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Despite the 1989 global ivory trade ban, poaching and ivory smuggling have not abated. More than half of Tanzania's elephants have been killed for their ivory since 2007. A similarly alarming story can be told of the herds in northern Mozambique and across swathes of central Africa. But why the new upsurge? The popular narrative blames a meeting of two evils – criminal poaching and terrorism. But the answer is not that simple.
Since ancient times, large-scale killing of elephants for their tusks has been driven by demand beyond Africa's range states from the Egyptian pharaohs through the industrialising West to the new wealthy business class of China. Elephant hunting in Africa is also governed by human-elephant conflict, traditional hunting practices and the impact of colonial exploitation and criminalisation.
Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa follows this complex history of the tusk trade in Africa, and explains why it is corruption, crime and politics, rather than insurgency, that we should worry about. In this ground-breaking work, Somerville argues that regulation – not prohibition – of the ivory trade is the best way to stop uncontrolled poaching.
Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; he lectures in Journalism at the Centre for Journalism University of Kent. His latest book, Africa's Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent has just been published by Hurst.