Justice or Vengeance in the Heart of Africa?

Case from TL2: the disappearance of Bernard Botumba.

Michel blamed in disappearance of Bernard
Park guard Michel is blamed for the disappearance of Bernard.

Watch for these biases in the text:
(§§) local politics
(++) retribution for past wrongs
(‡‡) extortion

Who is Bernard? Bernard has disappeared. He is a cousin of the past chief of the Balanga (§§) who was removed from office for incompetence. Previously, Bernard tried to steal an AK47 rifle from a park guard (++). He tried to steal it from between the guard’s legs while he was sleeping, but the guard woke and Bernard slipped into the forest.

(§§): The current chief of the Balanga does not want to be accused of complicity by Bernard’s family.
(++) : Bernard does not want to experience “justice” at the hands of vengeful park guards.

Bernard's family at his home_36km
The wife, children and brother of Bernard live along the Balanga road.

How did Bernard disappear – or worse?? Bernard’s older brother accuses the ICCN park guards of having shot and killed Bernard. The only evidence is that Bernard did not return home after his poaching camp was raided by a TL2 monitoring team and park guards. At the scene: the only arms were with the park guards (military rifles) and the poachers (shotguns). Bernard’s brother filed the complaint two weeks after the poaching camp was raided.

2 shotguns
Two shotguns found in the poaching camp.

This is from the report of the two TL2 team leaders.

Two teams, led by JP and Assani, patrolled the Balanga sector of the park during the second half of March and early April. JP was with the ICCN park guard, Michel, and Assani was with the park guard Dedieu. The two teams were to meet on the 6th of April then return to base camp together.

elephant print
Elephant track photographed by Assani on this March-April trip. Assani was investigating reports that elephants are returning to the Balanga forest – BEWARE OF POACHERS!!

On the 3rd of April JP’s team still had a lot of GPS points to cover so they divided in two: the guard Michel went west toward the Lomami and JP went east toward the Luidjo. On the 4th of April, Michel was moving quietly along a poacher’s trail expecting it to lead to a camp.

Also on the 4th of April, Assani had left his GIS-mapped track because he found a snare path that he followed dismantling traps as he went.

a snare in the forest
Assani took this photograph, one of many, to document the removal of snares on this trip.

Over 200 snares so far removed, then he heard the camp with poachers just ahead. He was with the guard Dedieu ; the team took position, then rushed the camp. Assani grabbed one poacher by the hand and yelled “don’t move – don’t move.”

Michel approaching the camp stealthily from the other side thought someone was yelling at him and he fired his rifle in the air. He fired it five times.

In the camp: instantaneous pandemonium, helter-skelter into the forest. Dedieu, running, answered fire into the air. A half-minute later Assani, suspecting friendly fire, yelled the password. Michel answered. Everyone agreed Michel should have shouted the password before ever using his rifle.

poachers camp "Merci Jesus"
The camp ‘Merci Jésus’ after the poachers fled.

Asani’s team returned to the poaching camp. They later found out the camp’s name was “Merci Jésus , or Thanks Jesus.” Not all was lost. The poachers had run off, but they left two shotguns, bushmeat, and unused snare cables and nylon.

unused metal snares
Unused snares found in ‘Merci Jésus’.

Michel found one of the poachers crouched in the mud. His name was Mandela, he was non-local, and afraid to run into the forest and get lost. All the local poachers had scattered. They were Balanga and knew their way home.

bay duiker_all should have been burned
Bay duiker smoked and waiting to be carried out from ‘Merci Jésus’.

They interrogated Mandela. He gave the names of his companions. The head of the camp was Bernard Botumba. A “wanted” man.

Two days later, continuing the patrol, the TL2 teams came across Amisi, the poacher Assani had grabbed by the hand. Also a non-local, he had made his way to the well-known pigeon opening . He was interrogated and gave the same information as Mandela.

questioning Amisi
Interrogating Amisi.

Michel, contrary to TL2 policy had kept some of the poachers’ bushmeat and sold it in the pigeon camp on the edge of the park.

8 April. Assani and JP’s monitoring patrols were complete; they turned north to the Bafundo base camp. Michel refused to come with them – he said he was going to the Balanga road to find Bernard (++). He and Dedieu went east.

9 April. Michel and Dedieu came out on the Balanga road, but Bernard had not yet arrived in his home village. They found two people from the camp, though, PDG and Ninja. Before leaving the Balanga village the park guards acquired 15000 congolese francs (about 17 dollars), 5 basins of freshly harvested rice, and one duck (‡‡).

(‡‡): All this is “paid” by Bernard’s family to the park guards “personally.”

This is what I learned from the territorial administrator and the current chief of the Balanga.

I was on the Balanga road this past week going to our Bafundo camp. On the way, I stopped to greet the Chief of the Balanga Sector at his village, Kimiakimia. He was with the Territorial Administrator, who had been sent by the Provincial Minister of the Interior to investigate the disappearance of Bernard.

Bushiri's accusation
The Deputy Bushiri took Bernard’s brother’s accusation to the assembly and the ministry of the environment (§§), asking the minister what he did about the “cruel assassination of a peaceful citizen?”

The Administrator had already been waiting in Kimiakimia two weeks. Apparently the Ministry of the Interior was supposed to join with its own investigation, but they had not yet received funds to do so.

The administrator told me he couldn’t wait any longer. He was going to hike out to “Thanks Jesus” to see if there were remains of Bernard, clothes, bones, anything. He told me to send Assani to lead them in.

chef des balanga
Chief of the Balanga.

Once in Bafundo Assani told me that Ninja, who was one of the poachers, had returned to “Camp Jesus” in April, soon after the raid, presumably to look for some clothes he thought would still be hidden in the forest. The chief himself had questioned Ninja afterwards. Twice Ninja said there was no sign of Bernard in the camp. The Balanga chief had apparently not informed the Administrator of this(§§).

(§§). The chief did not want to appear to favor ICCN (and TL2) or he would, himself get blamed for Bernard’s disappearance. As he, too, is Mulanga, he would probably be accused of sorcery.

When I left Bafundo, Assani came to join the administrator and chief. He came with rations and a full team to do a monitoring patrol while acting as guide and escort.

They are in the forest now.

So what will they find? Here are three possibilities:

RESULT 1 : Human bones and tattered blood-stained clothes are found. The justice process will continue.

RESULT 2: Nothing is found. I expect the case will be dropped for lack of evidence. Nevertheless, Bernard’s family has “won.” Michel and Dedieu have already done more than a month in prison. Although they are there as suspects in the murder of Bernard, consider it punishment for extortion along the Balanga road.

RESULT 3 : Bernard, himself, could walk down the Balanga road, back to his village. But he won’t. He will stay with his cousins on the other side of the Lomami, or in the northern forest as a new lawless acolyte of Colonel Thoms. He will lie low for at least a year. Then I expect no one will accuse him of anything when he returns. “Yes we thought Bernard disappeared, but he was only visiting relatives.”

15 june- night – thuraya message from ‘Merci Jésus’.  Nothing was found.  “Aucune trace de Bernard.”  The team starts the hike back to the Balanga road tomorrow.

burning snares_meat too shouldhave burned
The snares should burn! Here in Camp ‘Merci Jésus’ in the center of the Lomami Park.

Fighting Arson with Fire-Power along the Lomami

chefiaine Mchacha_dec10
The chief of the bangengele doing outreach for the park before we put in bridges. Her house, too, went up in flames. See below.

Arsonists burned three of our base camps in just over a year.

The first conflagration was Lohumonoko, It was set on fire in February 2014. Most staff were in the forest, but the three men in camp, Fiston, Shindano and Reddy, were beaten and tortured throughout the night.   We sent an investigation. We knew the perpetrators. But there was no follow-up. The local military were corrupt and the rebels had disappeared back into the forest.

We were not the only victims. The rebels burned several other houses at Lohumonoko, shot and killed a young boy, and burned three villages along the Lomami River.

burned village along the Lomami
One of three villages burned along the Lomami: Chekecheke, Ongwaina and Masasi.

No one was arrested.
A simple way of looking at it:
— there are not enough forces for order (police, military.. etc).
Another way of looking at it:
— the potential order-keepers do not have enough state money to act.
Yet another way of looking at it:
— the order-keepers are easily corrupted by the criminals.
All are probably true, but of varying importance in different places at different times.

The second camp to burn was Oluo — this year, on the 13th of April. The village of Oluo is only 5km from the park border and frequented by meat-buyers and non-local hunters. We thought we could resolve the arson case through the justice system. I am still not sure what went wrong.

Oluo_only kitchen still standing copy
Our camp at Oluo village was burned down.

The story I received is that poachers based at the village of Oluo were stopped by one of our patrols in the park and their meat was burned. The main poacher, Sele, managed to flee, but his porters came back to Oluo and told the story. The lead poacher’s relative, Kamba, said Sele had not returned so he must have been killed by the TL2 patrol. He took a torch to our camp at night. The camp guard, Kashinde, knew who was responsible because Kamba warned Kashinde. He said “leave or suffer the consequences.” Kashinde left and the camp went up in flames. Sele, himself, returned to Oluo the next day — unharmed. Later, before the judges, Kashinde denied that he saw Kamba. Kamba was let go. Not very satisfactory.

The most recent arson, a month later on May 5th was our base camp at Bafundo. This time we reacted immediately. Matthieu and Leon, TL2 leaders based in Kindu, went with Major Salumu and representatives of the undercover police.

La délégation
The delegation on its way to Bafundo.

We facilitated everyones movement including the military. We asked for ten military, but more than 50 were sent because rumors circulated that Colonel Thoms himself  was coming to Bafundo.

Mjr Salumu_big guns in Bafundo
The major briefing his troops in Bafundo.

The population was relieved to see the military; if the military were harsh, Thoms would be harsher. The villagers wanted to make it clear that they were not involved in the burning.  Some had the courage to stand up against it: the local nurse rescued TL2’s small generator and kept it in his house despite threats.

The local nurse who hid our generator from the arsonists.

The chiefs from the two sister villages, Likanjo and Bafundo, accused the same persons. The main arsonist, older brother of Colonel Thoms from the west bank Balanga, had the temerity to speak openly of his plan before lighting the fire.

Vincent et Pablo
Vincent, the main arsonist, on the right and one of his followers.

In fact his whole arson gang was from the west bank of the Lomami (more than 40km to the west, on the other side of the park).

Balanga village on the west bank
The west bank, or Balanga-West, is the most isolated area in the bufferzone without even bicycles, functioning schools or clinics.

Outreach on the left bank Lomami
One of colonel Thoms’s younger brothers (orange shirt) in photo of west bank outreach in a village near where Thoms was born.

Soon a large group from Bafundo was helping us rebuild our camp. The military started to accompany our park patrols and the non-local hunters fled. These were mainly people from another province (Tetela and Djonga) and they fled mainly to Oluo, site of the previous arson.

Village at work
Villagers help rebuild our camp in Bafundo.

We found out about the influx of poachers to Oluo when our outreach team was not allowed into the village. Maurice sent the alarm and this time we reacted and so did the military.

Maurice with a Balanga woman discussing the park
Maurice, center in striped shirt in Kimiakimia.

Twelve military went to Oluo and started accompanying our patrols. Already Slyvester, the team leader, says relations were improved with the local population when he returned from the forest.

Oluo with major and Matthieu
Matthieu, Major Salumu and I arrived with 12 military in Oluo on May 22nd.

We are not the only victims of arson. It seems to be the favored criminal attack on authority. I was just informed yesterday that the house of the traditional chief of the entire Bangengele chefferie (see first photo above) went up in flames. The fire was set by Tetela from outside the chefferie angry at the chief because she was trying to control their deforestation. The Tetela are major fabricators of charcoal to sell in Kindu.

In some cases, the protection of Natural Resources needs fire-power, both along the Lomami and throughout the D.R.Congo.

Added pictures from the home of the traditional chief of the Bangengele:

guestrooms destroyed
Her guest rooms, behind her house, burned — gone the roof and everything inside.

they threw in fuel and a torch
The Tetela knocked a hole in the wall, threw in fuel and set it alight — everything burned.

Chefitaine greeting people in dépot
She is now receiving people in a small back storage area.

Ebola Empties Villages, Bushmeat Empties Forests.

Bushmeat observations in the forest3
Just dead-Still warm.

Ebola is a disease, Bushmeat is commerce, but both remain uncontrolled for similar reasons: absence – on the ground – of adequate trained, committed individuals. Why the unwillingness to marshal and train human experts – on the ground – to bring the plagues under control?

For the Ebola plague,  Doctors Without Borders was the first group on the ground, the month the epidemic was declared in 2014.  In 2015  they still plead for Biological-Disaster Response Teams. “Thank you for the new clinics, but the clinics need staff.”  The number infected is over 24,000 and rising again in early 2015. Villages will continue to empty.

Bushmeat observations in the forest4
Small scale hunting like this – a single primate – is rarer as it becomes necessary to go farther and farther from the village to hunt successfully.

For the bushmeat plague, is it really emptying forests? Yes:
1. When we set out to explore the Lomami we explored over 40,000 km2 of forest; the whole outer half of it was empty and bushmeat hunters were coming towards the remaining core forest from all angles in order to stock the city bushmeat markets .
2. After Sankuru Reserve was created in November 2007, our inventories and those of WCS showed that more than 2/3 of the forest was essentially empty at the time of gazettement: no more bonobos, no more elephants, the big duikers gone, the primates few.
3. Between the first and second inventory of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (1995 and 2006) between 40% and 60% of all species inventoried were lost; that includes elephants, chimpanzees, okapi, and duikers.  That happened inside a protected area.

Hunters are the beginning of the chain
A hunting party, Bangengele,Maniema.

How do you stop it? The Convention on Biological Diversity Liaison Group on Bushmeat drafted recommendations in 2009 that were revised and adopted in 2012. The recommendations were sensitive to local peoples and stated the real needs on the ground:
“increase capacity to monitor levels of bushmeat harvest…;”
“establish mechanisms for..participation of indigenous and local communities..to ensure inclusion of their views and the impacts of unsustainable bushmeat use on their livelihoods…;”
“develop culturally acceptable and economically feasible alternative food and income sources…;”
“implement capacity-building and public awareness-raising activities…”

AND there was an important component on LAW ENFORCEMENT:
“Strengthen investigative capacity, enhance control, inspection and arresting procedures and methods…;”
“Improve knowledge and capacity of prosecutors and judges to prosecute and sentence illegal bushmeat harvest and trade cases, ensure that sentences are served in full and publicize arrests, prosecutions and sentences;”
“Enhance cooperation and coordination among wildlife trade enforcement officers and officials, prosecutors and judges and other relevant personnel…”
“Assure that citizens are aware of national, regional and local laws.”

Bushmeat observations in the forest6
A dugout load of bushmeat secured with a pole to the Lomami River’s shore..

Is it with cynical lack of concern or with total naivety that FAO, citing the above CBD liaison group on Bushmeat announced this in 2011:
“FAO prepared a regional GEF project for Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic to implement/test a new approach to bushmeat: the legal, sustainable use of selected non-threatened species through participatory wildlife management.”
No law enforcement, no development of alternatives, no on-the-ground monitoring….
Where has the money (more than 4 million dollars) gone?

Observations on the road2
A bicycle load of bushmeat.

An obvious non-starter :  how does a hunter target non-threatened species and leave all the others in peace. What does that mean on the ground? A hunter places 500 snares along snare lines in the forest.   Are his traps able to capture blue duiker, but not water chevrotain? The cable or nylon does not care.

And how do you create participatory wildlife management when there is almost no wildlife left to manage?

cables, nylons and shotgun shells
cables, nylons and shells to be “reloaded” with shot.

We knew one of several short-term FAO research projects associated with this GEF. The researcher used camera traps to asses animals in the forest of a pilot village more than 100 km east of Kisangani. The cameras showed an impoverished, remnant fauna. Already there were village-level problems of who had rights to what part of the forest for hunting. Not promising.

more than the usual load
A back load of bushmeat.

To encourage hunting for only non-threatened species, hunters of protected species (elephants, bonobos, chimps, giant pangolins….) must be arrested, prosecuted and punished.  So says the CBD recommendations above.  As it stands now, this process usually does not get beyond arrest. After all, killing a bonobo or elephant is not as important as, for instance, stealing a cell phone, or sleeping with someone else’s wife, or making off with your neighbor’s goat. That bonobo or elephant did not belong to anyone else…what’s the problem?

hunting camp
Hunting camp with drying rack.

The CBD recommendations have been used to justify work, not only by FAO, but also by some universities.
A regional database for bushmeat research in Central and West Africa has been assembled. This certainly has academic merit, but it is unlikely  to reduce bushmeat hunting in any forest being hunted to near-empty.  The authors’ statement that “Such information could assist decision-makers to develop evidence-based conservation strategies” fails to understand the vast separation between strategy (offices) and application (ground). The authors statement that they are complying with the CBD’s request for monitoring does not recognize that monitoring should lead to appropriate action to protect forests when they are being depleted. People (local, regional and ex-pat) are needed on the ground with the mission to make that happen.

ready for night hunting
Ready for night hunting, near Bili Uere, Orientale.

Even more distant from any kind of ground reality was a modeling exercise for sustainable hunting and biodiversity protection that purported to “provide information for management.”

As a result of a lot of “forward-backward-stepwise” and “fuzzy” logic (their own terms) the authors proposed areas of potential sustainable hunting that in the eastern DR Congo includes two national parks and two reserves. There was no mention of protected areas in the paper. As mammals were discussed only at the taxonomic level of Order there was no ability to distinguish between the okapi and the bay duiker.

The FAO GEF was a five-year initiative approved in 2011. It must now be at its end. I think that governments, communities, conservationists and all potential actors in the field (local, regional, expat) need to know the results and hear the proposed follow-up.

putrified duiker in trap
When a snare line is not checked frequently enough: rot and army ants.

Mbuti Exodus: from Lualaba Barge to Lomami Forest Canopy.

Kisangani to Kindu (13 February– 23 February 2015): The Mbuti travelled for more than a week up the Lualaba River (upper Congo).

Passing boats on the Lualaba
After taking a bus overland to Ubundu, the Mbuti moved upriver for more than a week on a Congo River barge.

Mbuti exodus to Lomami
Their exodus from the Ituri included landcruiser, bus, barge, motorbike and finally a long hike.

They logged over 1000 km.

Relaxing in the lifeboat
On the Lualaba, from the “life-dugout” they watched the River go by….

Fellow travellers on the River
….with its fellow travelers…

Captain's bridge
…and its own peoples as entertwined with the river as the Mbuti are with the forest.

Arrived in Kindu, spirits were high at our TL2 guesthouse.

Cooking with vigor in Kindu
Mateso continued his role as cook, here fanning the flames of the charcoal babula.

Dino (who has accompanied the Mbuti from the Ituri) and Nobirabo (who remains in the Ituri) organized phone calls with wives and loved ones before leaving Kindu for Katopa camp. This was the first time on the telephone.

Uleli talking to wife IN KINDU
Ueli speaks to his wife.

Mbeya was informed that his wife gave birth … he is father to a son.

Mbeya new father_Kindu celebration
A special celebration for the new father.

Aside: Unfortunately a month later out in camp Mbeya is diagnosed with tertiary syphilis. He is treated, but his wife must be treated and the new baby checked.

Mbeya in front of cabin
Mbeya at camp Katopa after receiving one in the series of shots.

But before that –
From Kindu to Katopa camp (26 February to 28 February 2015): the Ituri team must cross the Bangengele villages all the way to the last one, Chombe Kilima.

Ueli and Mateso on motorbike
Three to a motorbike.

All hands to push motorbikes around fallen tree
Pushing – pulling the motorbike around a fallen tree.

They were welcomed by the Bangengele and the village of Chombe Kilima.

AA_Chef groupement Tshambi wishing luck
The chief wishes them well.

Trying Lomata before heading off
They are given the local manioc paste – lomata – to give them strength for the walk.

Then they must cross forest and savanna, 37 km, through the park to our base camp Katopa on the other side of the Lomami River. Dino accompanied them on this, the last leg of the trip to Katopa camp; then Dino returned to Kisangani.

Dino leads team through Braza savanna
Dino leads across the savanna under a punishing sun.

Forest work got underway only slowly until the botanical team gathered (next post). Unfortunately, camp Katopa is right next to the village of Katopa. In the village many of the Mamas distill Kindingi, a local brew, made from corn and manioc. The Mbuti had some money and no other plans than a good time now. There were no wives or family to direct the good time. Unfortunately their good time kept the whole camp awake.

Sleeping it off inside

My first night in camp, Mateso carried on with a drunken dialogue through the hyrax night calls and the blue monkey’s morning calls…most of the rest of the Ituri team slept it off. But several nights later, after the botanical team was present in full force and after receiving their first pay, the drunk was so bad NO ONE slept and in the morning the Ituri team’s part of the camp was gutted.

Too much Kindingi

Tired, discouraged the botanical team marched off with all the Mbuti, except for Mbeya who was receiving penicillin at Katopa.

From Katopa camp to forest camps (March, April, May): The botanists were set for a first eight-day spell of plot inventory where the Mbuti would dry out with plenty of time in the forest canopy.

Cimbing into Lomami canopy 5
A zoom-in on Emula high in the canopy.

Throwing down the specimen
Paul throwing leaves down to the botanists below.

The work was enthusiastic – impeccable—and spirits as tall as the trees that were climbed.

The botanical team of university students is lead by Professor Ewango. Both University students and Ituri Mbuti are learning the trees of the Lomami.

Prof's specs _ functional again
Prof Ewango examining leaves. The student, Modestine, taking notes.

Ewango insists on having leaf evidence for any tree that cannot be confidently identified. This is where the Mbuti are irreplaceable. We are identifying mainly plants that have neither flowers nor fruits; it is absolutely essential to have the leaves no matter how high the tree is.

Climbiing into Lomami canopy 2
Heading up….

Paul tying on liana
Using a liane to rope in a distant tree on high.

But that is not their only contribution. Where ingenuity is needed in the face of minimum outside inputs – they are the engineers.

Corneille needs reading glasses to read the calipers. Climbing to get a diameter above the buttresses he leaned into a tree and broke his glasses.

Prof Ewango climbs_takes two to measure
Prof Ewango climbing up to help Sumaili take a diameter reading.

Repair of Prof’s specs happened right there on the forest floor.

fixing prof's specs
Soumaili found some gluey substance left on the commercial packaging of one of our meter tapes.

Spectacles drying in the sun
After patching, he set the spectacles to dry in a sun patch on the forest floor.

We are still learning how to do the vegetation inventory efficiently. A complex team is essential. Obviously we must have botanist –taxonomists-ecologists (see next post), but equally essential are the Congolese forest experts and climbers. For now at least our best bet is the Ituri team as the more local pygmies are few and distant.

Lesson learned: Perhaps it was a mistake to bring individual Mbuti and not whole families; so, in early June the Mbuti will return to the Ituri and those that come back to the Lomami in September will come with their families.

But right now – just out from eight days at Braza camp – a hectare of forest inventoried – all is positive with the botanical initiative. Perhaps there was a bit of Kindingi tonight…but it has been turned to music: drumming, singing, and a light rain on the mogobo roof of the baraza.
Taking a rest in the Lomami canopy
Paul takes a rest high in the Lomami Forest Canopy.