Congo’s Charcoal, An Illegal Trade, A Precarious Lifeline

 

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.

 

Goma, DRC, January 2021. Funeral ceremony for Eric Kibanja, one of six Virunga forest guards killed in an ambush by armed men. For years, the park has been regularly attacked by rebel groups, militias, poachers and loggers who have caused the deaths of hundreds of rangers. © Guerchom Ndebo for the Carmi Foundation

 

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).

 

Men cut a tree to make charcoal on a swathe of deforested land near the village of Rusayo on the edge of Virunga National Park just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

A kiln used to make charcoal stands on a swathe of deforested land on the edge of Virunga National Park just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma in November. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

Villagers fuel a kiln to make charcoal on a swathe of deforested land on the edge of Virunga National Park just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

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.

 

Balume Benjamin, 19, (L), sells brochettes cooked on a charcoal grill on the roadside outside the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

Charmante prepares a meal on a charcoal stove inside her home in the eastern Congolese town of Minova. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

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.

 

Men transport charcoal at the roadside market of Kulupango on the edge of Virunga National Park just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Most of the charcoal bound for Goma passes through Kulupango market. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

Charcoal traders at Kulupango market on the edge of Virunga National Park just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Most of the charcoal bound for Goma passes through Kulupango market. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

Motorcycle riders transporting hundreds of kilos of charcoal on their bikes in the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Guerchom Ndebo for Fondation Carmignac.

 

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

 

 

See also:

Eruption of the Nyiragongo Volcano

By Guerchom Ndebo

 

 

 

 

Edge of Humanity Magazine is an independent nondiscriminatory platform that has no religious, political, financial, or social affiliations.

We are committed to publishing the human condition, the raw diverse global entanglement, with total impartiality.

 

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