Along the Lomami: a Lesser Crime, but Not a Lesser Criminal

This is a comparison. Our world is small, the differences matter.

Ranger, a Maimai Major with his ivory
A Lomami style of criminal (center) with elephant tusk and grigri. Major Ranger served time in jail, but is now back hunting for ivory.

April 15th – John and I sat in a sushi bar at the Newark airport. We were early: another two hours before our plane back to Congo. Occasionally we glanced at the television. There had been a bomb – two bombs – at the Boston marathon, just an hour earlier. Alarm, curiosity, but the world was not yet riveted to the search in Boston.

April 17th – John and I are back in Kinshasa. The news from Boston: three dead and more than two hundred injured. Runners lost their legs.

April 18th – Photos of the suspects are released. An amazing sleuth job! How many security cameras and cell-phone shots were analyzed and then compared between bomb locations? A high-tech police operation. That same night a chase ends in a short gunfight. The eldest suspect is dead and the next day the younger is found bloody, unarmed, hiding in a backyard.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarneav were soon the primary suspects in the Boston marathon bombings.

Were the bombers connected to an international terrorist group? No. Two brothers: the oldest 26 and the younger 19. The older, an outstanding boxer had hoped to compete in the National Tournament of Champions. Then the rules changed: American citizens only. He did not yet have citizenship. Was that the reason he set homemade bombs to kill innocent people?

What about his little brother: American citizen and prize-winning student in his senior high school class?

At age 19, my younger daughter idolized her older sister, seven years her senior. That blind devotion was gone two years later.

From a hospital bed, during his first interrogation, the younger gave as justification the American role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At age 19, I opposed the American role in Vietnam. My vehement conviction was secondhand, someone else’s knowledge and passion.

In Boston, the crime was brutal. The criminals: alienated, angry young men. Unfortunately, ridding the world of them will have little impact on the thousands of other alienated young men; a few will commit suicide, very few mass violence; most will readjust.

April 19th – In Congo: John flew to Kisangani, three days later he flew south to Kindu and now is heading to Katopa camp. He will take our dugout down the Lomami River to Obenge.

Obenge and getting there
John will go north to Obenge. Maurice has already started south from Kisangani with supplies in the big dugout.

Obenge is the TL2 crime scene. It is no Boston. Utterly isolated, a full day by motorized dugout to reach the nearest tiny village and 130 km across forest to the nearest town with cell phone coverage. There is no road connecting Obenge to anywhere.

The crime:
1/ elephant poaching. Illegal but happens with impunity.
2/ attempt to kill our project workers – February 2013.
3/Looting of the TL2 base camp – February 2013.

The criminals: Colonel Thoms, Major Ranger, 50cents and Little John (truly short – not to be confused with Robin Hood’s Little John). None are originally from Obenge.

But for Colonel Thoms Obenge is more than a strategic base. One hundred years ago his ethnic group, and specifically his clan, claimed the Obenge forest. During colonial times the forest was given to another ethnic group and specifically the Yawende clan where Col. Thoms is responsible for mass rape of over 100 women and girls. He escaped from prison two years ago. He is an angry man.

The criminals are armed with AK47s and poisoned arrows and are supported through a black market in munitions. The ivory goes out the same way munitions come in.

Law-enforcement: Twice we (TL2 project ) supported military campaigns to pursue Colonel Thoms. Both times the military returned empty handed.
In February, 200 military (without our support) came to Obenge, presumably to capture Colonel Thoms and his cohorts. Now, two months later, military are still there, they have arrested minor associates, but all four principal criminals are still on the loose.

So what is the comparison?

CRIME Boston Top publicity, high-visibility casualties and deaths
CRIME Obenge Almost no publicity, low-visibility elephant poaching, rape and attempted murder
CRIMINAL Boston First-time offenders; unconnected to criminal networks
CRIMINAL Obenge Repeat criminals; black market ivory sales and munitions supply
LAW ENFORCEMENT Boston Swift, no-expense spared, effective
LAW ENFORCEMENT Obenge Ineffective, slow – probable collusion in upper echelons

Our world is small ,but — Congo is still a long way from that Boston finish line.

Our next steps ? Maurice and John will meet in Obenge.  I, too, am waiting to hear.  More later.

One Comment

  1. Ron Carroll
    Posted 2013-05-01 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Thank God for people like you and John. We just need a thousand more like you. I lived in Liberia for a couple of years and know a little (emphasize little) of what you and John are facing in your conservation struggles.
    Keep up the fight.
    Ron Carroll
    University of Georgia

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