The Crimes They Commit in the Lomami Wilderness

bonobo looking wise
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.

Obenge delegation
The Opala delegation in Obenge

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.

One of Major Ranger’s gang and one of the rapists being interrogated. In the background the Lomami flows on.

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.


  1. Posted 2008-04-24 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    “Stephen Lewis argues that the level of rape and sexual violence in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and the delinquency of the United Nations.” Read the recent article on Pambazuka:

  2. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-04-24 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    A good article. One thing is that the problem is not limited to the east of Congo although I agree with S. Lewis that the problem entered DRCongo with the huge flight of Interhamwe and FDLR into Congo. Commander Dracula was part of the RCD Goma…with ties to Rwanda. But I don’t want to take that too far. Ethnic hatred seems to quickly allow the most “inhuman” of human behaviors. How to stop it????? I agree there has to be an international priority, not based on guilt but based on humanity.

  3. Posted 2008-04-25 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Perhaps exploring the social dynamics behind the shunning of these victims by their families…these girls (boys) need love and support from their community, if they are to heal, emotionally from their ordeal. I find it unbelievable, that these criminals, continue to hold posts in the national police force…how can this be?

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Crispin passed his boat when he was heading downstream towards Opala. Crispin was returning the Civil Society representatives and picking up Major John who promised to clean out the last Major Ranger’s gang, those who had […]

  2. […] yet seen but knew as the erstwhile hideout of the infamous Colonel Thoms , the brigand accused of over a hundred rapes in her territory just the year before. He and his men had held Obenge in their grip. The captain for the Armed […]

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