Paying the Traffic Cop for Parrots

Kin traffic_making it move
There’s always a way.

African Grey parrots, unlike dodos (above), are still alive and in the wild.  But corruption, as in paying off the “traffic cops”, is pushing them ever closer to extinction.   A little money in the right place is all that is needed to swing a parrot cargo around “traffic jams” caused by a few inconvenient legal texts.

We ended the last post by saying that Maniema’s minister of the environment held firm…no parrot trade in the province of Maniema.  There is now a wobble.

Theo parle avec Ministre
Maniema’s environment minister, in suitcoat, speaks with the parrot trader, Theo, in grey plaid shirt, in front of Theo’s cages.

In August 2023, the minister organized a government delegation with representatives of our P3-Maniema core group, to visit the “maisons” of the traders in Kindu.

It was revealing.

Theo with his PGA
Theo, parrot trader, in front of his birds in August 2023.

Parrots are stocked for export in and around Kindu – Mostly grey parrots and lots of them.  The same “maison” that ICCN raided in early March 2016, during a brief effective closure of Maniema’s parrot trade, was active again.   In 2016 it had over 400 living African Grey Parrots and many dead ones were strewn on the ground. More than 7 years later, on 28 August 2023 it contained, again, 421 living Grey parrots.  What payoffs allowed that?  Theo, the “maison” owner, was ready for the minister’s visit, so the dead parrots had been swept away. 

MARCH 2ND RAID1 2016
The same cages at Theo’s in March 2016 before they were emptied during an ICCN raid.
dead parrots at Theo's in 2016
Dead parrots in the trash heap next to Theo’s cages in 2016.

Did the 2016 raid have any impact??

chez Aimé_Kindu
Aimé is another parrot trader holding 130 parrots in Kindu in 2023.

Another “maison” in Kindu visited the same day, August 2023, contained 130 Grey parrots.   What’s more a group of parrot suppliers were present and between them they reported another 860 parrots being held in Maniema outside of Kindu.

photo famille traffiquant; fournisseurs et ministre
In the center back of this photo taken with the minister are a number of parrot suppliers who keep their stocks outside of Kindu.

The parrot traders were ready with a defense.  “These parrots should not be affected by the Governor’s Message banning the parrot trade,” said Theo, who is still their representative, “they have been in captivity since before the Annex 1 listing of Grey Parrots by CITES in January 2017 and they already belong to registered commercial companies in Kinshasa, Byart and Balka, that are waiting for the trade to be legally reopened.”

The Minister asked them to bring their permits clarifying the status of the birds to him and his services for verification. (Up to the present, no permits have been shown.) Minister also told us that he felt he could not confiscate these stocked parrots without the go-ahead of the national authorities at CITES and the ministry.

Meeting Sec Gen EDD
In Kinshasa with the Secretary General of the Environment and Sustainable Development (white cap) with the Coordinator of the Environment of Maniema in pin-stripe and core group members, Moise Imani (left) and Leon Salumu (right).

As quickly as possible we organized a trip to DRC’s capital.  Leon Salumu and Moise Imani represented our core group at the General Direction of ICCN, at CITES Management Authority, and with the Secretary General for the Environment.  A mixed meeting was called for all environmental authorities in Kinshasa.  In the minutes of the meeting, they congratulated Maniema Province on its message forbidding the parrot trade.  In their recommendations they also wrote that Maniema’s coordination should:

Procéder à la saisie de 531 Perroquets et traduire les deux sociétés en justice.

(“proceed with the seizure of the 531 parrots and take the two parrot trading companies to court.”)

photo famille_atelier
A diverse group of environmental authorities gathered in the capital, Kinshasa.

That would have been the end of it if someone was not paying the traffic cop.   In Kindu, the Minsiter wobbled.  None of the traders had come up with a single permit to justify their parrot stocks.  Nevertheless, without informing even his own cabinet, the minister issued a “communication” giving traders the right to evacuate their grey parrots:

official communication minister 1oct-dec
An official “communication” from Maniema’s environment minister giving parrot traders three months to empty their stocks without reprisal.

What was the price-tag for that??  The communication says the traders may  “vider” or “empty” their stocks of AGP.  It opens the door to “empty” all Maniema of Grey Parrots.  At least the 860 will go, along with all still being held by Theo and Aimé.

We are all back in Kindu now and trying to figure out what steps must be taken to have the communiqué withdrawn.  Thank goodness, the technical (as opposed to political) administration is strongly against the parrot trade, in both Kinshasa and Maniema.  We will follow possibilities to plug this “parrot leak” in our next post.

Nov 07 meeting to write note to gov
A group of the technical, “non-political”, environmental staff discussing how to handle the minister’s damaging “communication”.

In this post, I want to at least put down in black and white what we are learning of corruption permeating the trade from its lowest to highest levels: The roads of Maniema should be enough to discourage the parrot trade. 

Bikenge road conditions
The road to Bikenge a major “hot-spot” for parrots. (See bottom photo)

Almost none are accessible to 4-wheel vehicles of any kind.  Even motorbikes use them with great difficulty, and – what should be most discouraging – there are road blocks at every large town.  At road blocks military, police and border-officials look for illegal cargoes among other things.

Barriere de Kiyungi copy
A road barrier along a major road-way south of Kindu.
Agent des FARDC controle une feuille de route
Military officer inspecting a traveler’s documents at a road barrier.

To get around Road barriers: Law enforcement can be made a little friendlier with a few cigarettes, and then almost any vaguely pertinent document will get your parrots through.  Most barrier-officials are barely literate; the motorbike driver tells them what the documents say that he pulls from his back pocket to show them.  All the better if there are two or three documents…even if totally unrelated to each other. Here are some examples of hip-pocket, road-barrier, slip-around documents:

page 1 of DG Cosma's note technique
First page of a letter from a previous Director General of the Conservation Agency (left the post in 2022)
page 6 of DG Cosma's note technique
Last of page of the same six-page letter.

A letter signed by the Director General of the Natural Conservation Institute (ICCN) and addressed to the highest political authorities in DRC (the president and ministers) says the CITES decision to embargo trade in grey parrots from DRC is unfair and should have been illegal.  He calls on the national government to fight it diplomatically, politically, scientifically and judicially.  The country must and will do everything possible to open the trade…  signed by the DG in 2022 just a couple months before leaving office. Was this 6-page document ever sent to the intended authorities? or just distributed for use to parrot exploiters? It has been used at many road barriers as a license to let through parrots.

a national quota for green parrots used to justify grey parrots
This much copied referencen to a quota for capture of green parrots is used to assure passage for grey parrots who have a “0” quota.
Document for export of verts used for internal trafficing of greys -- signed by the management authority of ICCN
Or, bizarrely, an international export permit for green parrots is used to move grey parrots through road barriers in Maniema.

What we still don’t understand is how thousands of Grey Parrots continue to move out of Kinshasa to other countries.

That is top level, and requires more than hip-pocket greasing of the road-barrier gears.  Hip-pocket works where birds are worth $10 each, but something else is needed where they are worth $200 each and a CITES embargo is active. 

Below is from a petition presented at the CITES Permanent Committee meeting early November 2023 :

“Recommendations to improve compliance regarding trade in Grey parrots in the DRC have been made at almost every Standing Committee meeting since SC67 (2016) and we are concerned about the slow progress in their implementation in the face of a situation that is worsening…

……Commercial-scale shipments of Grey parrots are not easy to conceal or difficult to identify.”

We were pleased that this petition did not fault only DRC for corruption, it called out the receiving countries as well:

“….the laundering of wild-sourced parrots as purportedly captive bred, noting that the recent increase in trade in wild-sourced Grey parrots has coincided with the registration of over 200 facilities across several countries and a trade which now involves several thousand specimens annually.”

For Maniema, at least, we are working to get the wobble under control and the parrot trade firmly monitored.   It will not be simple; it will not be cheap….AND at the same time we must begin to chip away at other provinces…. (Sankuru, Tshopo, Kinshasa).

Ramazani with parrots at Annexe
Ramazani seized 16 parrots in Bikenge on the 7th of November that were collected during what climbers called a “3 month open period declared by the Minister” (!); on the basis of the governor’s ban, given precedence by Ramazani, he brought them 230 km, 2 days, over brutal roads on a motorbike. 14 survivors are now established at the P3-M annexe.

A Message – Its Consequences

Theo's birds
This Kindu “maison” had over 400 African Greys in its aviaries at the beginning of September 2023.

Someone telephoned the governor.  He proposed a 10,000 dollar bribe.   “Just let our ‘maisons’ keep the parrots we have now.” 

But it was too late. The governor’s message was already public, since August 9th.  It was too late – or was it?

Kisangani_in plane for shipment
Parrots already loaded in a cargo plane in Kisangani, destination Kinshasa.

There is a lot of money in a half-hidden parrot trade.  Far more than we imagined.  DR Congo is the world’s number 1 supplier of African Grey Parrots from the wild;  all indications are that the trade is increasing not decreasing.

case for shipment in Kisangani
Destination written on top of a crate of African Greys awaiting air shipment to Kinshasa.

The goal of our parrot protection project (P3), is to stop the commerce before all the Congo populations crash.  Some already have.  But that does not stop the push back from money inside the trade.

Parrots in 2014_no more
Parrots used to always be in the park Kiboko on the edge of the Lomami River, but after constant captures, they have been absent for five years.

A first step was made in Maniema Province:
There must be enforceable laws.   The governor’s message is enforceable and simple:

“Formal interdiction of parrot capture, traffic or commercialization throughout the Province of Maniema. All parrots currently held by climbers, transporters or buyers must be turned over to authorities.”

230809_governor Mangala's MESSAGE
The governor’s message.

We Celebrated!  Many meetings were needed to push through the announcement; all made possible by enthusiasm from the minister’s office and governor’s cabinet.  The officials insisted we need not wait for the national authorities to act first, the province of Maniema, in de-centralized Congo, should take the lead.

230713_government officials behind the message
The team from the Governor’s and Minister’s offices with the P3 core group.

The national level has been silent.  Even though the African Grey parrot is considered an Endangered Species by IUCN since 2016,  and was also put on Annex 1 of the international convention, CITES, in 2016 thus allowing no international trade, And although, there is an international embargo on all African Greys from Congo,  And although CITES specifically called for national legislation within Congo to support these international decisions;  And although DRCongo is a national party of CITES — despite all of this — there is NO NATIONAL LEGISLATION that corresponds to and supports the international rulings. 

John with minister at Dingi
The minister visited the P3 Parrot Conservation Center at Dingi to see what happened to confiscated parrots.

The illicit international demand has soared; how else account for increasing extraction of Grey Parrots from the wild, despite all these international rulings.   Still, the DR Congo national level is silent.

But now, with the governor’s message, there is one province, the province of Maniema that has jumped ahead of national inertia and international criminal demand!! 

So, we celebrated the courage of the governor’s message, even as unnerving follow-up began to multiply:

On August 18th; the minister held a meeting on government hill to inform and prepare the parrot traders.  One of the main traders, Aimé Mwaso, brandished the recent ruling by the US government:

USA designation_part
Part of the US embassy statement making 3 congolese authorities Persona non grata in the USA.

He asked why the government was coming after the traders?  “Look, the US accuses three Congolese authorities, whose job is to protect rare species”  and here Aimé did not disguise a smirk.

Aimé with USA notice
Aimé displays the french version of the US notification.

The names were all from ICCN, the conservation institute, that is also the organization we work for and that hosts the parrot rehabilitation center, “in Kinshasa, they turned rare species export into a cash-earning business.”  All three of the named Congolese authorities are henceforward denied access to the USA. Among them are the past head of the ICCN (Congolese nature conservation institute) and two national CITES representatives.

Corruption to keep the parrot trade moving at lower levels is just as prevalent:

Parrots on train at Kibombo station
A crate of parrots on Maniema’s train on 25 August in Kibombo station.

In the third week of August, our information network alerted us to parrots waiting to be boarded on the train.  The small local train was preparing to depart towards Lubumbashi; it chugged up and down the old track system, collecting cargoes.  It was at night that the call came. A parrot cargo was loaded at 37 km.  It was impossible to do anything until the train arrived at its stop in Kibombo Center 150 km from Kindu;  P3 (our Parrot Protection Project) had organized the police, the DGM, the assistant environment supervisor, they were all at the train station.  When the train master and traders resisted, they called the army colonel and printed a copy of the Message sent by WhatsApp; The train and transporters offered no more resistance.

parrots being spirited away from Kibombo station
Corrupt officials allowed the majority of parrots to be spirited away from the train station in cardboad boxes and makeshift cages.

The colonel announced by phone to the Minister that there were 72 parrots.  Then the number dropped to 30 and it was only 21 parrots that were finally brought to Kindu, with one dead in the crate.  The parrot traders had bought off the Kibombo authorities.

Core group with minister
The minister in his office with 4 of the 6-person P3 core group.

But, so far, the authorities in Kindu are holding firm, they are not shrugging off corruption.  It is not just us, the P3 team that is revolted.  The governor refused the bribe of $10,000 because he said his reputation was more important.  Maniema’s minister of the environment was furious with the corruption in Kibombo.  This weekend he, himself, with members of his cabinet and two P3 representatives will go to Kibombo to reprimand top army and provincial administrators.  To stop the corruption, he is willing to take a motorbike 150 km south as the roads rapidly deteriorate with the rainy season.

Brutal for Red-Fronted Parrots, too.

Photo of Greys and Greens flying through a forest clearing – photo taken by TL2 team crossing the Lomami National Park in 2017.

We had just rescued a “motorcycle cargo” of African Grey parrots.  We opened the basket –One, two left the basket for the cage, but they were green.  Three, four, five… all green.   In all 51 red-fronted green parrots (Poicephalus gulielmi) left the small motorcycle basket tilting, stumbling, waddling into the larger holding cages.  One already dead parrot was left on top of a heap of shredded sugar cane and stripped palm nuts. 

Green parrots stumble out of the carrying basket.

On the 16th of July the Environmental Coordination had received this message from our community contact officer:  “This morning at Lusuna a motorbike will leave with 30 Grey parrots for Kindu.  Lusuna is 140 Km from Kindu.  They are coming from Kibombo.  Alert your colleagues at the check-points along the road.”


The red-fronted parrots at the check-point where they were confiscated.

The Coordination sent an OPJ or Judicial Police Officer to make the arrest.  Seizing cargos of grey parrots is straight-forward.  There is an 8 year old message from a past governor stating no Greys can be caught in Maniema. 

It wasn’t until after the birds were in Kindu that we realized, these weren’t Greys.  But coming all the way from Kibombo!!  They travelled 300 km or more over terrible roads…at least two nights. 

They spent at least 3 days in this closed cage on a motorcycle.

The Coordination did not hesitate:  It is the no hunting season;  trapping is hunting.  These parrots were illegal.

The first problem was where to keep them?  The conservation agency, ICCN, is responsible for birds once they are confiscated, but at their new building in Kindu, they have nothing but a narrow cement compound, barely enough to store their motorbikes.  The ICCN’s aviaries for confiscated Grey Parrots are 60 km away in Dingi.  World Parrot Trust and Lukuru Foundation, who contributed to create the Dingi Parrot Conservation Center, wanted it to be in the heart of Parrot habitat and away from the insecurity of the town of Kindu. But where could these red-fronted parrots recover before being moved to Dingi?

The holding cages with 51 green parrots in our yard as of the third week in July 2023.

We agreed to have them come to our house on the edge of Kindu with a large quiet yard. 

They were so thirsty when they first arrived. And most were missing feathers and had glue in their wings.

Several parrots arrived with broken legs, one had lost an eye. How were they captured?

Still we could not keep them long at our house….already there were rumors started  by the “enterprise” that had guaranteed these parrots to a trader in Bangladesh.  The rumors were that the Harts were “in the business”;  “the Harts were taking someone else’s parrots on the pretense of law, but planning to resell them at a huge profit.”

One of the ICCN rangers sent to protect the birds.

ICCN sent two rangers to watch them…but it did not alleviate the situation.  We kept them barely two weeks before taking them north toward Dingi in a rented dugout.

Carrying one of the holding cages down from our house to the Lualaba where a dugout waits to carry the cages up to the port near Dingi.
The first Red-fronted Greens enter the aviary at Dingi. An African Grey watches. With alarm? With curiosity?

How many green parrots have been caught and trafficked out of Maniema?  Looking at the incomplete records in the Environment Coordination there have been 3 permits for export of green parrots from Maniema Province in 2023, each for 20 parrots.  They were certainly written without ever witnessing the birds and there is no agent of the Environmental Coordination at the airport to check shipments. If, as in this basket of trafficked parrots, there were 50 or more each, 150 red-fronted parrots, at least, already left Maniema.

Congo has a CITES quota to export 450 green parrots per year.  (CITES is the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) This quota is obviously not being rigorously followed!  Maniema is one of 26 provinces and at least 6, maybe 8 have green parrots. 

What must be done :  Develop a new message to be issued by the current  governor making it illegal to catch and traffic green parrots as well as grey parrots.  Then, if possible, we should get this message backed by more permanent legislation.

Marking the Border

The problem is there, on the map – if a map could speak, it would be screaming. It would point to its northeastern side and say, “Here there will be anger and divisiveness.”  Even if most of the poaching is in the south, even though the map was created as a collective effort, with back and forth between technicians, parks (ICCN), state administrators and chiefs, still, the northeast is not at rest:

Lomami National Park dugouts on the Lomami River.

In the southwest, the park border is clear before our eyes:  One river, Lomami, marks the park limit (see MAP 1 below);

In the southeast, the line is mostly obvious:  a single river, Loidjo, covers most of the distance.

Crossing the Loidjo bridge into the park at high water.

Even in the northwest, there is a series of rivers that are connected with only short empty lines (Annex 1), BUT in the northeast the rivers aren’t there; most flow the “wrong way”.  The only long north-south river, Lilo, is too far from the Lomami.  If it had become a border, villages would be included in the park and no one wanted that.

MAP 1: The Lomami National Park is fortunate to have many natural limits, but the straight lines (red) are certain to be problematic.

Result:  in the northeast the borders of the park are a series of points, immovable coordinates on the globe, connected by straight lines on the map (Annex 1 below).  These lines are invisible in the forest.  How do you explain to a hunter leaving with his gun and traps:  you can hunt there, but not there. 

A hunter from Mituku-Bamoya (northeast buffer zone) being arrested in the park.

From the beginning, we concentrated patrols and outreach in the south where there were bigger bushmeat markets and more poaching.  But once, after a community-conservation workshop at the patrol post of Bafundo, I was approached by the chief from Kalindula.  Was it in 2014?

Kalindula is a village farther north, in Mituku Basikate sector.  The chief had come more than 60km, walking inside and outside the park, following the one winding path that avoids flooded forest during high waters (at least half the year). 

Large areas of flooded forest are very difficult to move through.

He had important questions:

“How do our boys know where the park begins?  Our young hunters were arrested in the park and they did not even know they were in it. We want to work with you, but we need to know the park borders.”

MAP 2: The Lomami National Park is fortunate to have many river borders, but the borders that are not defined by a natural feature (red lines) were likely to become flashpoints.

Such an obvious request. But it had to be asked again before we would begin to respond and then the solution was far more complex than we imagined

marking Balanga border
A border marker in the southern Balanga sector set by community elders, TL2 staff and park guards.

The second time was when Maurice Emetshu, in 2015, completed border markings in the Balanga sector (A and B on the MAP 2 above).  This is north of where the Loidjo River dumps into the Lomami River.  He wrote this: 

“Hunters take off from the Bafundo-Kalindula path. The Balanga say we must finalize border marking there too.  Both Balanga and their Mituku neighbors hunt inside and outside the park, without knowing the difference.”  

Maurice joins singing and dancing in a Mituku village.

We sent Maurice up to the two Mituku sectors, Mituku Basikate and Mituku Bamoya, in July 2016.  It had been four years since there had been any TL2 presence in the northeast, so his first mission was “outreach”.  What do the villages know about the park?  Do they see how conservation is important to their lives as hunters and cultivators?

In Maurice’s month-long trip, he only visited one groupement (or cluster) of villages in one of the sectors, Bamoya.  People were receptive, but knew little about conservation or the park.  And they asked for more security because the very bandits that were chased from other parts of the park were now in their forests.  They had no policemen or other law enforcement authority in their sectors.  They also asked to know the limits of the park.

MAP 3. The villages in the northeast are connected by winding paths, some can be used by motorbike, others only by bicycle and some only on foot. The villagers identify as hunters.

We should not have been surprised by the lack of information about the park.  Ten years into the TL2 project there were 6 camp bases/patrol posts around the southern part of the park and only two in the north, neither of these was in the northeast.  Park bases become vibrant social and economic centers.  The posts buy food for patrols in the park and hire local guides and porters.  The posts are in the villages closest to the park, so there are constant exchanges about conservation, the park, and everything else.

Maurice explains his message and the Park to the sector chief of Mituku Bamoya.

Maurice returned for a second outreach visit to different Mituku villages.  Like the first time he and a group of four others, including 3 Mituku moved around by toleka taxi: 5 bicycle peddlers (=taximen) and 5 passengers with rations and basic change of clothes. 

Toleka taxis or bicycle taxis are common in Kisangani (this photo), but are often the only way of moving “quickly” over distant rural “roads” and paths.

Alas!  Between two remote villages on an empty stretch of path they were hi-jacked by “highway” robbers at gun-point.  But it was more than just robbery…it was a thorough punishment by masked men, a “don’t come back” message.  They were tied with cords and then again with thorny lianas.  They were whipped and the bicycles were destroyed.  Everything was taken: shoes, telephones, their only computer, bicycle tires, food, and, of course, money.

It took a week for Maurice and his team to make it up to the TL2 Kisangani base where they could be treated. They were still wearing the same bloody clothes.

Maurice preferred to interpret it as a simple highway robbery.  After treatment in a hospital for internal hemorrhage and then recovery at home in Kisangani, he returned to finish his mission in Mituku, six months later.  It was without incident, but we learned that one of his trusted Mituku collaborators had engineered the robbery.  In fact, the stolen computer, a telephone and other stolen goods were in his possession. That added a confusing element, as this person, Portugai Mwinabi, was supposedly giving a conservation message. Who could we trust?

Portuguai was arrested in 2017.

Portugai was denounced, arrested in March 2017 and sent to Kisangani, where he was almost immediately released by a high-level Mituku politician (a national minister!) and returned, emboldened to Mituku Bamoya.

Robert Abani, a TL2 community-security agent, joined Maurice in December 2016 where they held a meeting with leaders at Mutchaliko village (see Map 3 above).  The spokesperson for the gathered chiefs said they needed more outreach, more representation of the Mituku at high-level meetings AND he insisted on the border markings.

Henry Boandja, in red shirt, with Robert Abani. Boandja was often the chosen spokesperson .

Maurice left the Mituku and went to the northwest of the park to help with a community-TL2 bridge building project .  Robert stayed to understand the different political and clannic tensions that seemed to seethe through the Mituku villages. He set out in July 2017 to negotiate land for building a TL2 base.  We decided that the village of Bimbi was centrally located and a good base for sending patrols into the park (MAP 3).  The main chief for that cluster of villages, Bantu Olambolambo, was favorable and the village agreed.

The village, with approval of surrounding villages, the cluster-chief and the sector-chief, officially ceded land to ICCN to put in a base/patrol post.
Robert, in white shirt, in the village of Bimbi after an agreement was reached to accord land to TL2 to build a base/patrol post.

But Thoms, a renowned elephant poacher/bandit, set up in the hinter lands of Mituku Bamoya, near the park border.  Thoms was furious about the presence of TL2 near-by.

[for information:  Thoms was not only an elephant poacher, he was a prison escapee having been imprisoned after his band enslaved the men and systematically gang-raped over 100 girls of the Mbole ethnic group (where Maurice was now putting in a bridge).  Thoms has committed many more atrocities than the ones recorded here.]

After Robert left, in September 2017, Thoms attacked the chief’s family in Bimbi, seriously tortured several people (breaking bones) and charged enormous fines saying that the chief’s family had sold the forest and would pay it back (although the money was taken personally by Thoms).

Thoms marked his presence in nearby forests, along regularly used paths.

Later Robert was told that the lesson the villages learned was: cooperate with the TL2 project and you will bring bandits and harm to the village.

We learned that Thoms’s rhetoric was simple: we were liars.  TL2, according to Thoms, was planning to stretch the park all the way to the Lualaba (Congo) River and all the Mituku villages would be forced to evacuate.  The youth heard and joined local Mai-Mai bands (see Annex 2 below) to protect their homes.  Thoms continued to recruit.  Portuguai and his group joined Thoms; Sembele and his group joined Thoms…and so forth through all the major villages.

Robert shows military officers the Mituku region on our TL2 map as good government maps of the region do not exist.

After the Bimbi attack by Thoms, military arrived to do a sweep through the sectors and create a “law and order” presence in Lowa.  A first armed confrontation between military and Maimai happened in Bimbi on the 13 March 2018: 2 military killed and at least 18 Mai-Mai.  In July 2018, Thoms attacked a military outpost at Mayunga with 300 Mai-Mai:  1 military  and 41 Mai-Mai are killed, but many more Mai-Mai were wounded and may have died later.

The village of Mayunga as it usually looks.
Milling Mai-Mai in Mayunga after the confrontation of July 2018. This photo shows the savagery of such battles. An off-camera Mai-Mai is holding cut-off hand of dead military.

Official efforts to bring peace were remarkably light handed.  The Mituku minister for education who had freed Portuguai, came to Lowa and seemed to sympathize with the Mai-Mai.  The Catholic church sent a delegation to Mayunga, but came back with very few arms and no clear agreement.   Thoms insisted the state should pay the families of those killed, even though it was he who sent them to battle!  The Mai-Mai continued to control a large block of Mituku Bamoya.

Photo from August 2018, second from right is Abbé Déon who represented the Catholic church in Mayunga. The other three are military concerned with controlling Mituku uprisings.

There was no peace and no dialogue.  With agreement from the military and the Catholic Church, Robert called a meeting of chiefs at Lowa (December 2018) including Mai-Mai leaders (but Thoms did not come).  The Mai-Mai said they were ready to seek a reconciliation with TL2 and with the military.  Robert tentatively set a date for a ceremony at the end of January.

Robert (gesticulating) was accompanied by military for almost all peace-seeking missions as the military had to agree to the conditions.

Unfortunately, an internal, bloody struggle for power among the Bamoya (that had nothing to do with the park), started at the end of 2018; it led to various attacks against the military who only regained control after another battle with severe loss of life among the Mai-Mai.  On 28 March 2019, a letter was brought to the military commander in Lowa, by two women saying that the Mai-Mai want to surrender and turn over their arms to the military.

Letter signed by seven Mai-Mai leaders saying that they not only want peace, they also want to work for ICCN and its partners.

Mai-Mai groups surrendered independently, each group representing different villages or groups of villages.

The first Mai-Mai leaders to surrender, each representing a village and a following of young men.

Here, events started to turn around and we also saw a clear division in the Mai-Mai.  The Mai-Mai who did not surrender were Thoms’s group and some from Mituku Bamoya, Portuguai and Alpha, who, like Thoms, were responsible for human rights abuses and atrocities.  Between them: tortures including of the TL2 team, killing of military, organizing ambushes… 

But finally, Portuguai and Alpha (not Thoms) did surrender on 29 June 2019, which again allowed Bimbi to be considered for the next base camp.

The Mai-Mai troops that Alpha and Portuguai brought before the military when they surrendered.

But over the next year, there was still no peace among the Mituku Bamoya, there were still inter-family power battles.  By mid 2020, we decided that the first base camp should be in the least roiled sector, Mituku Basikate.

Maurice’s return among the Basikate was seen as the beginning of peace and progress.

By November 2020 Maurice rejoined the Mituku TL2 teams again.  He worked on several fronts: overseeing road clearance, putting in small bridges and opening up the new site for construction.

Construction of a new permanent Base Camp/patrol post in Mbolose (Mituku Basikate) was underway as of December 2021.

Each village along the path contributed to opening the path from Mayunga to Mbolose and beyond.
Making window frames in front of one of two partially completed houses at Mbolose Base.

As happened other places around the bufferzone, when the advantages of a patrol post become obvious (employment, local market) other villages and sectors ask for one.  Not only Kalindula, but Yesse and Chef Vingt of Mituku Bamoya, all requested a patrol post.

One of two houses completed at the Mbolose base and patrol post.

At the end of 2021, Henri Silegowa, a TL2 technician, came to Lowa to oversee the border marking.  A major multi-sector meeting at Mayunga launched the operation which started with the Mituku Basikate and the Lengola Lowa park borders. 

At the Mayunga meeting that preceded border marking all the northeastern sectors, even the Balanga were invited.

Inclusivity was the only way to operate.  Our lesson-learned is that the Mituku are extremely independent in their separate villages and families, in a way that makes standard “democratic representation” problematic.  What seems representative one day, has lost legitimacy in most everyone’s eyes the next.  Furthermore, with low literacy, no internet and no national/regional radio, the far-flung communities are susceptible to rumor and to false interpretations of events. 

Therefore:

Solution for the Lomami National Park —  Create a permanent presence of the Park in the Mituku sectors that is always visible, available and listening to everyone ;

Solution for border marking — include everyone, all Mituku villages, whether their land abuts the park or not.

Henri trains two ex- Mai-Mai, Edingwe and Evariste, in the use of a compass.

Because of problematic “democratic representation”, before moving out on the ground, Henri trained influential people of many Mituku villages, mainly ex-Mai-Mai in the use of the GPS device and the compass.  We wanted them to understand the non-arbitrariness of the marking.  Also, for that reason, the first team that moved out to open a border path and put-up placards included 127 people even though they had to walk three days just to reach the park border.

The border-marking team walking through the last village.
The border-marking team crossing a flooded stream. The team included security and elders and chiefs from five sectors even though the border of only two sectors were marked. Every concerned village had representatives on the team.
Signs were placed at every path, no matter how small, that crossed into the park.
A three metre wide transect was cut along the border to assure that no one can enter the park without realizing it. Unfortunately patrols must regularly reopen the transect.

Flooded forest kept the teams from completing the Basikate-Lengola segment. The operation was taken up again during the dry season of May-June 2022, this time with “only” 57 people on the border-marking team.

Flooded forest made progress impossible after a point.
Henri completed segments 1 and 2 covering the straight line border in Mituku Basikate and Lengola Lowa. The next area proposed was immediately north, “3”, in Mituku Bamoya.

But we were not done with the difficulty of “democratic representation”;  the third border segment in the Mituku Bamoya forest failed. 

The process seemed inclusive.  An inclusive meeting with representation from all the Mituku Bamoya chiefs, as well as representation from Basikate and Lengola groups, occurred in November.   The first danger sign was that a couple of the Mituku Bamoya ex-Mai-Mai did not attend.  Afterwards, the chiefs agreed to return to their villages with the explanation of the process and to select the persons to represent the village on the border-marking team.  BUT, the new chief from the Bimbi groupement did not return to Bimbi.  Henri was waiting at Yesse with a group that already numbered fifty, but the Bimbi group did not join them. Finally, Henri sent a delegation of six to go to Bimbi and retrieve the Bimbi team.  The delegation included four Mituku that either came from Bimbi or had in-laws in Bimbi. 

Henri waiting with an already gathered delegation in the village of Yesse for the representatives of Bimbi to arrive.

The very night the delegation arrived in Bimbi, they were attacked in the dark, their telephones stolen, and they were beaten.  One Mai-Mai leader and a group of young boys were responsible.  Families of the delegation and another ex-Mai-Mai intervened.  The delegation sent by Henri was escorted to safety and sent on its way, traumatized, limping and without money.  They were fed by sympathetic villagers several km away.  But the continuation of border marking in Mituku Bamoya was called off.

The decision was made to skip Mituku Basikate and move the border-marking to “4” (above) , in the Lengola Bira Sector.

Henri will now skip Mituku Bamoya and move north to Lengola Bira; but, Henri, Maurice and Robert realize that they must come back.  The requests for a clearly marked park border for Mituku Bamoya are real and they come from people with important backing:  the  new sector chief Baondja, the past sector-chief Vingt, the local ex Mai-Mai Machine and from the chiefs of almost every village.  Those who continue to undermine have allegiance to illegality and many are wanted by the law: Thoms, Portuguai and Alpha.

The concerned village chiefs and leaders all signed their agreement to the marked borders after the first two missions.

This was a long post- thank you for reading it through. I include here two annexes to help explain a couple of terms:

Annex One concerns an explanation of straight lines on the map.

Annex Two is a definition of Mai-Mai.