Africa’s ivory trade – a history of criminalisation, corruption and violence

Every decade or so, dating back to the 1970s, there is an upsurge of media interest in the slaughter of elephants for their ivory, and the implications for wildlife conservation. Here, Keith Somerville a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), who is currently researching ivory poaching in Africa, provides an account of the current state of the illicit industry that is threatening to wipe out elephants and other species. Reports of the mass killing of these majestic animals to satisfy luxury markets in rich countries generate support for anti-poaching operations, conservation organisations and international efforts to combat the smuggling of ivory from Africa to East Asia. But in recent years, reporting has concentrated heavily on links between insurgent movements, brutal but strategically insignificant rebel groups, and the smuggling of tusks to the newly wealthy elite of China. This media discourse – that poaching by rebels is wiping out elephants at a greater pace and that the proceeds from ivory is increasing insecurity in Africa and, by implication globally – has gained pace and also the attention of world leaders and decision-makers in the United States. Fighting the ivory trade is seen in this narrative as a way of conserving a keystone species. But increasingly it is a means of waging war on Islamist groups as part of the war on terror, or on groups which threaten the security of the West’s military allies, like Uganda or Kenya. A series of articles in leading American newspapers, including the New York Times, reporting the wholesale slaughter of elephants in Central African national parks, has helped to fuel...

Lee Kuan Yew as Commonwealth statesman

By Dr Ruth Craggs, lecturer in human geography, King’s College London. Politicians and diplomats from around the world have begun to offer tributes this week as it was announced that Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew died on Monday, 23 March 2015. Lee led the People’s Action Party from 1959 and governed Singapore for three decades, overseeing independence from Britain as part of the Federation of Malaya in 1963 and then Singapore’s split from the Federation to become an independent city-state in 1965. Lee was known for masterminding Singapore’s impressive economic growth, and sometimes criticised for the tight political and social control he exerted domestically. In the same year that Singapore separated from the Federation of Malaya, the new island country joined the Commonwealth. An Evening Standard report on the 1965 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting commented that, ‘The man who seemed to have created the biggest impression…is Singapore’s Mr Lee Kuan Yew. His quick brain makes him a match for Mr [Harold] Wilson any day.’ (Cited in Josey, 2013: 337) Lee was one of a generation of independence leaders who dominated the Commonwealth from the 1960s into the 1980s and early 1990s. Alongside others such as Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Lee was regarded as one of the organisation’s ‘giants’ and was a regular presence at Commonwealth summits over several decades. In 1971, Lee’s Singapore hosted the first regular Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held outside of London. This conference was symbolic of how the Commonwealth was changing as an institution, moving from a UK-centric organisation to a post-colonial, multipolar association....

Malcolm Fraser: a giant of the Commonwealth

By Dr Sue Onslow, senior research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies. On 27 March 2015, Australians gathered to pay their respects to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in a state funeral following the politician’s death late last week. As Singaporeans prepare to do the same for Lee Kuan Yew, who died on Monday, the Commonwealth can reflect on the contribution of these two ‘giants’ to its modern history. Whereas Lee Kuan Yew was somewhat ambivalent about the Commonwealth as a diplomatic actor, Malcolm Fraser had no such reservations. Fraser was a committed and extremely active Commonwealth politician and leader both in and out of office – indeed, possibly the most committed Australian Prime Minister of the modern Commonwealth. In his reflections for the ICwS Oral History Project, Australian politician Tony Eggleton recalls that Malcolm did not take long to make an impact and to win the support and respect of Commonwealth prime ministers, and not least those from the developing world. Michael Manley was among those who was pleasantly surprised at Malcolm’s constructive views about Commonwealth members, big and small. Fraser worked closely with Manley of Jamaica and Secretary General Shridath Ramphal to promote economic development and west/south cooperation. Determined to use the Commonwealth as a platform to promote Australia’s national interests and international standing, by the late 1970s, Fraser was running ‘hot and strong’ on the Commonwealth. He was widely regarded as a formidable character with clear goals, and was often impatient for positive results. For more on this dimension of Fraser’s career, see the linked interview with Australian diplomat and Commonwealth authority Hugh Craft. Liberal, progressive and a conviction politician in his opposition to racism in all its forms, Fraser took a particularly...

May 2015: the austerity election

As the 2015 election approaches the Coalition and the Labour party differences on fiscal policy appear to be ones of emphasis – how quickly and what to cut, says John Weeks, Professor Emeritus at SOAS, University of London.  In the debates preceding the election of May 2010, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown explicitly rejected public budget cuts because they would, in his view, make the recession worse. Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, had in March 2010 attacked budget cutting as ‘economic masochism’. He maintained this position during the debates. Only the Conservative David Cameron pledged his party to cut expenditure, though ambiguous about how much. The lack of a Conservative majority in the subsequent voting led to a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Given Clegg’s pre-election opposition to any but minor cuts, the Coalition seemed unlikely to embark on radical reductions in spending. However, the leader of the Liberal Democrats reversed himself. Suddenly, the British public discovered that its votes had produced a government dedicated to radical reduction in public expenditure. The Coalition government, and especially its Chancellor George Osborne, presented the need for expenditure reduction as self-evident. The public budget manifested a deficit, expenditure over revenue, of 10 per cent of gross national product, allegedly unprecedented during peacetime. He avoided mentioning that the deficit excluding investment – current expenditure balance – was higher under the John Major government in 1994 (minus 9.1 per cent of GDP compared to 8 per cent in 2010).  How to measure – and mismeasure – all aspects of the government budget would prove central to selling austerity policies to the...

Magna Carta: the international symbol of freedom

By Danny Millum Magna Carta has inspired some of today’s fundamental liberties, yet it began life 800 years ago as a practical solution to a political crisis. It has since evolved to become an international symbol of freedom, and with the creation of the largest exhibition ever staged about this celebrated document, we now have an opportunity to uncover the story of how its power has been used – and abused – from its genesis through to today’s popular culture. Due to open this month (13 March–1 September 2015), the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, is part of a series of events to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Magna Carta, one of the world’s most famous documents. Already, the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral have made history by bringing the four original surviving Magna Carta manuscripts together in one place, for the first time. At a special screening on 3 February, the manuscripts were viewed by 1,215 people who won the chance to attend the event after entering a public ballot launched last year. They were followed the next day by a group of world-leading Magna Carta academics who have been studying several hundred other King John charters during the course of a three-year research project. Examining the four manuscripts in context of these other charters, they studied them side by side, scrutinising the handwriting of each of the scribes and considering the evidence of the ownership of the documents throughout its 800 year existence. The manuscripts have now been returned to their home institutions, and each will be putting on a...

How information flows: a question for law and the humanities

  The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) is launching a new Centre for Law and Information Policy (CLIP), to extend its research into data law and policy. In this post its director Judith Townend, introduces the Centre and outlines some of its aims. Tied up in green ribbon, the colour of the House of Commons, a government bill is physically and ceremoniously carried to the House of Lords, for the next stage in its development. The Clerk of the House bows gravely to his opposite number in the Lords and hands the stack of paper over, with its Norman French inscription marking its authenticity (a 700-year-old tradition). This was one of the anachronistic scenes in part one of the new BBC 2 documentary ‘Inside the Commons’, a co-production between the BBC and the Open University, which raises the question of ‘how the old should live with the new’. In the programme Sir Robert Rogers, the recently retired Clerk of the House of Commons, points out that at the same time he’s handing the printed sheets over to his counterpart, the text of the bill is ‘on the shared drive between the two public bill offices, using some of the most advanced tech handling software in the world’. It’s a neat illustration of information flows, old and new: for Sir Robert, the handover tradition is ‘picturesque’, although he clearly values the benefit of ‘cutting-edge’ technology and has earlier described his mission to cut down the Commons paper-mountain.  Communication and information systems in Parliament and the Courts provide an extreme example of the juxtaposition between centuries-old systems for handling information...

Fracking protesters accuse police of intimidation campaign

Republished from From time to time members of the School of Advanced Study  publish about their research on other websites. This post republishes that work from the original article. By Dr Damien Short and Jessica Elliot Although only a small area of land has been offered to companies exploring the potential for fracking in the UK so far, much more is likely to come. But opposition to fracking is growing – and growing fast. More than 180 local groups are already in operation, which is somewhat inconvenient for a government wanting to go ‘all out for shale‘. In interviews, online surveys and correspondence with anti-fracking protesters, we’ve heard personal testimony that suggests that problems with fracking are not simply environmental. More than 400 peaceful protesters have been arrested – and people in the anti-fracking movement have claimed political policing and intimidation are being used, citing the actions of the Greater Manchester Police and Sussex Police at these two locations as particular examples. Our analysis of interview and questionnaire data suggests that protesters consider their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, liberty and security of person, a fair trial and respect for a private and family life, have been threatened. Each of these rights is protected by the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – all of which the UK is legally bound to observe. A report launched on October 30 from the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation details the UK’s human rights commitments and calls for a fully independent human rights impact assessment of fracking developments...

Digital history professor hails opportunity for development

Dr Jane Winters, currently head of digital publications at the Institute of Historical Research has just been promoted to a chair in digital history. As such, Professor Winters has agreed to share with us some thoughts of how her work has changed since she first came to the IHR and where she sees her work going in the future. By Jane Winters In the summer of 1996 I was interviewed for my first job at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR). I can remember being asked whether I had ever used the web, to which the answer was an unqualified ‘no’. It’s a sign of how little penetration this new technology had that I got the job anyway. I might not have been familiar with it, but the IHR’s website (then called a ‘hypertext internet server’) had been up and running for almost three years. IHR-Info, which would become the current history.ac.uk website, was funded by Jisc as part of the Electronic Libraries programme (eLib), and this early investment laid the groundwork for 20 years of innovation in digital history within the Institute. In 1999, the IHR’s print and digital publishing activities were unified, although the IHR Digital brand was only applied in October 2010. During the past 15 years, the department has been involved with a range of major digital research projects, including British History Online, the Bibliography of British and Irish History, Connected Histories, Early English Laws, Reviews in History and the History of Parliament Online. In keeping with the remit of the wider School of Advanced Study, its role has to been to promote and facilitate...

Gangs: the real ‘humanitarian crisis’ driving Central American children to the US

Republished from     From time to time members of the School of Advanced Study publish about their research on other websites. This post republishes that work from the original article. By David James Cantor, School of Advanced Study (Refugee Law Initiative) The spectacular arrival of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children at the southern frontier of the US over the last three years has provoked a frenzied response. President Obama calls the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’ on the US’s borders. News interviews with these vulnerable children appear almost daily in the global news media alongside official pronouncements by the US government on how it intends to stem this flow of migrants. But what is not yet recognised is that these children represent only the tip of the iceberg of a deeper new humanitarian crisis in the region. Of course, recent figures for unaccompanied children (UAC) arriving in the US from the three countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are alarming. Apprehensions of unaccompanied children from these countries rose from about 3,000-4,000 per year to 10,000 in the 2012 financial year and then doubled again in the same period in 2013 to 20,000. But it’s important to pull back and look at the bigger picture, which is that there has been a steep increase in border guard apprehensions of nationals from the three Northern Triangle countries – not just unaccompanied children, but adults and families as well. The unaccompanied children we’ve been hearing so much about are not exceptional but represent just one strand (albeit a more photogenic and newsworthy strand) of a broader –...

What Does Your Sense of Smell Mean to You?

By Duncan Boak This isn’t a question that gets asked very often.  It is, however, one that the organisation I have established, Fifth Sense, the charity for smell and taste disorder sufferers, is starting to ask more and more. The sense of smell is something that we take for granted.  It is almost as if it is seen as a handy add-on to our sensory toolkit; sometimes useful, but oft-ignored. The reality, however, is quite different.  Our sense of smell plays a huge role in our lives; it profoundly influences our mood, memory and emotions, and our preferences when it comes to food – and partners.  Think about how big a role that smell plays in intimacy; the smell of your partner’s hair, or skin.  Our sense of smell connects us to the world around us, and to the people in it, in a way that carries a great deal of emotional resonance. The lack of knowledge of this has created a problem for the many sufferers of olfactory disorders such as anosmia, the loss of the sense of smell.  The majority of Fifth Sense members report that they find it nigh on impossible to get recognition that their condition can in any way cause them a problem, an attitude that extends from friends and family right through to the medical profession. But how have we got to this point, where we have become so ignorant of what is one of only five tools with which we engage with the world?   Well, I would argue that science itself has helped create this situation, whilst also being a major part...