News / Africa

Congo Gorilla Defenders Compete with Rebels for Charcoal Market

Emmanuel de Merode runs Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest wildlife park, which has been closed to tourists for more than a year due to eastern Congo’s civil war. Photo taken August 11, 2012.
Emmanuel de Merode runs Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest wildlife park, which has been closed to tourists for more than a year due to eastern Congo’s civil war. Photo taken August 11, 2012.
David Arnold
In the remote forests of Africa’s oldest wildlife park, and at the heart of a civil war that has decimated the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern region, the rangers of Virunga National Park are waging their own battle.  They’re fighting to save the surviving families of mountain gorillas and 200 other endangered species, as well as the forests and savannahs of this U.N. World Heritage site.
 
Their formidable enemies include rebel units of the anti-government M23, a force comprised mostly of ethnic Tutsis, and several other militias, including the infamous Joseph Kony’s Lords’ Resistance Army from Uganda. 
 
The Virunga rangers also combat poachers, who kill the gorillas to sell their heads and limbs on the black market, and a small industry of park trespassers who produce illegal charcoal.

The park’s warden, Emmanuel de Merode, estimates the rebels earn up to $35 million a year in charoal sales to support their wars.  He also suspects the illegal charcoal manufacturers are responsible for the deaths of some gorillas because the animals are a “hindrance” to the illegal industry.
 
De Merode took charge of the park’s security – and later its regional economic development – through an agreement between Kinshasa and the African Conservation Fund in London. He is a descendant of Belgium’s King Albert I, who established the park more than 80 years ago to save the gorillas that have since gained world renown.

Challenges for Africa's oldest wildlife park

Today, as de Merode looks across Virunga’s eastern boundary at Rwanda, he sees a nation recently plagued with massive genocide but now reporting tourism revenues of $281 million because of the world’s fascination with gorillas.
 
Virunga, however, is directly in the path of 15 years of a civil war in which an estimated 5.4 million people in the DRC have died. Officials claim 90 percent of the fatalities – half of them children – have died not in warfare but as a byproduct of the war: cholera, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. 
 
Since the park has been closed to tourists for more than a year due to the armed violence, the goal of building a tourism industry around the park’s wildlife is uncertain as de Merode defends the park and tries to build the regional economy.
 
The park maintains a corps of about 300 well-armed and highly trained park rangers. They patrol more than 7,800 square kilometers of near-pristine African environment: brilliant white glacial fields atop the Ruwenzori Mountains in the park’s north, the deep red flows of Nyiragongo’s volcanic lava in the park’s south, the gorillas in the Mikeno Mountain foothills, a few hundred hippos on Lake Albert and its marshes, and more than other 200 endangered species in between. In their battle to secure the park’s environment, more than 130 rangers have been killed.
 
In addition to the flora and the fauna, the rangers are also defending such park-sponsored developments as new roads, a small hydroelectric project, nine schools, a health clinic and a better way to make charcoal briquettes – a vital commodity for the region’s 4 million rural population.
 
Building a better briquette

Virguna’s economic planners came up with two kinds of charcoal. In the park’s innovative manufacturing site, local workers produce “the fireball”, a safer, more efficient charcoal-like briquette in a compressed form for local consumers.  The fireball is a combination of cassava paste and charcoal dust recycled from the vast and less efficient charcoal-making companies of Goma, compressed into the shape of a golf ball and sold.
 
Village women in the region – many of them victims of rape by rebels as they searched for firewood in the forests - are employed in hand-pressing donut-shaped briquettes using locally appropriate technology prescribed by a development lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
 
Kim Chaix, a New York fundraiser and charcoal advocate who works with park administration on several development projects said armed rebels are now close to the charcoal manufacturing site.
 
The charcoal briquette-making project continues for now, but the goal of a thriving tourism industry and the survival of the mountain gorillas remains uncertain.
 
Even while the park is closed to tourists, Chaix and de Merode plan to attract more investment for the production of palm oil, papaya enzymes and soap, and commercial crops of indigenous bamboo for their briquette-making enterprise.
 
“We’re trying to create peace and economic security for four million people who live within a day’s walk of the park,” Chaix said.

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid