By Faith Nyasuguta
Local NGOs have revealed that Illegal logging, charcoal production, and poaching in and around the famed sanctuary of mountain gorillas in eastern DR Congo- Virunga National Park-are benefiting bandits in the region.
“The majority of armed groups active in North Kivu (province) have set up bases in and around the park,” 38 environmental and human rights organizations said, adding that the armed gangs make thousands of dollars monthly.
The organizations revealed all these in a letter to President Felix Tshisekedi, the military governor and other senior officials in Kinshasa and Goma, North Kivu’s capital.
The gangs “illegally exploit various natural resources to finance themselves,” from charcoal production, ivory trafficking and even extortion of Lake Edward fishermen, the letter added.
Among the signatories were the Congolese Alert Network for the Environment and Human Rights (ACEDH), Humanitarian Action for Sustainable Development (AHDD), the Congo Basin Conservation Society (CBCS) and Planete Verte RDC (Green Planet DRC).
It is estimated that fishing alone provides the armed groups with a cash flow of at least $100,000 a month, via the “taxes” levied on the use of the canoes.
Every day “at least 40 trucks each carrying 150 sacks of lump charcoal (after charcoal burning) enter the city of Goma,” the letter says. With a sack going for $10, the total amount collected hits about $1.7 million every month.
These amounts are in addition to ransom received after abductions among other illegal activities which the gangs use to bribe officials and purchase more weapons, the letter said.
According to the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) the written letter “pinpoints a real problem” in which armed groups directly benefit from trafficking in natural resources.
Via the same letter, the organizations are calling on North Kivu’s authorities to “prohibit any commercial activity or illicit traffic involving the military, park wardens or members of their families” and also to crack down on “intermediaries”.
The Virunga National Park, 7,800-square-kilometre (3,000-square-mile) is located on DR Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda.
It is the oldest nature reserve in Africa which doubles as a sanctuary for rare species, among them mountain gorillas, that are also present in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
For ages, the famed park has been the theatre of clashes between gunmen and park rangers, with 21 already killed in the past year.
In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, over 120 armed groups roam, with many of them resulting from regional wars some 20 years ago, according to the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a credible US-based monitor of violence in the region.