criminalize certain
economic sectors, the state defines the boundaries of illegal market activities’. In
so doing the state is able to criminalize a market by building up ‘barriers against
“undesirable” cross-border economic exchange.
On the other hand, the creation of barriers also eectively gives state actors the
power to sideline the rules the state has created: work on the ‘criminalization of
the state’ and the ‘instrumentalization of disorder’ shows the central role played
by state elites in criminal activities. Instead of the formal regulatory framework
governing (and interdicting illegal activity within) the economy, informal
networks, governed by ‘big men, profit from participating in this economy.
Janet Roitman refers to ‘an amalgam of personalities associated with the state
bureaucracy, the merchant elite, the military, and nonstate militia groups’, together
forming a ‘military–commercial nexus’ which ‘control[s] access to possibilities for
accumulation’. The state is not a unitary actor in this process: whereas one section
of the state might have an interest in declaring a particular commodity or sector
illegal, other actors may want to profit from this.
It is not only at the national level that the interdiction of particular activities
creates opportunities; the same holds at the international level. It has been shown
that international economic sanctions and arms embargoes can contribute to the
criminalization of the state and the economy by creating economic opportunity
structures for criminal actors at various levels. For example, Milosevic’s hold
on power in Yugoslavia, and the criminalization of the country’s (war) economy,
were entrenched, rather than eroded, by sanctions, which led to ‘monopolistic
control of trade in oil and other strategic goods subject to sanctions, the selec-
tive granting by the regime of lucrative licenses for exports/imports and foreign
exchange dealings, and dramatic growth in corruption and the criminalization
of the state’. In some cases, the distinction between state and organized crime
evaporates—an example being Montenegro, where ocials at the highest level
(including the prime minister and chiefs of police) were involved in cigarette
smuggling. In other words, the criminalization of particular commodities opens
up opportunities for criminal actors to profit thereby.
Second, the state, and its various enforcement measures, are not the only
structural factor influencing the level of criminalization in the economy. This
is also the case for the presence of wars, which have a particularly strong impact
 Peter Andreas, ‘Illicit international political economy: the clandestine side of globalization’, Review of Inter-
national Political Economy: , , p. .
 Andreas, ‘Illicit international political economy’, p. .
 Bayart et al., The criminalization of the state; Patrick Chabal and Jean-Piere Daloz, Africa works: disorder as a political
instrument (London: James Currey, ).
 Bayart et al., The criminalization of the state; Chabal and Daloz, Africa works.
 Janet Roitman, Fiscal disobedience (Princeton: Princeton University Press, ), p. .
 R. T. Naylor, Patriots and profiteers: on economic warfare, embargo busting, and state sponsored crime (Toronto: McLel-
land & Stewart, ), cited in Peter Andreas, ‘The clandestine political economy of war and peace in Bosnia’,
International Studies Quarterly : , , p. .
 Mats Berdal, ‘How “new” are “new wars”? Global economic change and the study of civil war’, Global Gover-
nance : , , p. .
 Peter Andreas, ‘Criminalized legacies of war: the clandestine political economy of the western Balkans’,
Problems of Post-Communism : , , p. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1083 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
on the criminalization of economies, a point that was strongly emphasized in the
literature on war economies in the s. The ‘greed–grievance’ debate, which
dominated the debate on the economic causes of war, was particularly influ-
ential in this respect. In David Keen’s words, war had become ‘the pursuit of
economics by other means’, and therefore a strongly criminalized enterprise.
While this argument has been criticized for overemphasizing the ‘greed’ aspect
of war, and also for overemphasizing the violent nature of cross-border trade,
the economic aspects of war should still be considered important: a wide range
of work has shown how the presence of war, violence and military actors has led
to the criminalization of the economy. For example, it has been shown how the
war in the western Balkans led to the criminalization of existing trade routes and
political connections during the armed conflicts, leading to a ‘nouveau riche
criminalized elite’. It has also been shown that in the eastern DRC the artisanal
mining of tantalum ore underwent a ‘radical mutation of livelihood strategies.
Mineral exploitation, formerly seen as an activity of a survival economy, came
to be seen as a criminal activity, largely fuelled by the war in eastern Congo and
in particular the involvement of Rwandans. In other words, here too a shift
of power materializes, this time created by wars, which involve ‘violent modes
of accumulation’, and place actors with military connections in a much more
central position.
Third, globalization has played an important role in fuelling criminalization.
In particular, as Marchal and Messiant have argued, ‘processes of informaliza-
tion and privatization of the international economy’—or globalization in its
neo-liberal form—have been conducive to this criminalization of economies.
De Zeeuw and Frerks summarize the point as follows:
Globalization has opened up new opportunities for individual nonstate actors within weak
states to link to global trading networks and potential partners without state interference.
Improved communication technology, fast capital movements and increased deregulation
 Paul Collier and Anke Hoeer, Greed and grievance in civil war, policy research working paper no.  (Wash-
ington DC: World Bank, ); Mats Berdal and David M. Malone, eds, Greed and grievance: economic agendas
in civil wars (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, ).
 David Keen, The economic functions of civil wars, Adelphi Paper no.  (London: International Institute for
Strategic Studies, ).
 Christopher Cramer, ‘Homo economicus goes to war: methodological individualism, rational choice and the
political economy of war’, World Development : , , pp. –; David Keen, ‘Greed and grievance in
civil war’, International Aairs : , July , pp. –.
 Roland Marchal and Christine Messiant, ‘Les guerres civiles à l’ère de la globalisation’, Critique Internationale :
, , p. ; Kate Meagher, ‘Smuggling ideologies: from criminalization to hybrid governance in African
clandestine economies’, African Aairs : , , pp. –.
 Andreas, ‘Criminalized legacies of war’; and ‘Illicit international political economy’.
 Andreas, ‘Criminalized legacies of war’, p. .
 Stephen Jackson, ‘Making a killing: criminality and coping in the Kivu War economy’, Review of African Politi-
cal Economy : –, , p. .
 Jackson, ‘Making a killing.
 Roitman, Fiscal disobedience.
 Berdal, ‘How “new” are “new wars”?’, pp. –.
 Marchal and Messiant, ‘Les guerres civiles’, p. .
 Mark Dueld, ‘Globalization, transborder trade, and war economies’, in Berdal and Malone, eds, Greed and
grievance, pp. –.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1084 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
in Western economies have created the necessary preconditions for coalitions between local
warlords, private business, intermediary agents and emerging private security companies
to capitalise upon the lack of state control on resource extraction.
In this context, actors who are able to tap into global networks have a competitive
advantage over more local actors. These include ‘international criminal networks
engaged in the smuggling of valuable resources, tracking of arms and drugs, and
money laundering’; or, in Dueld’s words, ‘political actors [who] have been
able to control local economies and realize their worth through the ability to forge
new and flexible relations with liberalized global markets’. Other actors are not
able to tap into these networks, operate on a more local scale, and are often pushed
out of the illegal trade by these more criminal actors.
In sum, this discussion has shown that criminalization is not a typological charac-
teristic—goods are criminal or they are not—but that, on the contrary, there are
dierent gradations of criminality. The criminalization of the economy happens
by degrees: the state can reassert control over the economy in response to illicit
market forces ‘in the form of intensive, expansive, and technologically innovative
international policing and surveillance eorts. For example, a state can declare
a good illegal; but it is only when it starts enforcing that declaration that the good
becomes de facto criminalized—and such enforcement can be implemented to
various degrees. Other structural factors include the presence of war and global
networks, which allow for various degrees of violence, and various degrees of
connections into global networks. Importantly, all these structural circumstances
(whether the criminalization of particular goods, or the outbreak of war) involve
a shift of power towards those who are better able to respond to these changing
structural circumstances, and better connected in the world of clandestine transac-
tions. In concrete terms, this means a shift towards better connections with state
ocials, military ocials or actors tapped into global networks. These connec-
tions can range from a few rogue security ocials involved in the smuggling of
goods to the full criminalization of the state, as illustrated above.
In the following sections, I will apply these ideas to the illegal ivory trade in
Uganda. What impacts have various structural circumstances had on the activities
of illegal ivory traders, what power shifts have taken place, and what does this tell
us about degrees of criminalization?
 Jeroen de Zeeuw and Georg Frerks, Proceedings of a seminar on the political economy of internal conflict,  Nov. 
(The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, Dec. ), p. , cited in Berdal,
‘How “new” are “new wars?”’, p. .
 Karen Ballentine and Heiko Nitzschke, Beyond greed and grievance: policy lessons from studies in the political economy
of armed conflict, International Peace Academy policy report (New York, Oct. ), p. .
 Dueld, ‘Globalization’, p. .
 I thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this point.
 Andreas, ‘Illicit international political economy’, p. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1085 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
Uganda’s illegal ivory traders
CITES calls Uganda a country of ‘primary concern’ in the illicit ivory trade, listing
it as one of the ten countries worldwide ‘linked to the greatest illegal ivory trade
flows since ’. How did Uganda come to be this major transit point—and,
more particularly, how is illegal ivory transported through the country?
An expanding market for illegal ivory
According to CITES, Uganda serves as ‘an important entrepôt/export centre in
East Africa with clear links to central African ivory trade flows. In , CITES
noted that Uganda was ‘highly implicated in illicit ivory trade movements’. Why
is this the case? Uganda is neighbour to several countries with important elephant
populations and alarming levels of poaching—especially in central Africa, a
region shown by research to have both the consistently highest levels of poaching
in Africa and a dramatic decline in the elephant population. Not much ivory
leaves the continent directly from central Africa, however; most of it is taken out
through eastern Africa. Uganda is playing an important transit role in this trade,
located as it is near the major exit points for illegally traded ivory, Kenya and
Tanzania, with their Indian Ocean seaports oering direct connections to Asian
markets. While some of the ivory leaving from these ports comes from Kenya
and Tanzania, a substantial part comes from central Africa, in which case it passes
through Uganda. Reports estimate that between  and  an estimated 
tonnes of ivory were tracked through Uganda, mainly to Asia.
Not only has the ivory supply been growing in the last decade; the demand
for ivory has also risen. All the Ugandan ivory traders I interviewed mentioned
the second half of the s, and particularly the period around –, as a
crucial time for the ivory trade: this was, indeed, the moment when many Ugandan
traders began to deal in ivory. Increasing interest in ivory played an important role
in this development: around that time, there was an increased presence in Uganda
of west African and Chinese actors with a clear interest in ivory.
The traders I interviewed mentioned an increased presence of, and interest
from, Chinese traders from around . One recollected:
 Milliken et al., The Elephant Trade Information System, p. .
 Milliken et al., The Elephant Trade Information System, p. ; J. Blanc, R. Barnes, G. C. Craig, H. T. Dublin, C.
R. Thouless, I. Douglas-Hamilton and J. A. Hart, African elephant status report 2007: an update from the African
Elephant Database, occasional paper no.  (Gland: IUCN Species Survival Commission, ), p. .
 Milliken et al., The Elephant Trade Information System, pp. –.
 Status of elephant populations, levels of illegal killing and the trade in ivory, SC Doc. . (Geneva: CITES Standing
Committee, ), p. .
 Fiona Maisels, Samantha Strindberg, Stephen Blake, George Wittemyer and John Hart, ‘Devastating decline
of forest elephants in central Africa’, PLOS ONE : , ; S. K. Wasser, L. Brown, C. Mailand, S. Mondol,
W. Clark, C. Laurie and B. S. Weir, ‘Genetic assignment of large seizures of elephant ivory reveals Africa’s
major poaching’, Science : , , pp. –.
Siv Rebekka Runhovde, ‘Merely a transit country? Examining the role of Uganda in the transnational illegal ivory
trade’, Trends in Organized Crime,  Jan. ,.%Fs- --.
 UNEP et al., ‘Elephants in the dust’, p. .
 ‘Uganda gets kits to combat wildlife crime’, Independent (Uganda),  Jan. ; Chris Kiwawula, ‘US trains
Ugandans in combating wildlife tracking, New Vision,  Jan. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1086 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
In , the Chinese started coming in. It was because China had their policy of opening
up to the outside world. They came in as agents for factories. I knew some of these Chinese
businessmen, they always had a cover to be here for something else. There was this one
I was working with … His cover was that he was dealing in fish … He was exporting it
[ivory] in cargo.
Other traders told similar stories. Overall, these are in line with the increased
presence of Chinese actors in Uganda (and Africa in general) between  and
, after China initiated its ‘Go Out’ policy in : both private- and state-
owned companies were present in Uganda, active in a variety of sectors, including
wholesale, construction and manufacturing.
Traders also mentioned the increased involvement of west Africans (particu-
larly from Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire) in the ivory business. West African traders
have historically been active in illegal trading in Uganda, particularly in the
drug trade, but since – a shift has been observed towards the inclusion
of ivory in their portfolio. Other nationalities (such as Vietnamese, Turks and
Russians) were also mentioned as ivory buyers—albeit on a far smaller scale than
the Chinese and west Africans—and again, these groups started showing up in
Uganda in the mid-s.
All these elements together point at a rapidly growing ivory market in Uganda
as the result of Asia’s growing interest in ivory: from around this period, increasing
demand and consumption in east and south-east Asia, particularly in China and
Thailand, has fuelled the illegal trade in raw ivory. In other words, the growing
demand in Asia was translated into an expanding market in Uganda, particularly
through the increased presence of interested buyers.
The presence of these foreign traders is also related to a Uganda-specific factor:
the country imposes only very light punishments for ivory smugglers. Its 
Wildlife Act has a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment for trading
in ivory, and a fine of US$,. More importantly, even these sentences are
never handed down in full. According to one security ocials working on illegal
The sentences are absolutely minimal: you only get one or two years’ imprisonment or
you pay a two million UGX fine, and you are not jailed. So this is absolutely peanuts! You
bring in so many tonnes of ivory, and then you only have to pay this very small fine! You
only have to pay something like three million UGX. Peanuts! So there is very little deter-
ring eect in these circumstances.
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Dec. .
 Ward Warmerdam and Meine Pieter van Dijk, ‘China–Uganda and the question of mutual benefits’, South
African Journal of International Aairs : , , pp. –; Somerville, Ivory, power and poaching, pp. –.
 Kate Meagher, ‘The hidden economy: informal and parallel trade in north western Uganda’, Review of African
Political Economy : , , pp. –.
 Underwood et al., ‘Dissecting the illegal ivory trade’, p. ; Varun Vira, Thomas Ewing and Jackson Miller, Out
of Africa: mapping the global trade in illicit elephant ivory (Washington DC: Center for Advanced Defense Studies,
Aug. ).
 Ten million Ugandan shillings (UGX): Sec.  of the  Wildlife Act.
 Author’s interview with police ocer, Kampala,  Jan. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1087 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
Moreover, prosecution for ivory possession and trade remains problematic. There
have been various cases of state ocials actively engaging in the trade which were
not prosecuted (particularly involving high-level ocials), cases stalled in court
and reported harassment of judges over wildlife cases. Many traders voice similar
views, claiming that it is ‘very easy to bribe yourself out here … the punishment
is very low: one million or a bit of time in prison, and it’s very easy to get out’.
This leniency distinguishes Uganda from neighbouring countries, where prose-
cution has been more eective and sentencing more severe. For example, Tanzania
has given prison sentences of twelve,  and  years for wildlife smuggling. In
the last of these cases, two Chinese men, having been found with  elephant
tusks, received a prison sentence after failing to pay a fine of US$ million. In
Kenya, equally severe sentences were given for the possession of ivory. For
example, in January  a Chinese ivory smuggler was sentenced to a fine of
US$, or seven years in prison for possessing a tusk weighing . kg. In
another case, an ivory smuggler was sentenced to  years in prison. In conse-
quence of these prosecutions, Uganda, where these kinds of sentences have never
occurred, came to be seen as a safe haven for traders in illegal wildlife. According
to a Ugandan wildlife ocer: ‘Many of the smugglers have shifted from Kenya to
Uganda. For example, Guineans had shifted from Nairobi to here. When Kenya
became strict in their laws: very many did settle here!’
In other words, a structural context of an expanding market and weak punish-
ments oers (at least in theory) an ideal context for smuggling ivory. How does
this smuggling work in practice? This is the topic of the next section.
Smuggling ivory: the ‘infrastructure rather than the commodity’
Although punishments are weak in Uganda, the ivory trade remains illegal, and
traders try to avoid confiscation as much as possible. In practice, ivory still has
to pass through a variety of settings where law enforcement actors are present:
customs and security ocials at points of entry into and exit from the country,
security ocials at roadblocks, and various state ocials at points where the ivory
is packaged and repackaged—buses, containers and so on. In order to successfully
 L. Cakaj and S. Lezhnev, Deadly profit: illegal wildlife tracking through Uganda and South Sudan (Washington DC:
The Enough Project, ), pp. , .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Jan. .
 See, respectively: Agence France-Presse, ‘Notorious Tanzanian ivory tracker jailed for  years’,  March
,//notorious-tanzanian-ivory-tracker-jailed--years/; Reuters,
‘Tan zania court jails four Chinese men for rhino horn smuggling’,  Dec. ,
BNUNG; Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala, ‘Tanzania court jails two Chinese men for ivory smuggling:
media’, Reuters,  March ,
 Vidhi Doshi, ‘Nairobi gets tough on ivory smugglers’, Independent,  Jan. , http://www.independent..html.
 World Wildlife Fund, ‘Kenya finally gets a new wildlife law’,  Feb. ,
 Joseph Akwiri, ‘Kenyan court jails ivory smuggler for  years’, Reuters,  July , https://www.reuters.
 Author’s interview with wildlife ocer, Kampala,  Jan. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1088 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
smuggle ivory, therefore, a trader needs a variety of contacts among law enforce-
ment ocials, custom agents, transporters and other relevant individuals.
Uganda’s context can be considered favourable for this activity, as the country has
a long history of corruption. Bureaucratic forms of corruption are widespread,
including ‘practices of bribery, nepotism, and misuse of ocial positions and
resources’. This environment has an impact on cross-border trade and the possi-
bilities for smuggling: there are significant illegal trade flows, whereby traders
do not pay tax, but instead rely on hiding their transactions or bribing customs
ocials. For a number of years, the Bank of Uganda and the Uganda Bureau of
Statistics had placed surveyors on border points, who developed relations with
traders to measure the unregistered trade. These figures give an idea of the scale
of illegal trading: for example, in , illegal exports out of Uganda were worth
US$. billion, while formal exports were worth US$. billion. Moreover,
these figures underestimate the total value of illegal trade, as they do not include
transactions that bypass formal border crossings altogether.
This context is favourable for the illegal ivory trade. Research with ivory traders
shows that for all of them, personal relationships with government ocials are at
the heart of the trade: it is these relationships which allow ivory to be imported and
exported, provide protection on internal transport, and so on. Most ivory traders
smuggle a variety of commodities: some also trade in highly illegal goods such as
drugs or minerals (gold); others deal in more mundane goods such as cigarettes or
fuel. The reason for this is straightforward: it is the (social) infrastructure, rather
than the commodity itself, which guides the ivory trade. In other words, the
traders have the contacts that allow them to operate in this illegal market: both
the contacts that enable them to smuggle goods, and the contacts that give them
access to a variety of commodities, including ivory. The following example of
the ivory trader here called Steven illustrates this dynamic.
Case-study 1: Steven, the ‘Arua boy’, operating in the Uganda–DRC
border region
Steven is a trader based in the border town of Arua in the west Nile region of
Uganda, bordering on the DRC and South Sudan. The area has a long history
of illegal cross-border trade, resulting from a combination of taxation policies,
a history of refugee flows and similar ethnic groups either side of the borders.
Steven was engaged in the smuggling of goods from a young age, starting by
smuggling small quantities of fuel from the DRC into Uganda—fuel being
a popular commodity for smuggling in the area, and commonly traded by
smugglers with little capital. He soon expanded into other commodities,
 Godfrey Asiimwe, ‘Of extensive and elusive corruption in Uganda: neo-patronage, power, and narrow inter-
ests’, African Studies Review : , , pp. .
 U Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, ‘Uganda: overview of corruption and anti-corruption’, U expert
answer, , p. , http://www.u.no/publications/overview-of-corruption-in-uganda/.
 Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), The informal cross border trade survey report 2008 (Kampala: UBOS and Bank
of Uganda, ).
 Titeca, ‘Illegal ivory trade as transnational organized crime?’.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1089 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
including cigarettes, sugar and batteries, that are popular among most traders
in the west Nile region. Through this activity, he established good relations
with border ocials and security ocials, who would help him get his goods
over the frontier crossings. Over the years, he also established close contacts
across the borders in the DRC and South Sudan, with government ocials and
traders alike. In all this, Steven was not an exception: there were many traders
like him, and together they were nicknamed the ‘Arua boys’.
Throughout the s and s, ivory appeared in Arua from time to time,
but overall its appearance in these years was rather rare. From around –
onwards, however, large quantities of ivory were oered to the regions traders,
mainly from the DRC, and Steven—along with other Arua boys—started
trading in it. Ivory would be delivered in a variety of ways: one option was
delivery to the Congolese border town of Ariwara, from where Steven would
make sure bicycles or motorcycles transported the ivory into Uganda, to Arua.
Another option would be transport through border points. In Steven’s words:
‘I know all the border people. All the Congolese and also the Ugandans, they’re
my friends. If it’s necessary, I give them fifty or a hundred dollar.’ A lot of the
ivory was sold to traders coming to this border region: some of these buyers were
Stevens usual contacts, but there were also a lot of new buyers—according to
Steven, ‘Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Cote d’Ivoireans and many others’. These
traders in turn sell ivory in Kampala, or export the ivory out of the country.
The case of Steven shows how ivory was fed into historically established illegal
trading networks in the Ugandan–Congolese border region. Steven was not the
only trader involved in this development: many of his fellow ‘Arua boys’ followed
a similar trajectory. Among the traders I interviewed, this group formed a distinct
majority: seven of the eleven traders followed for this research project were part
of this group. Ivory is but one of the commodities in which these traders are
dealing and which are smuggled through their network of contacts with other
traders, customs ocials, security ocials and so on. Most of these contacts have
been established over a longer period of time than the ivory smuggling has been
going on.
The military and the ivory trade
One set of actors who kept appearing in the interviews with ivory traders were
individual soldiers: as a source of ivory and/or as a source of protection, facili-
tating the import and export of ivory. The presence of these soldiers in neigh-
bouring countries played an important role in the trade: in these areas, soldiers,
and the transport companies working for them, had easy access to ivory.
Before we discuss the traders’ perspectives, let us take a closer look at the Ugandan
Army. In the past, the Ugandan Army has used its presence in neighbouring
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Arua,  Nov. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Arua,  Nov. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1090 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
countries to illegally exploit natural resources. From  to , the Ugandan
army occupied parts of the DRC. A central feature of the soldiers’ presence was
the illegal exploitation of Congolese natural resources (such as minerals or timber),
which continued, through proxy groups, even after the Ugandan withdrawal. In
late , the army re-entered the DRC to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army
(LRA) rebel movement, and later went into the Central African Republic (CAR).
While there was no structural involvement of the army in exploiting natural
resources, reports suggest that individual Ugandan soldiers still had an interest
in these commodities, and in particular in ivory. For example, in March , 
elephants were shot from a helicopter in Garamba National Park—the area where
the Ugandan Army was tracking the LRA. Reports accused the Ugandan Army of
involvement in this episode. Moreover, a recent report asserts that army trucks
are smuggling a variety of goods, including timber and ivory, and that govern-
ment ocials are not allowed to check their trucks. In sum, the presence of the
Ugandan Army in neighbouring countries oered access to ivory. What impact
did this opportunity have on the ivory traders? Let us look at another case-study,
of the trader known as Andrew.
Case-study 2: the ‘hustler’ Andrew, who started his career through mili-
tary contacts
Andrew is a self-declared ‘hustler’—a middleman engaged in a variety of
trades. From early on, he has been on the lookout for various kinds of deals
which allow him to make money—largely in the illegal economy. Andrew
comes from western Uganda, and some of his relatives were involved in the
liberation struggle which brought the current president, Yoweri Museveni,
to power. Andrew was particularly close to a high-ranking army commander,
who has been a family friend since he was young. This proved to be crucial in
his introduction to the illegal business, which he started engaging with around
the time he went to university:
We used to chill at his [the commander’s] place when I was at university. We have a
drink, and in this way, I knew him; and he introduced me in the business. He was
a shrewd guy: he only knew the language of money. And he had the cover to make
things moving. Also the white people, whom we call “investors”, they all knew the big
guys. The mainly go to the big guys, they particularly go to the big guys, and they tell
the commander what they are looking for. At the same time, many Congolese came
here, and in this way business was created.
‘Hanging out’ with the commander exposed Andrew to a range of contacts
and business opportunities in the illegal sphere. This was in the late s, at
the time of the Congolese wars, when there was a flourishing trade in minerals.
 Kristof Titeca, ‘Access to resources and predictability in armed rebellion’, Afrika Spectrum : , , pp. –.
 Jerey Gettleman, ‘Elephants dying in epic frenzy as ivory fuels wars and profit’, New York Times,  Sept.
; Varun Vira and Thomas Ewing, Ivory’s curse: the militarization and professionalization of poaching in Africa
(Washington DC: Center for Advanced Defense Studies, April ), pp. –.
 Cakaj and Lezhnev, Deadly profit.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1091 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
He [the commander] told me where business was. He said: business is here; do x, y z …
So how he helped me: he would know of smuggling going on. He would be quick in
knowing what is going on; he would know that there is mineral, gold, diamond being
traded. Minerals were a lucrative business those days.
The commander (and his colleagues) were particularly important for smuggling
goods across the borders: a crucial element in this kind of trade is protection,
allowing illegal goods to enter the country. Working with these higher-level
actors gave Andrew not only protection, but also exposure to a wide range of
contacts, which in turn oered more business opportunities. In doing so, he
became involved in a variety of goods, such as minerals, drugs and (from time
to time) ivory. The commander died in the early s, but by then Andrew
had established a wide network of contacts, both among traders and among
military (and government) ocials. He increasingly started dealing in ivory,
which became a major activity for him from  onwards. He received his
ivory from a variety of sources: the Tanzanian wildlife authorities; the Ugandan
wildlife authorities; Burundian middlemen (who in turn received ivory from
Congolese rebel groups); and Sudanese traders. Importantly, there was a big
demand for ivory from foreign traders in Kampala. In his words: ‘I started
working with Chinese around , even a bit earlier. There was this dude
from Hong Kong I met in . The Chinese are largely interested in ivory;
and also the west Africans.’ A number of foreign traders, particularly west
Africans, who were dealing in drugs, also started trading in ivory: ‘Ivory and
heroin, it’s a small world. You meet in one place, and you meet in another area:
a number of the Nigerians shifted to ivory, and many more of them arrived.’
Andrew’s story illustrates in detail how he slowly grew into the ivory business.
Like Steven and the ‘Arua boys’, he has traded in a variety of goods, in which
ivory gradually took a dominant place. The introduction by a high-level military
commander proved to be crucial, both in the introduction to the trade and in the
actual smuggling of goods.
One other ivory trader with similar characteristics to Andrew was followed for
this research project. As argued above, the small number of this sample was largely
related to the nature of the traders’ connections: given their close connections to
military elites, this category of actors were particularly wary of speaking with
a researcher. Both of these individuals, however, are illustrative of a group of
traders, largely based in Kampala, which is operating on a regional scale.
The cases of Andrew and Steven also illustrate the power dierence between
dierent groups of traders. The scale of Andrew’s operations is decidedly larger
than those of Steven and the Arua boys, who mainly operate in the DRC–
Uganda border region, where they buy and sell ivory and other goods. Andrew is
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  March .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Jan. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  March .
 Both Andrew and the other trader agreed to speak with me on the basis of their close connection with one of
my key informants, with whom I have been working since .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1092 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
operating on a regional scale, as witnessed by the wide range of regional contacts
in providing ivory: he buys, transports and sells ivory and other goods over a far
larger territory, sourcing ivory from Burundi, Tanzania, South Sudan and so on.
This wider scale of operations is largely linked with the nature of protection:
the high-level military contacts (starting with the commander and continuing
with other actors) allow him to acquire ivory from a wide range of sources, as
these contacts allow him to smuggle goods through a range of border points.
In other words, Andrew has a variety of linkages—with military ocials and
other traders—facilitating his illegal trade activities. Depending on the struc-
tural circumstances, he is able to use these to trade in one commodity or another.
Thus, at the time of the Congolese wars, his primary trade was in minerals; later,
with the increased demand for ivory, he shifted to ivory. Andrew is therefore a
strong illustration of a criminalized economy: his activities are a direct result of
a ‘military–commercial’ nexus, which allows illegal trade to flourish, and illus-
trate the illegal trade activities of Ugandan military ocials. The activities of
Steven and his colleagues, by contrast, are illustrative of a survival economy which
shifted into more criminal activities: these trading networks in eect started in
response to state neglect—largely among refugee flows and camps across the
dierent borders—but they increasingly became more criminal as goods such as
minerals and ivory were fed into them, albeit with a more limited geographical
scope, and less powerful connections to rely on.
The military involvement in the ivory trade became particularly intensive
during Uganda’s mission to track down the LRA in neighbouring countries, as
illustrated by the next case-study.
Case-study 3: Ronny, dealing ivory provided by his army commander
Ronny is a trader renting out trucks and construction material, who largely
operates out of Kampala. He entered the ivory trade later than most other
actors, around . He received the ivory from his uncle, who was stationed
in the CAR as an ocer in the Ugandan forces pursuing the LRA. Soon, his
uncle started calling him to come and pick up ivory in the CAR, having also
arranged the buyers. In Ronny’s words:
At first I started engaging myself in the ivory trade through my uncle. He had a
muzungu [white] lady friend, who was buying the ivory. My uncle had told her that I
was the one making sure that ivory was going to be supplied to her …
Ronny was asked to travel to the army base in the CAR, where ivory was put in
an army vehicle: ‘They did put guards in the pickup, and that’s where they put
the ivory. The vehicle brought me back to Arua, and to Kampala. That kind
of army vehicles: they don’t check it. This was  kilograms of ivory, which I
 Roitman, Fiscal disobedience.
 Koen Vlassenroot, Sandrine Perrot and Jeroen Cuvelier, ‘Doing business out of war: an analysis of the UPDF’s
[Uganda People’s Defence Force] presences in the DRC’, Journal of Eastern African Studies : , , pp. –.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1093 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
gave to the muzungu lady … My uncle said: with these things, you can make a
lot of money, you have to engage yourself more in this. Since then I have been
working with my uncle.
After this, Ronny started making similar trips more regularly. The advan-
tage of dealing with his uncle was the security he was able to provide, particu-
larly the transport in army trucks, which allowed him to transport the ivory
easily to Kampala:
My uncle organizes these things in CAR. He is the one calling me and telling me how
many kilograms are available, and what they want instead: sometimes it is not only
money. For example, one time I arrived with tealeaves… . To transport it from CAR,
I use an army truck. It’s because of my uncle that I can transport many kilos. I make an
arrangement with him, and I make sure there’s fuel in the truck. The advantage of an
army truck is that they dont check what’s in there.
Further advantages were the availability and cheap price of the ivory:
The commander took me to a person selling ivory, who’s a local. We drove around  to
 kilometres out of town for this. It was very cheap: five US dollars per kilo. He told
me he had – kilos! I saw all of it. I think the man was poaching for it himself.
Unlike the traders in the previous case-studies presented here, Ronny is dealing in
a single commodity, on the basis of a privileged link with one particular actor—in
this case the military—giving him easy access to ivory. Another trader followed
for this research project had a similar experience: he was working as a driver,
supplying the military with goods (such as foodstus) in the DRC and CAR and
returning with ivory which he bought from the military. The fact that he was
working for the military allowed him to smuggle ivory into Uganda easily. As he
explained: ‘We were civilian trucks hired by the military. What we did: we hid
the ivory in the trucks. We were not being controlled, because we were working
for the military … The number of kilograms varied: sometimes  kilograms,
sometimes less. We didn’t always find ivory. Sometimes we did find, sometimes
we did not.’
More generally, the presence of Ugandan troops in neighbouring countries led
to an increased influx of ivory into Uganda. This was an important part of the
reason why the ‘Arua boys’, such as Steven, suddenly had a steady supply of ivory:
for Steven and his colleagues, the increased flow of ivory into their border region
was helped by the presence of the army in neighbouring DRC.
The data presented above do not constitute evidence of an institutionalized
engagement of the Ugandan Army in the exploitation and export of natural
resources, as happened during the second Congo war. Rather, they reflect a situa-
tion in which individual Ugandan Army ocers make use of the opportunities
available to them: based in the DRC or CAR, they have easy access to the supply
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Nov. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Nov. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Jan. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Arua,  Nov. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1094 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
of ivory, and easy ways of transporting it back to Uganda. The same goes for
individual truck drivers, who are hired to supply the army, and make use of that
opening to bring back ivory. Importantly, this does not mean they have easy access
to a market: many are struggling to sell the ivory. In the words of the other trader
who was also supplied by army ocials:
The army ocers: they don’t know the market! If the ocer is in an operation, and he gets
some ivory, he’ll try to sell it as soon as possible. Even for the high-level army ocers, it’s
not their business. They want money, and they want it as soon as possible. For the army, if
there’s a side business coming up: you want your money there and then. So the big guys:
if you’re in an operation; and you have ivory, you want quick money.
In other words, army ocers do not necessarily have the best infrastructure
in place to sell ivory: they might have easy access to the commodity, but do not
always know what to do with it. This was also the case for Ronny, the trader
mentioned above.
Case-study 3 (continued): Ronny, and his problems selling ivory
Although Ronny had easy access to ivory, he was pretty much on his own: he
did not know the market, and after the ‘white lady’ left, he had to find ways to
sell the ivory himself. And this didnt work out very well: he ‘sold’ some of his
ivory to a trader from his home region, but was never paid for this.
There was this tribe-mate of mine whom I had sold ivory to. I was introduced to him
by Julius [a known middleman of the west Nile region]. Now he [the tribe-mate]
claims that the police have confiscated the ivory and that he cannot pay for it. The guy
came through Julius, so I trusted him, but he cheated on me.
Ronny also said:
He had only given me a thousand US dollars and he still owed me fifteen thousand! I
don’t remember how many kilograms I have sold him, but I remember I sold him at
 dollars per kilogram.
As a result, as I met Ronny over the years, I saw that he had lost his initial
enthusiasm for the commodity, having struggled to sell his ivory. Moreover,
his uncle had also eventually left the CAR, receiving a new posting back in
Uganda. Before leaving, his uncle did introduce Ronny to the new commander,
who could also help him to acquire ivory, but this did not prove to be easy—
contacts were not as easy as they had been with his uncle.
The case of Ronny illustrates a number of issues. First, it shows the strong military
engagement in the ivory trade, and the overall criminal nature of this trade—as
for Steven and the Arua boys, the military were an important source of ivory.
Second, Ronny’s case further illustrates the power dierences within the illegal
ivory trade: even for actors with strong military connections, it can be dicult to
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Nov. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Jan. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1095 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
sell ivory. Success in the trade depends not only on the ability to source and trans-
port goods, but also on access to the necessary buyers. The dierence between
Andrew and Ronny is striking: from the beginning, Andrew was tapped into
both markets and supplies of a variety of illegal commodities, while also being
oered the necessary protection. His high-level military connections had access
to broader markets of a variety of illegal commodities. Ronny, by contrast, had
privileged access to a steady supply of ivory, but was unfamiliar with the market:
his only connection was on the supply side, and he lacked access to illegal markets.
What most actors (including military commanders) do is to make use of existing
(illegal) trade networks, and sell through these networks. Ivory is sold through
an illegal trade infrastructure already in place, as for the Arua boys in west Nile.
Ronny, however, failed to find access to these markets.
Increased conscations and a narrower ivory market
From  onwards, a range of measures were taken by the Ugandan government
to address the illegal ivory trade, making the traders’ activities more dicult.
First, there was an increasing awareness among the relevant law enforcement
ocers about the importance of illegal trade in wildlife products, ivory in particular.
Many of the ocers interviewed claimed that they had only recently become aware
of the importance of ivory and how to trace it. As one customs ocial put it:
Before, we used to see it a bit, but nobody cared. The poaching of elephants and the
tracking of ivory, it did not hit Uganda directly. It comes from neighbouring countries:
DRC, CAR, Tanzania. As we did not have a vested interest, we thought it was safe. It is
only at the start of  that for the first time in the history of Uganda Revenue Authori-
ties, wildlife crime has become one of the key result areas for the organization … Before
the only interest of URA was to collect revenue.
Similar feelings were expressed in other interviews, highlighting the lack of
awareness about wildlife products—particularly among customs ocials, who not
only lacked knowledge of how to identify illegal wildlife and ivory, but who also
indicated that their main (even only) interest was the collection of tax, rather than
combating the illegal wildlife trade. Most law enforcement ocials argued that it
was only between  and  that they started being trained in, and becoming
aware of, the importance of this illegal trade.
Reflecting this trend, there has been an increasing number of confiscations
from around  onwards: for example, in October , three tonnes of ivory
were seized in Kampala. In the same month, two tonnes of ivory originating in
Uganda were confiscated in Mombasa. Overall, CITES notes that some progress
 Author’s interview with URA ocial, Kampala,  Jan. . Other actors put the starting-point a few years
 Uganda Wildlife Authority, ‘UWA intensifies crackdown on illegal ivory trade’, Oct. ; ‘Uganda seizes
huge ivory shipment worth millions’, BBC News,  Oct. .
 Charles Mghenyi, ‘Kenya: two tonnes of ivory seized at Mombasa’, The Star,  Oct. . This trend contin-
ued later on: around  tonnes were seized in , and around  tonne in February  alone. See Cakaj and
Lezhnev, Deadly profit.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1096 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
has been made since  in arresting those suspected of criminal trading in ivory
and interdicting large-scale movements of ivory prior to export. Formal insti-
tutional measures have also been taken, such as a review of the Wildlife Act, with
stronger sentences for ivory poaching and tracking. Moreover, in October
, a court specifically dedicated to wildlife crimes was set up, which began
prosecutions in early . These measures have had some eect on the traders’
activities. For example, much of the ivory which was being sold in the west Nile
border region—home to Steven and the other ‘Arua boys’—remained there, as
most traders considered the transport of ivory to Kampala too risky, as there had
been a range of large-scale confiscations along the road to the capital. Very few
were now willing to risk transporting their goods to Kampala.
Similar feelings were voiced by other ivory traders. Among other things, traders
were referring to spies as a constant danger. In the words of one trader: ‘It has also
become much more risky here: someone says he’s selling, but he’s a mole. Someone
claims he’s buying, but he’s also a mole.’ Another trader said: ‘You know, for
ivory, the risk has become too big. It’s almost better to deal in “brown sugar”, or
“white powder”. The risk is there because there’s too many informants.’
Second, as noted above, most of the traders have a broad portfolio of commodi-
ties, of which ivory is only one: they are continuously looking for new commodi-
ties and opportunities, and once a particular market becomes unattractive, that
commodity is abandoned, temporarily or permanently. In the words of one
trader: ‘When business is slow in one side, I shift to another side.’ Similarly, when
the market becomes too risky, traders move on. Gradually, with the crackdown
on the ivory trade, this commodity became too risky, and many traders moved
on to other goods.
Most of the ivory traders followed for this research project abandoned the ivory
trade: out of the eleven interviewed, only two remain active in the trade at the
time of writing—the well-connected Andrew and his colleague. Indeed, it is the
level of their connections that has allowed them to continue. The other traders
indicated that they no longer had the necessary protection to continue, and that
the market had come to be dominated by high-level players who were able to
secure protection from high-level politico-military elites—a level of protection
not available to most of the traders I interviewed. Recent confiscations impli-
cating high-level security ocers, for example of ivory at the farm of the army’s
commander of land forces, of other illegal wildlife goods in the possession of a
presidential adviser, or of ivory with the luggage-handling company at Uganda’s
biggest airport, controlled by politico-military elites, are indications of this
 Milliken et al., The Elephant Trade Information System, p. .
 Betty Ndagire, ‘Uganda: soldiers fined Shs million for stealing ivory’, Daily Monitor,  Feb. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Dec. .
 Author’s interview with ivory trader, Kampala,  Jan. .
 Kenneth Kazibwe, ‘UPDF speaks out on ivory found at Gen Otema Awany’s farm’, Nile Post,  November
 Betty Ndagire, ‘Museveni’s advisor on political aairs released on bail’, Daily Monitor,  Dec. .
 Patrick Jaramogi, ‘Crime investigations: tensions as ENHAS is cited in USDM smuggled ivory—suspected
manager fired’, Investigator,  Feb. ,//crime-investigations-tension
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1097 29/08/2018 16:42
Kristof Titeca
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
trend. Moreover, similar concerns were voiced throughout the interviews with
wildlife enforcement agents, who consider their tasks frustrated by what they call
the involvement of high-level political actors. In the words of one customs ocial:
So a challenge is that the military are involved, and also that very influential politicians
are involved. On this side, you are trying to do a good job; while on the other hand, the
guy who gives you the job is making it very dicult for you to actually do your job.
Sometimes you wonder how safe you are if you’re doing your job here.
The illegal ivory trader is a much neglected actor in the literature on the illegal
wildlife trade. Based on access to a number of illegal ivory traders in Uganda, this
article has set out to analyse the activities of these traders. The career paths of these
ivory traders are strongly reminiscent of debates in the literature on the informal
economy. Ivory traders are not a homogeneous group; on the contrary, there
are strong power dierences between the actors. These power dierentials are in
themselves dynamic and influenced by structural circumstances. As highlighted
in the theoretical part of this article, the same is true for criminalized economies:
particular structural factors help to explain the level of criminalization and, closely
related with this, the power dierences at work. The more criminal a particular
economy or commodity is, the more powerful criminal connections are needed
to operate within it, and the more actors are pushed out of the activity. Specifi-
cally, three factors are important: the role of the state; war (and the military); and
globalization. All of these created major opportunities for illegal ivory traders,
but eventually led to a concentration of power: the more criminal ivory became,
the more criminal connections were needed to trade the commodity, eventually
pushing out most of the traders.
Let us have a closer look at these structural factors, and the opportunities they
created for illegal ivory traders. From the mid- to late s, there was both an
increased supply of ivory and an increased demand for it. War and globalization
were key factors in this: there were Ugandan soldiers operating abroad, with easy
access to ivory (both supply and transport). The fight against the LRA took them
into the Congo’s Garamba National Park and the CAR, where ivory was plentiful.
There also was an increased presence of foreign buyers (Chinese and west African
traders). Also, the state was an enabling factor, providing an overall institutional
context of bureaucratic corruption. Although ivory was formally criminalized,
sentences were low and prosecution measures weak; that is, the level of criminal-
ization was low. In this context, many illegal traders started trading in ivory—
particularly those who were already relying on historical illegal trade networks.
However, these structural circumstances did not have a uniform eect. The
way in which ivory traders navigate these structural circumstances highlights the
-enhas-cited-usdm-smuggled-ivory-suspected-manager-fired/; Gerald Tenywa, ‘Police arrest five over illegal
ivory’, New Vision,  March .
 Author’s interview with customs ocial, Kampala,  Jan. .
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1098 29/08/2018 16:42
Understanding the illegal ivory trade and traders
International Aairs 94: 5, 2018
power dierentials at play, particularly in the personal links necessary to organize
their trade. It has been shown that links with governmental actors are crucial
in the trade: for protection, transport, supply and so on. The importance of
contacts with individual soldiers in particular has been highlighted. Because of
these various links, the dierent ivory traders operate on dierent scales and with
varying degrees of success: actors such as Steven and the other Arua boys operated
on a fairly local scale, in ‘their’ borderlands, while better-connected traders such
as Andrew operate on a larger geographical scale, sourcing ivory in the wider
However, the same structural factors which created opportunities eventually
created constraints on the traders. This was particularly the case in respect of the
state, whose increased criminalization of ivory had a strong eect on the trade:
specifically, greater awareness among state agencies, and increased prosecutions,
prompted many traders to abandon ivory. The more the commodity became
criminalized, the more criminal connections were needed to survive in the trade.
Low-level military connections were no longer sucient, as the case of Ronny
Overall, this article shows that the illegal ivory trade can be definitively seen
as a criminalized trade, with the military–commercial nexus at the heart of it.
This criminalization is not static, and has dierent gradations. The overall trade
dynamics show a gradual criminalization of the trade, which became increasingly
risky for those involved, pushing out most lower-level actors so that only elite
actors were left. In other words, the more ivory became criminalized, the more
criminal linkages were needed to remain active in the trade, and the more signifi-
cant power dierences became.
 Or, as I argue elsewhere, these places function as ‘nodes’ for ivory traders with varying degrees of power:
Titeca, ‘Illegal ivory trade as transnational organized crime?’.
INTA94_5_06_Titeca.indd 1099 29/08/2018 16:42
... The operations of transnational organized crime involve top-down and bottom-up mechanisms (Costa, 2018). Titeca (2018aTiteca ( , 2018bTiteca ( , 2019 shows the dense web of informal networks, opportunistic and bottomup practices that characterize the border trade in Uganda. Deconstructing the macro J. Costa dimension of transnational organized crime into microelements shows their opportunistic nature ( Wyatt et al., 2020;Young, 2017). ...
... The operations of the network do not necessarily follow stable and institutionalized patterns. Procurement, financing, logistics or transportation are not necessarily organized but rather opportunistic (Titeca, 2018b(Titeca, , 2019. ...
Full-text available
The paper investigates the role of criminal networks in fostering illegal wildlife trade (IWT), and how these relational structures interact with transnational organized crime. The paper frames these topics within the debate around the opportunistic or organized nature of IWT. The aim is to understand how chaotic behaviors can transform into an ordered and organized strategy. Social network analysis (SNA) and network ethnography were conducted to explore the crime network surrounding a wildlife trafficker based in East Africa. The empirical results suggest that criminal networks operate as "machine of order" that transform opportunistic behaviors at the micro level into ordered strategies at the macro level. Empirical results also suggest that organized crime has an important role in making the process of transforming opportunistic into organized behaviours more efficient and more effective.
... Furthermore, villainizing turtle traders due to how animals are treated in trade may feed into existing pressures for complete trade bans and tougher prosecutions, which are counter to most regulatory frameworks that are designed to ensure sustainable trade. Complete bans may also drive trade further underground (Ferns et al., 2022;Roe et al., 2020;Titeca, 2018), resulting in the higher use of risky and inhumane shipping methods to avoid detection while failing to address illegal trade. ...
Full-text available
Illegal wildlife trade is a global threat to biodiversity, but its drivers and impacts and ways to combat it vary by taxa. News media framing of instances of illegal trade provides a novel window into understanding public perceptions of these dynamics and potential support for management actions. We used 54 known cases of illegal turtle trade in the United States occurring between 1998 and 2021 as a case study to investigate news media framing of this emergent issue in illegal wildlife trade. We synthesized information from these cases and qualitatively analysed how they were framed in 217 associated news articles. The 54 cases involved the illegal trade of at least 24,000 freshwater turtles of 34 different species; box turtles (Terrapene spp.) were traded the most. Of the known species involved, 23 were listed under one of the CITES Appendices, and 12 were considered threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Trade occurred in at least 43 US states and 6 countries. Despite the multifaceted nature of these cases, problem and solution framing were relatively unvarying. Media coverage framed foreign demand, particularly from Asia for high‐value pet turtles, as a main driver of illegal trade. Solutions focused on regulations and enforcement which follows global trends in illegal wildlife trade discourses. However, we also found that articles neutralized illegal turtle trade in several ways, reflecting a lack of perceived legitimacy of and necessity for trade rules and enforcement. Without acknowledging longstanding and formerly legal practices in wildlife trading, conservation efforts which focus on regulations and enforcement may be undermined by a lack of normative compliance. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog. Without acknowledging longstanding and formerly legal practices in wildlife trading, conservation efforts which focus on regulations and enforcement may be undermined by a lack of normative compliance. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.
... The causes for which markets classified as informal are also varied, some because of the illegality of the products that are sold there (Klevakin, 2018;Titeca, 2018;Rojas & Briceño, 2019;Kanagaretnam et al., 2022), others because they constitute a way of evading certain types of taxes or simply because they are not formally registered as businesses or self-employed businessmen. Contrary to the above, despite the fact that over the last five years an average of more than 10,000 papers per year have been published in the Scopus database on the subject of marketing and the considerable interest in the analysis of informal markets, they are scarce analyses of marketing issues in informal markets. ...
Full-text available
Los mercados informales, aunque no son ampliamente aceptados, contribuyen a la generación de empleo y facilitan el acceso a múltiples productos. Además de facilitar el flujo financiero dentro del territorio. Sin embargo, es un hecho que en este tipo de mercado no se cumplen muchos de los principios de comercialización como en los mercados formales. Este trabajo tiene como objetivo profundizar en las peculiaridades del proceso de comercialización de los mercados informales. Se realizó principalmente a través de la observación de 86 puntos de venta de un total de 777 que operan en el mercado, caracterizando variables como el comportamiento de clientes y minoristas, así como la variación de oferta y demanda en puntos de venta. A través de la investigación fue posible caracterizar variables relacionadas con el proceso de venta y el comportamiento de clientes y minoristas en un mercado informal en la ciudad de Santo Domingo, Ecuador. Se observó que el volumen de venta está relacionado con la ubicación del establecimiento, la circulación de clientes y las vías de acceso. Además, una mayor variedad de productos determina un aumento en las ventas, aunque un aumento significativo en la variedad puede afectar negativamente su influencia en los volúmenes de ventas.
... 33 Interview with 2017_11_27 WP1.13. 34 Interview with 2017_11_20 WP1.12 networks, which are often overlooked; these networks can be engaged in a range of illicit trades (including drugs, arms, people and vehicles) based on what is available, moveable and most profitable at any given time (Wyatt, 2016(Wyatt, , 2013Felbab-Brown, 2017, pp40-45;Titeca, 2018). This somewhat complicates the story that the illegal wildlife trade is carried out by highly organized crime networks and is a security threat. ...
This article takes a political ecology approach to understanding the integration of conservation with security in tackling the illegal wildlife trade. It builds on political ecology debates on militarization by connecting it to the dynamics of global environmental politics, specifically the discursive and material support from donors, governments, and conservation nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The combined effects of a highly competitive funding environment and security concerns of governments has produced a context in which NGOs strategically invoke the idea of the illegal wildlife trade as a security threat. For donors and governments, tackling the illegal wildlife trade is a means through which they can address security threats. However, this has material outcomes for marginalized peoples living with wildlife, including militarization, human rights abuses, enhanced surveillance, and law enforcement.
... The most intense period of field research was between 2004 and 2010, first as part of my PhD research, and later as part of my postdoctoral work, during which period I spent around a year in the town (Titeca 2006(Titeca , 2008(Titeca , 2012Titeca et al. 2011). In the years after that, research was less intensive, but I kept following up on, and interacting with these actors (Titeca 2018a(Titeca , 2018b. The main research method was semi-or unstructured interviews and non-participant observation, not only with the OPEC boys, but also with other actors such as (informal) traders, civil society actors, local government representatives, customs officials, and a variety of actors active in the smuggling business (fixers, transporters, and so on). ...
Full-text available
By looking at smugglers in Northwestern Uganda, in particular a group of fuel smugglers called the OPEC boys, this chapter explains how smuggling can be a socially legitimate activity. It shows how smugglers can be regarded as social bandits (Hobsbawm 1959, 1981), through their strong links with the local population. In explaining this, the chapter shows how smuggling is understood through local social imaginaries (Taylor 2004, Grant 2014), and how smugglers act as an uncivil society, representing actors from the informal economy (Bayat 1997a, 1997b).
... The most intense period of field research was between 2004 and 2010, first as part of my PhD research, and later as part of my postdoctoral work, during which period I spent around a year in the town (Titeca 2006(Titeca , 2008). In the years after that, research was less intensive, but I kept following up on, and interacting with these actors (Titeca 2018a(Titeca , 2018b. The main research method was semi-or unstructured interviews and non-participant observation, not only with the OPEC boys, but also with other actors such as (informal) traders, civil society actors, local government representatives, customs officials, and a variety of actors active in the smuggling business (fixers, transporters, and so on). ...
Full-text available
The Routledge Handbook of Smuggling offers a comprehensive survey of interdisciplinary research related to smuggling, reflecting on key themes, and charting current and future trends. Divided into six parts and spanning over 30 chapters, the volume covers themes such as mobility, borders, violent conflict, and state politics, as well as looks at the smuggling of specific goods – from rice and gasoline to wildlife, weapons, and cocaine. Chapters engage with some of the most contentious academic and policy debates of the twenty-first century, including the historical creation of borders, re-bordering, the criminalisation of migration, and the politics of selective toleration of smuggling. As it maps a field that contains unique methodological, ethical, and risk-related challenges, the book takes stock not only of the state of our shared knowledge, but also reflects on how this has been produced, pointing to blind spots and providing an informed vision of the future of the field. Bringing together established and emerging scholars from around the world, The Routledge Handbook of Smuggling is an indispensable resource for students and researchers of conflict studies, borderland studies, criminology, political science, global development, anthropology, sociology, and geography.
... The deployment of the Ugandan army to DRC from 1998 also saw more Ugandan state and military actors employed in the trade (Titeca, 2012, p. 36). While the Arua boys remained well-placed to expand into trades like ivory and to develop links with new partners like Chinese buyers, increasingly it has been Kampala-based businesspeople with high-level links to Uganda's political and military elites who have profited from the most lucrative and expansive commercial networks (Titeca, 2018). Similarly in South Sudan, the most profitable cross-border commerce requires connections to the governing and military elites (Walraet, 2013). ...
Full-text available
African borderlands – such as those between South Sudan, Uganda and Congo – are often presented by analysts as places of agency and economic opportunity, in contrast to hardened, securitized borders elsewhere. We emphasize, however, that even such relatively porous international borders can nevertheless be the focus of significant unease for borderland communities. Crossing borders can enable safety for those fleeing conflict or trading prospects for businesspeople, but it can also engender anxieties around the unchecked spread of insecurity, disease and economic exploitation. Understanding this ambiguous construction of borders in the minds of their inhabitants requires us, we argue, to look beyond statist or globalizing discourses and to appreciate the moral economies of borderlands, and how they have been discursively and epistemologically negotiated over time. Narratives around witchcraft and the occult represent, we argue, a novel and revealing lens through which to do so and our study draws on years of fieldwork and archival research to underline how cartographies of witchcraft in this region are, and have long been, entangled with the construction of state political geographies, internal as well as international.
Full-text available
This report presents the findings of a novel application of social network analysis (SNA) to study a criminal network surrounding an East Africa-based wildlife trafficker. This technique focuses on understanding structural, functional and sociometric characteristics of networks by mapping social interactions between individuals and groups. Particularly, the research studies how wildlife trafficking happens, and, in doing so, offers several promising avenues to curb it. SNA makes it possible to deconstruct the criminal network in question and identity its key individuals, operative functions and flows of goods, information and money. In turn, this can sustain the activities of investigators and prosecutors to discover new leads and suspects, or to better understand the meaning of financial and information flows. The research has been conducted under a project of PMI Impact aimed at stopping corruption from fuelling illegal wildlife trade (IWT) between East Africa and Southeast Asia. The results show that by combining SNA (a primarily quantitative method) with network ethnography (a qualitative method), we can gain important new insights into the structures, functions and mechanisms of crime networks engaged in IWT. This paper is part of the Basel Institute on Governance Working Paper Series, ISSN: 2624-9650. See also the abridged version. This report was funded by PMI IMPACT, a grant award initiative of Philip Morris International (PMI). In the performance of their research, the authors maintained full independence from PMI. The views and opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of PMI. Neither PMI, nor any of its affiliates, nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.
Full-text available
Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) poses a threat to many countries in Africa, Asia, South and Central America. While the role of informal networks in sustaining wildlife trafficking is ever more on the radar of scholars and practitioners, their modus operandi remains largely understudied. The literature tells us that these informal networks play a role in sustaining this illicit cross-border trade. This paper deep-dives into this and the roles and strategies used by informal networks of poachers, intermediaries, traffickers, and buyers to transport high volumes of wildlife products into, through and out of Uganda. This East African country is an essential entrepôt for wildlife trafficking in East Africa. The analysis is informed by qualitative fieldwork conducted in Uganda between 2019 and 2020. It comprises 47 interviews with Ugandan-based and international anti-IWT experts and 8 focus group discussions (FGDs) with wildlife conservation and anti-corruption experts in Kampala, and members of reformed poachers’ networks in Western Uganda and individuals living around a wildlife habitat in Northern Uganda. This research focuses on the types of actors, functions, and strategies significant for facilitating IWT in the country. The empirical findings confirm the role of informal networks in promoting the illegal wildlife trade in Uganda. First, this paper differentiates between categories of actors depending on their key role in managing illegal wildlife trade in Uganda. Second, it explores the mechanisms of coordination that these actors use to govern network relations for achieving various illicit goals. Third, it analyses the type of informal governance system that enables such mechanisms of network coordination, as based on a mix of centralisation and decentralisation, and organized and opportunistic strategies. Lastly, the empirical findings highlight these informal cross-border networks for being flexible structures that adapt to so-called patterns of ‘least resistance’.
Full-text available
This report is part of a multi-disciplinary project focused on intelligence-led action against financial crime in illegal wildlife trade (IWT). Under this project, the Public Governance division of the Basel Institute on Governance is leading research in East Africa that aims to contribute to the prevention and combating of IWT by developing a better understanding of the context-specific drivers of the trafficking and the role of criminal networks in sustaining such illicit strategies. The three main research questions are: • Why does wildlife trafficking happen? • How does wildlife trafficking happen? • What can be done to curb it? This report empirically answers the second research question and, in doing so, offers several promising avenues to answer the third. This report was funded by PMI IMPACT, a grant award initiative of Philip Morris International (PMI). In the performance of their research, the authors maintained full independence from PMI. The views and opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of PMI. Neither PMI, nor any of its affiliates, nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.
Full-text available
[Civil wars in the age of globalizationNew realities, new paradigms] There are three major theoretical trends offering an explanation for the persistence of wars following the end of the Cold War and the age of globalization. The most influential of them is probably the one that views the difference between wars today and those of the previous period as qualitative, its most credible representative being Mary Kaldor. According to these authors, today's wars are identity-based, their violence is turned mainly against population groups, and their economy is based on pillage, whereas those of yesterday were mainly ideological, seeking to win people to their cause and mobilizing resources to achieve their ends. These theories do not hold up to careful scrutiny. Yet the stakes are sizeable of one considers that, along with the other two theories and despite enormous differences, this trend constitutes a dominant paradigm (which is not, however, the single perspective) that exerts a decisive influence on the policies of the "international community".
This article explores shifting perspectives on African clandestine economies. Previously condemned as products of clientelism and corruption, clandestine economies are attracting renewed interest for their developmental potential in weak state contexts. Focusing on systems of illicit cross-border trade in East and West Africa, this article shows that more favourable views of clandestine trading activities are driven more by their compatibility with liberal reform agendas than by their positive contribution to local development. Indeed, the optimistic turn in perspectives on illicit African trade glosses over its increasingly negative impact on local security and development. While discourses of violence and criminalization were used to characterize the largely peaceful cross-border trading systems in West Africa in the 1990s, new discourses of hybrid governance and state building are used to frame the more violent and socially disruptive cross-border trading complexes of East Africa in the 2000s.
While economic agendas have been shown to be an important factor in shaping civil wars, there are several problems with prominent explanations centring on rebel ‘greed’, notably those put forward by Paul Collier. Among these are: the way proxies for ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’ have been used; the lack of attention to links between ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’; and the lack of attention to ‘greed’ among elements associated with counter‐insurgencies. Why has Collier's analysis proven so popular, despite its flaws? I suggest that it represents an attractive over‐simplification with a scientific aura. It achieves a degree of simplicity by excluding many of the most important features of civil wars, even to the extent of asserting that there is no point in asking rebels about their motivations. Furthermore, it is often politically convenient in that it tends to exclude a number of western governments—and (sometimes favoured) governments in poorer countries—from serious scrutiny. By contrast, the emphasis placed by Frances Stewart and her associates on the role of economic and political inequalities between groups offers a more nuanced understanding of how civil wars are caused and shaped, an understanding that is better able to take account of the nature of grievances and of the role of abusive government‐affiliated actors in generating grievances.
Over the last four years, the eastern Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have seen the precipitous rise and fall of a lucrative economy based on artisanal mining of tantalum ore. In some ways building on older patterns of survivalist economics in Congo, it also represents a radical mutation of livelihood strategies responding to an economy profoundly destroyed by colonial and post‐colonial neglect and greed, and more recently by five years of vicious war. That war has itself capitalised on the country's vast mineral wealth, progressively becoming ‘economised’, in that profits increasingly motivate the violence, and violence increasingly makes profits possible for all belligerents. This article details the tantalum commodity chain from its base in the forests and uplands of the Kivus to global markets. Through an exploration of popular rumour about economic activity it also traces how the war has radically altered conventional Congolese attitudes to the survivalist tradition of ‘fending for yourself, from perceptions of the heroic to perceptions of criminal domination by ‘foreigners’ and ‘Congolese traitors’. Yet if there is criminal gain from tantalum on the part of Congolese and foreign actors, tantalum mining has also become a critical mode of survival for many at the grassroots. International action against the ‘war economy’ in the Congo must therefore be careful to punish the real villains.
Neoclassical economic theories of violent conflict have proliferated in recent years and, with their application to contemporary wars, have influenced donors and policy makers. This paper reviews the intellectual foundations and empirical substance of such theories and offers a critique drawing on a political economy perspective. There are strong grounds for arguing that orthodox economic theories of war are reductionist, speculative, and misleading. Theories that are driven by methodological individualism are compelled somehow to model “the social” as it affects contemporary war––for example, by appeal to indices of ethno-linguistic fragmentation––but do so in ways that fail to capture reality and its variations.
We investigate the causes of civil war, using a new data set of wars during 1960-99.
The economic functions of civil wars, Adelphi Paper no. 303 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • David Keen
David Keen, The economic functions of civil wars, Adelphi Paper no. 303 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1996).
How "new" are "new wars
  • Berdal
Berdal, 'How "new" are "new wars"?', pp. 479-83.