There is no question, our main message to the governor, the general, and all provincial authorities in Kisangani: COLONEL TOM MUST BE STOPPED. He is master of elephant poaching and dominates bushmeat trade. Colonel Tom himself told Ashley, with a wave of his hand, “the forest is mine”.
Pockets of anarchy in DRCongo are of two types:
- In the east, bandits like Nkunda head armies of guerillas, are backed by bank accounts in Rwanda, combat ethnic rivals, and threaten the last populations of Congo’s gorillas.
- Dead center, bandits like Colonel Tom are on their own turf, terrorize neighbors, poach for ivory and turn wildlife to bushmeat in Congo’s unprotected forest core.
Of the latter type of bandit, Colonel Tom is top of the wanted list.
Ashley came to Kisangani by dugout. He shot the last 270 kilometers down the Lomami from Opala and then pushed the last 120 km up the Congo to the same small port he left two and half months earlier. I flew Bravo airlines from Kinshasa to Kisangani.
Incredible frontier town. In its backyard markets, Kisangani handles diamonds, bushmeat and any other natural resource pulled from the forest or dug from the earth. This is where Ashley and I conferred and this is where we worked with a first-rate collaborator, DP Malengani of Congo’s conservation institute (ICCN).
Malingane described the new government. “Will we be heard “, we asked?
The old general ,Malingane explained, was a Maimai during the rebellion, like Colonel Tom himself. “That General has just been ousted”, he told us. The new General, J-C KIFWA, must now control a third of the country.
We saw General Kifwa the first day. He did not mince words. “First the government will try dialogue.” But, the General stated flatly, pinning us with an unwavering stare, “whether Colonel Tom listens or not, Colonel Tom will be removed.”
The new administration was equally committed. All are young: the new governor, vice-governor, the provincial environmental officer, the woman who is territorial administrator of Opala. This junior government takes authority over an enormous province where schools don’t function and hospitals are without medicine and doctors.
They have heard us. What remains to be seen is action. Malingane remains in Kisangani. He will update us, and we will update this blog.