I was in the Congo a few months before this tragedy in association with The Frankfort Zoological Society which was awarded a $3.42 million grant from the European Union. We were tasked with writing a Master Plan for the recovery of The Kundelungu and Upemba National Parks devastated by war and corruption. Upemba, where Atamato was the Head Ranger is about 5,000 square miles in size. This region is globally significant because of the richness of its biodiversity.
Mai-Mai in the Congo Parks, renegade groups killing people and animals (note child with arrow)
What this tragedy shows is the deadliness of the low-level conflict that is happening in the Katanga Province. With an estimated $24 trillion in mineral wealth and a huge ongoing mineral extraction process, this is the richest region in the world. Its people are the poorest. The World Bank ranks the Congo dead last in a list of worst places in the world to do business. There is much international news about the fighting and civil unrest in the Kivus in the north of the country but while these stories grab the headlines, there is a nasty little war taking place in and around the Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks. It’s a war about poverty, criminality, superstition and tribalism.
Atamato was an unfortunate victim of that war, as are the local populations, women, children, the sick and the elderly who suffer as a consequence. I suspect that most of the so-called Mai-Mai have no idea why they are fighting. There is really no ideology and no possible positive outcome for them. These poorest of the poor live and die miserably. A week after Atamato’s death the National Army (FARDC) attacked a group of Mai Mai on the boundary of the Park, 25 were killed, including at least one of Atamato’s killers.
Less than a year ago a contingent of Mai Mai killed people just outside the Upemba Park and a few months later over ran the Park’s Lusinga Ranger Station itself just after I left. At the entrance to the lovely compound are the well tended graves of members of this contingent killed by a still earlier Mai Mai attack. In the past when troops from the Army have responded to such atrocities, they themselves killed many of the last animals in the Parks and typically left greater disruption in their wake.
My time in Lubumbashi, Kiubo and at Lusinga in the Upemba Park brought me face to face again and again with the corruption of the Kabila government which reaches down from the President’s own inner circle to members of the ICCN. I personally observed that many of those who wear the ICCN badges are actively engaged in pilfering significant amounts of money from field staff like Atamato and his men and are complicit in the killing of the very animals they are empowered to protect. The involvement of the ICCN in the large and profitable bush meat trade contributes to overall lawlessness and may very well lie at the periphery of Atamato’s murder.
This is a case of desperation feeding off of grinding poverty. Villagers are unable to harvest their produce, children do not attend school, health care is dismal, nobody is willing to visit the region and investment dries up. This creates more poverty, more desperate young men and consequently more Mai-Mai. Unfortunately the government is far too weak, far too corrupt and ineffective to intervene and help resolve any of these issues. And of course, one of the biggest victims is conservation.
There is rampant poaching, terrified rangers and no tourists to inject any money into the local economy, interact with the people and give them a sense that they could have a secure future surrounded by wilderness, world class biodiversity and animals.
The involvement of the ICCN in the large and profitable bush meat trade contributes to overall lawlessness and may very well lie at the periphery of Atamato’s murder.
What to do with this information ? YES ! you can help
If you recycle pop cans and newspapers you believe that small acts by many individual people like you really matters. Read more about what we are doing to help http://michaelpetermcbride.blogspot.com/ Scroll down to the May 10 post, Congo’s Future is With the Children” and then join us !
We can’t do much from afar about the people who are doing bad things but we can help the children/students of the Rangers at the Lusinga Ranger Station in the Upemba National Park. I wholeheartedly believe that the concentric rings radiated out from this little school deep in the troubled area might do more good than we could imagine. Thank you !
Learn about the tragic slaughter of elephants and other animals across all Africa in this Congressional Hearing http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/ivory-and-insecurity_the-global-implications-of-poaching-in-africa