Artist Photographer and Director Guerchom Ndebo pour/for Fondation Carmignac is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘Congo’s Charcoal’. To see Guerchom’s body of work, click on any image.
Eastern Congo’s illegal charcoal trade worth around $35 million a year is controlled by a criminal network of armed rebels and threatens Virunga’s forests while keeping the local population trapped between armed rebels and the militarized response by the local wildlife authority, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN).
Covering some 7,770 square kilometers, Virunga National Park, established in 1925, is Africa’s oldest and most bio-diverse national park, a UNESCO world heritage site, and home to endangered mountain gorillas.
Various armed groups operate across eastern Congo, but Virunga is an especially fertile sanctuary for criminal enterprises, including wildlife poaching, fishing, and other illegal commerce, much of it controlled by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group linked to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. One of the FDLR’s most successful revenue-generating businesses is the illicit charcoal trade, according to a 2016 report by The Enough Project. More than half of the charcoal consumed in nearby Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, is illegally sourced inside Virunga, accelerating deforestation, according to the WWF.
After the trees are cut and baked into charcoal, the makala is transported to roadside markets on overloaded bicycles or motorbikes or carried for hours on the backs of those who cannot afford wheels. From there, it is sold on to traders who transport it further afield. Small traders on motorbikes might make $2 per 50-70 kilograms sack they buy, transport, and then resell in a city such as Goma, making for small margins of profit. The big money goes to the armed groups and government officials controlling the broader enterprise. Park rangers often clash with armed groups in the park and dozens of rangers have been killed, including in one of the deadliest attacks ever in April 2020, when 13 rangers and 4 civilians were killed.
All images and text © Guerchom Ndebo pour/for Fondation Carmignac
By Guerchom Ndebo
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