Impunity of a notorious ivory trafficker?

by Luc Mathot
Impunity of a notorious ivory trafficker?
Obama à droite, lors d'une de ses arrestations.
Obama on the left, during one of his arrests.

 On Sunday, August 11, 2013, a notorious ivory trafficker was arrested in Franceville, Gabon. Messimo Rodrigue, aka “Obama” famous ivory dealer had already been arrested twice but never severely condemned. He had served a jail term of six months but has not been sentenced. Yet, as a multirecidivist he should’ve been sentenced to the double according to the Forest Code, totaling one year.

In January 2013, “Obama” had been arrested by the National (ANPN) Agency National Parks. Following a weak judicial decision given by the court Makokou ANPN appealed the decision and the Court of Appeal condemned “Obama” to return the vehicle and pay damages of 6,000,000 CFA.

In this summer 2013, “Gabon” magazine described him: “Messimo Rodrigue is a forty years old thug who may even pull strings behind the bars of a Makokou cell. In fact, it is a schemer who pretends to be a businessman. His methods are financial and there is no lack of eloquence“.

In August 2013, “Obama” was arrested with three accomplices. He held 10 ivory tusks, for a total weight of 93 kg. One of his regular customers, HAMADOU Djamad alias Abib was arrested but acquitted by the prosecutor. A few months later, the same Abib was arrested again, this time with 50 kg of ivory he was trying to smuggle through the airport in Franceville. Also in this case, a trial is expected. But will that bring down the entire network active in much of the country and beyond? Several tons of ivory Gabon have indeed been seized for a year in Togo, Benin and to Hong Kong.

Feeling threatened in Makokou, “Obama” prefers to develop its business traffic where it is least known, he works between Makokou and Okondja as well as Franceville.

He is also known to Oyem level and obviously Libreville. Actually, he is a kind of ivory baron in Gabon! This time, the Forestry Commission and the Judicial Police catch him, confirming that the political will effectively fight against the ivory trade.

Ivory is for the outside and mainly Asian market through several transit countries. Thus, the international network EAGLE (Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement) which includes Conservation Justice also operates in Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic, Guinea and Togo. “Obama” is active throughout the country, but also has connections abroad to evacuate its product.

Remember that, as stated in the Forest Code, hunting, taking, possession, transportation and marketing of fully protected species (elephant) are prohibited and violations against these species are punishable by 3 to 6 months in prison with fines ranging from 100,000 to 10 million francs. In case of recidivism, the penalties are doubled! However, this is still very low compared with the sums at stake. Congo and Cameroon, for example, the maximum penalty is respectively 5 and 3 years!