On March 19, 2008, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian reported that "A senior manager at a world heritage African wildlife park was arrested on Tuesday as an investigation into the killing of 10 rare mountain gorillas gathered pace, a government minister said."
The Mail & Guardian story ["Park Manager Arrested Over Gorilla Deaths," 19 March 2008] follows one year after an investigative series by independent journalists broke through the smokescreen of public relations and private profit to reveal that the killing of ten mountain gorillas in Congo in the summer of 2007 was an inside job. Presumably known to big conservation organizations whose profits and survival revolve around the spin they apply through the international press, the inside job involves much more than a few Congolese officials or rangers, as the Mail & Guardian and other mainstream media reports it.
The public relations spins are applied to stories about wildlife conservation in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) that make their way through the mainstream press and filter into so-called "alternative" press reports that do not critically examine the sources or veracity of "news" reportage out of Africa.
A wave of gorilla killings in the spring and summer of 2007 was universally blamed on either "rebel militias" or "charcoal gatherers" operating in the World Heritage Virungas region of Central Africa. Stories appeared in venues like Newsweek and the Washington Post, but quickly appeared republished verbatim in on-line venues like TRUTHOUT.org. They were wrong.
Meanwhile, field investigations conducted in Eastern Congo by Independent Journalists, additionally supported by Congolese organizations, uncovered criminal operations involving big Western Conservation organizations. Years of research and investigations revealed that big so-called "non-government organizations"–known as BINGOs for BIG NGOs that are deep in the money pot– are involved in clandestine activities, corrupt practices and programs that are overtly racist and counterproductive to both the spirit and purpose of true conservation and development.
Exactly one year ago, Congolese authorities detained an independent journalist because conservation interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo accused the journalist of being a spy. The real reason— an hour and a half of video footage in which Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (I.C.C.N.) official Vital Katembo condemned the institution and suggested it was behind a recent killing of three gorillas.
"If this footage is released, it will destroy conservation in the Virungas," the journalist was told by a conservationist connected to big NGO’s in the region.
Conservation interests subsequently stole the footage of the interview with Vital Katembo, but another independent journalist secretly visited with Katembo and recreated the stolen interview, in which Katembo claimed that the three gorilla killings were an inside job. By July of 2007, seven more gorillas were killed and Katembo provided more information that clearly implicated I.C.C.N.
Katembo was then targeted by the I.C.C.N. bosses and by the big conservation NGOs working in Africa.
Mainstream media blamed the gorilla killings on "rebel forces," under the control of Laurent Nkunda and other militia groups. Nkunda denied any involvement in the killings in a communiqué that was also squashed by conservation interests. OEN and COA news published Nkunda’s denial.
The role of General Laurent Nkunda in Congo, his ties to Rwanda and the United Nations Observers Mission in Congo (MONUC), have not been fully investigated and/or reported by the Western Press.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post, Newsweek, CBS News and most of the mainstream media in the United states climbed aboard the conservationists’ bandwagon and continued to blame "rebel forces" for the gorilla slaughter, despite independent journalists offering all of their notes and photos to the Washington Post’s Africa desk in hopes that the true story would be written—saving gorillas and Congolese inhabitants of Virunga in the bargain. It was not to be.
An August 16 communication by Katembo that challenged the activities and agenda of Richard Leakey’s newly formed Wildlife Direct and other NGOs in Central Africa prompted direct retaliation.
"I have now worked in the Virunga for almost 15 years and my experience of the last 2 years is of deception," Vital Katembo wrote on August 16, 2007, responding to communications from Wildlife Direct director Emmanuel De Merode. "Are we saving wildlife or are we trying our best to save so called wildlife direct managers and experts? You are not new to learn that good people can do evil and this is so obvious in the conservation arena… Conservation in the Virungas is the last stand of oppression, corruption and colonialism."
An email from ICCN Executive Director Cosma Wilungula Balongelwa, circulated privately on Saturday, August 25, 2007, makes it clear that Mr. Katembo was specifically being targeted by powerful conservation forces aligned with officials working for the Congolese state and ICCN. Mr. Wilungula’s email specifically cited a previous communication by Mr. Katembo sent to Emmanuel De Merode of Wildlife Direct and certain former affiliates providing funding from the U.S.
The list of recipients of the ICCN email include top level expatriate personnel and in-country officials working for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, UNESCO, Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Wildlife Direct, UNDP, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the USAID (U. S. Agency for International Development) funded Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment.
The response by the I.C.C.N. Executive Director Wilungula suggests that the ICCN is beholden to powerful Western organizations whose interests—often hostile to the environment—have been served through bribery, extortion and corruption, at the expense of the environment, the wildlife, the Congolese state and the millions of Congolese people who have suffered, or continue to suffer, various forms of western corporate exploitation.
The racket of organized conservation crime in Central Africa has been maintained throughout the colonial period, into and through the decades of dictatorship under Mobutu Sese Seko, and into the Congo war years. Conservation and development are euphemisms for plunder and private profit in Africa.
Investigations by independent journalists revealed that big name NGOs were informed in another email sent by Wildlife Direct and told to distance themselves from the whistleblower, Vital Katembo. These organizations included the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the Gorilla Organization, World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, and Fauna and Flora International. These organizations claim to work closely with I.C.C.N. in Congo. How could they possibly not know what was happening on their own turf?
Independent media also exposed Richard Leakey’s Wildlife Direct, a highly militarized mercenary group launched out of Kenya. Wildlife Direct operates under the mantle of the Africa Conservation Fund, a tax-exempt (501-c-3) registered with the Internal Revenue Service. Walter H. Kansteiner III has been a board member since the founding of ACF in 2004. Kansteiner has been a constant presence behind the scenes in Congo’s war since 1996. His background and experience are not in conservation. He has worked on a strategic minerals task force at the Department of Defense and was Executive Vice President of a commodity trading and manufacturing company specializing in tropical commodities in the developing world. Kansteiner is also on the board of Moto Gold, a company operating in Eastern DRC.
Back in June and July of 2007 Washington Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen apparently traveled from Goma to the park with security from Richard Leakey’s organization Wildlife Direct, but she refused to answer simple questions about her relationship with the elite mercenary firm. McCrummen and the Washington Post peddled the line that the "beleaguered" Congo wildlife rangers—who have been blogging from the wilderness to support Wildlife Direct’s web site and help raise funds abroad—"have not been paid in a decade." This set the stage for a massive infusion of funding from a Western public sympathetic to gorilla conservation. National Geographic News and Newsweek followed with major features that completely misrepresented the truth of gorilla conservation and the scandals involving big NGOs in both the "conservation" and "humanitarian" sector.
The Newsweek cover feature, "Gorilla Warfare: Even after 10 years of war, rangers are stunned by the mysterious killings of great apes in Africa’s oldest park," appeared on line on MSNBC.com July 29, 2007, with a dateline denoting its imminent appearance in the August 6 print issue. The story romantically describes rangers with "billowing green ponchos" and "AK-47′s," not the Washington Post’s previous fiction of rusty machetes. Newsweek is a part of the Washington Post Company.
As accompanying photos clearly showed, the Congo Rangers were not ill equipped. Their well-oiled weaponry and mercenary training begs the question why they could or would not protect the gorillas. The gorilla killings began when Wild Life Direct appeared on the scene early in 2007.
One of the rangers, Paulin Ngobobo, 43, is photographed backlit and quite elegantly dressed, as if for a Vanity Fair or GQ portrait. He is "a devout Christian" says Newsweek, seemingly grooming him for the next Conde Nast Traveler Environmental Award—given in 2005 to Central African hero Pierre Kakule of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund fame in the Virungas—or the National Geographic Society/Buffet Award created by "philanthropist" Howard Buffet. The Newsweek portrait of debonair Congo ranger Paulin Ngobobo stands in sharp contradiction to the starving rangers described by the Post’s Stephanie McCrummen a few days earlier.
Another series of articles by independent journalists pointed to a massive infusion of USAID funds being used for clandestine guerrilla operations in the war-torn Great Lakes region.
Some 6 to 10 million people have died in Congo due to warfare and plunder of natural resources since 1996. Recent estimates by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) count 5.4 million dead with 45,000 people dying monthly or 1500 people daily. The IRC is an organization whose interests in the region indicate that it is actually UNDER-counting Congolese deaths in its highly funded "mortality surveys."
Independent media that published reports regarding conservation corruption in DRC include, OEN, COA News, and ZNET.
Recent reports of out the Democratic Republic of Congo indicate that torture and repression are rampant, while a fall in the U.S. dollar—the DRC’s primary currency—have provoked massive food shortages and starvation. Conservation expert Vital Katembo continues to be subject to hostile actions and afraid for his security.
Behind the suffering and death, multinational corporations continue a long tradition of stealing Congo’s wealth and mistreating Congo’s people behind an environmental propaganda campaign that convinces Western readers, donors, and institutions that we are Congo’s saviors. Congo’s gorillas are the latest pawns in the geopolitical scramble for wealth.