The regime in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, already notorious for stolen elections, human rights abuses, and for harboring militias hostile to neighbors Rwanda and Uganda, is adding another dimension to their tainted record.
News is emerging from Kinshasa that the regime continues to target the Virunga massif for oil and other mineral exploration and exploitation, in spite of a British exploration company, which was subjected to much pressure from global conservation organizations, withdrawing from the park.
Several years ago, the same regime at the last moment stopped a planned rescue and relocation mission of the last remaining group of Northern White Rhinos from Garamba National Park, with the then minister in charge claiming the country had the capacity to look after these precious animals. Not long afterwards, they were all wiped out by poachers, robbing the world of a priceless heritage courtesy of a hapless politician whose motives until today are suspect and the topic of much speculation why he changed his mind.
The Virunga massif, home to a large number of the endangered mountain gorillas and part of a tripartite cooperation between Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, of which gorilla parks are bordering the Virungas, has been a hotbed of militia activity, illegal mining often with slave labor, and a constant transiting and hiding area for militia troops. Last year, the outspoken Belgian Chief Park Warden, Emmanuel de Merode, was targeted in an assassination attempt. The shooting in April last year left him fighting for his life, but thankfully Emmanuel recovered from his serious injuries and a few months later resumed his duties. Several rangers and staff of the park were also killed in recent years in either crossfire or by targeted attacks on their installations, which at one stage wiped out an Okapi breeding project.
It was in fact after this incident that the British exploring company, Soco, threw in the towel over allegations of complicity which, however, were never proven.
The regime’s renewed effort to rescue its waning fortunes over the global opposition against any commercial activity inside the park and also along the boundaries and critically-important areas outside the park comes at a time when reportedly companies from China are falling over themselves in Kinshasa to “help develop” the country in exchange for mining concessions. Towards that end, it does appear that the regime has made contact with UNESCO to obtain clearance for renewed commercial exploration amid strong indications that plans are afoot to “modify and adjust” park boundaries, and that does not mean expanding the protection but carving out crucial portions of the park to allow mining companies to rape virgin forests.
No official reaction has yet been recorded from the Virunga park authorities or global conservation groups, but the breaking news will no doubt see the onset of yet another social media campaign and mainstream media focus on the future of the park and the conduct of the regime.