This reflective bonobo has no doubt seen a bit of the evil side of human nature, how else would he have been orphaned and finally ended up at LolaYa Bonobo
Elephant poaching and bonobo hunting were a major concern for us since we started exploring the TL2 river basins a year ago. We congratulated the military, and even ourselves, for managing to take off the worst offenders. But what we are discovering now leaves no room for self congratulation. A decade of anarchy and occupation by militias has led to a culture of rape, extortion and trafficking in military weapons. It is not just elephant lives and bonobo lives that are cheap – human life too, is cheap.
Poaching is a symptom of a deeper disease. And I fear that something must be done about that deeper disease to make the poaching controllable.
When John came down from Opala he brought with him representatives of the “people”, what is called société civile here, including three well-respected men. This was the first such official visit since before the long civil war, more than ten years ago.
The visit of the delegation was also the first time that villagers in Obenge felt empowered enough to speak openly of some of what they have suffered. Five recent cases of rape, perpetrated by associates of Col Thoms were brought up. While some of the solutions proposed (“marriage” of one 12 year old victim to her teenage assailant) scarcely felt like justice, we have to accept that perhaps it is the best solution possible. And some families are indeed asking for public recognition of the crime with retribution.
The chef de secteur from Opala, wrote this in his report (my translation):
We have identified with the help of the community leader in our delegation, five recent and critical cases of rape. One case requires medical examination followed by psycho-social and medical care.
We also note that two of these cases were very recent, having occurred during this month of April.
John wrote, “Even more shocking were the revelations emerging today about the mass grave that we were shown at the edge of the village where the remains of ten people are buried who were massacred in 2001 by a Congolese rebel militia led by a commander with the sinisterly appropriate nom-de-guerre of Commandant Dracula. The interviews undertaken by our visiting delegation documented unimaginable barbarity. The fact that the perpetrators, including Dracula, remain not only at large and unpunished, but vested with posts in the national police force in Kisangani, does not give confidence that complete social recovery will happen quickly.”
John is sending on the Chef de Secteur’s report concerning the story of the mass grave. I will translate it and put it out in the next few days.
So, I am wondering: where does a conservation and development project such as ours go from here?
These problems are community problems and the Obenge villagers know, that to heal, they must find community solutions themselves. But they also feel that in a very basic way we have become part of this community – and indeed it does feel that way.