Monday, August 13, 2012

Congo " A small tentative step "

" The past three months have seen terrible political upheavals in and around the park.  It’s painfully familiar.  The waves of violence mirror those of 2008, just like those of 2004 and 1998.
The tragic events of April 1994 in Rwanda brought a million refugees to the boundaries of our park and in their wake, scavenging on the misery of the displaced, the militias that destroyed the aspirations of a whole generation.  Almost twenty years have lapsed since those short traumatic months and when we listen to the media and to the expatriate circles of UN experts, political analysts and humanitarian officers, there is a sentiment that nothing, really, has changed."
In four weeks time there is another meeting of regional leaders in Kampala ( ICGLR ) and international pressure is starting to mount but as Emmanuel says nothing seems to change.
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A ranger watches the savannah from a Lulimbi watchtower.
"I flew to Lulimbi yesterday to bring supplies and to work with our rangers who are trying to hold the Ishasha Valley since the FDLR militias took complete control of the surrounding area three weeks ago.  These FDLR units are the remnants of the Rwandan militias accused of perpetrating the genocide in 1994.  In the east of the park, they are no longer just a militia group, they now run the administration in Ishasha and Nyakakoma, they raise taxes and they instruct the population on what they can and can’t do.  Our rangers have only really managed to hold a few square kilometres around the station, but for the FDLR, the rangers are an unacceptable presence at the heart of their territory.  So they’ve attacked Lulimbi twice in the past ten days, and wounded two of our rangers.  Three of their’s were killed in the process.  At night, the rangers see flashlights as the FDLR re-position themselves around our station.  The rangers are on alert, but I didn’t get any sense of anxiety or fear.  They just seem confident and determined."
Effectively a bunch of foreign armed thugs the FLDR are Rwandan units.
"I spent a few moments talking to Augustin Rwimu, one of our rangers who had been based in Lulimbi in 2008. That year, the same FDLR units attacked our station just as they did a week ago.  Our defenses collapsed and our rangers fled into Uganda and registered as refugees.  Augustin assured me that things were very different now.  Lulimbi is critical for the defense of a corridor with Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.  It is tremendously important for our elephant, hippo and buffalo populations and holds the key to the the restoration of the park.  Later that morning, during inspection, I asked the rangers who had been at Lulimbi in 2008 to come forward and asked them the same question.  They laughed, there was no way they were giving Lulimbi up to the FDLR."
The more I hear about these rangers the more impressed I am they are achieving what the Congolese Army and the UN can't they are maintaing territory, they are probably the most effective military force in the area. 
"The legacy of 1994 wasn’t just the arrival of the militias, it was the final straw in the fracturing of the fragile state security institutions, of which we’re a part.  Their collapse left the population exposed and defenseless amidst the violence.  Holding out against the FDLR in Lulimbi has been much more than protecting the wildlife, it’s a small tentative step in reversing the collapse after 1994."
It is also something International donors should be thinking about. The Congolese army is broken and the regime seems to have given up. Rwanda is encouraging the chaos yet these rangers are providing a small pockets of stability.

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