Turning Parrot Disaster to Hope

Moise reports bad news…

Moise, membner of the P3M Core Group, on far right, visiting a parrot nesting site on Lac Ndjale.

March 16th Moise’s WhatsApp message : “Dear Core Group, the governor will grant 45 days to the parrot traders to evacuate 400 parrots they have in stock.”M

This was the second time the Governor opened the trade after officially closing it in August 2023 on the recommendation of his own cabinet, the Environment minister and the Environmental Coordination.

March 17th the Core Group members of P3M
(Parrot Protection Project-Maniema) that were in town,
held an emergency meeting. (Leon’s back to camera).

Leon moved into full gear:

Leon, on far right, explaining the parrot crisis in a village in southeast Maniema.

No one in government could help.  The governor angrily told his assembled staff that he wanted no interference from his own people (the staff knew that the governor had accepted a substantial bribe to open the parrot trade).  

Leon, member of the P3M core group but not in the government, started knocking on doors in Kindu.  Who could help counter what the governor had done?  The opposition party was sympathetic, but would only denounce the governor during the upcoming political campaigns.

Leon found an opening with the president of Maniema’s civil society, Stephen Kamundala.

Stephen Kamundala, president of Maniema’s Civil Society, is a dynamic leader for “those without voice.”

Leon explained the governor’s deception and Stephen did not hesitate.  “This is too much – yet another case of corruption, hurting the people and their rights and their heritage.”

Kamundala was angry and brave enough to say it out loud, on the radio and in print.

Announcement of Kamundala’s upcoming radio discussion of the Governor’s opening of the parrot trade.

Civil Society is a strong and very Congolese phenomenon, a vast network of local organizations spread across Congo, representing local communities, women, the handicapped, and indigenous people. Often civil society is supported by a coalition of churches, but often it is a lone voice of the people in areas of conflict.   In 11 provinces there is a provincial platform bringing all the small local organizations together.  Maniema has one and Stephen is the president.

Kilimonda (above), represents a local civil society organization, AGOGE, in Mulu that is trying to save its parrots. He is showing the parrot on DRCongo’s 1000 franc note. He relies on Stephen’s suuport for provincial representation.

I first met Stephen on an airplane from Kindu to Kinshasa.  I guessed who he was as person after person greeted him “Salue, président.”  They reached out to shake his hand as they maneuvered down the aisle; others came forward particularly to address him. 

Stephen Kamundala denounced the governor’s parrot deception forcefully on the radio:
Three local stations;
The most popular national station;
and the UN-funded Radio Okapi.

The backlash was severe enough that the governor telephoned Stephen in a rant and called him “my enemy”.

In the meantime, the repeated radio messages gave others the courage to act: When the parrot traders brought their first load of parrots to the airport to go out on the afternoon ServeAir flight on April  8th the airport staff called the Environmental Coordination.   That was big: every previous parrot shipment the security staff had accepted bribes of $50 to $100 to just quietly usher the parrot crate out to the plane.

Aimé Mole, Kindu parrot trader, stands between his crate of parrots in the ServeAir truck at the airport, and the airport security and Environmetal Coordination agents.

Three people from the Environmental Coordination arrived: Moise, Mme Azama and Zacharie. They confronted a fuming and self-righteous Aimé, principal parrot trader of Kindu.

A parrot peers out of the top of the crate as Aimé argues beside the ServeAir truck.

Mme Azama insisted on opening the crate enough to count the parrots. Why were there 60 when Aimé only paid tax for 50?

They studied Aimé’s papers. Why didn’t Aimé have a permit for holding parrots? He had to pay for that now.

Mme Azama accepts back taxes with a delinquent fee from Aimé.

The ServeAir plane left while the crate of Parrots was still being argued over.

It was not until late that afternoon and after paying multiple fines that Aimé had permission to airship his parrots.
The parrots were flown to Kinshasa on ServeAir the following day.  Our successes were small but they were significant:

  • The governor’s corruption was openly exposed;
  • Small-time airport officials that previously accepted bribes, stood up for the law;
  • The supposedly suppressed Environmental Coordination slapped down all the rules still applicable, delaying the shipment and making it more expensive;
  • And – thanks to Civil Society – the case of the Grey Parrots is well known throughout the province and even at a national level.

A crate of parrots in Kisangani under the ServeAir plane waiting to be loaded. Kisangani is the capital of Tshopo Province where the parrot trade is not yet illegal. ServeAir generally carries over a thousand parrots per month just from Kisangani.

The expense, the uncertainty and delays are increasing for parrot traders in Maniema and are being felt in surrounding provinces. There is hope.

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