Democratic Republic of the Congo

Environment:

DRC or Democratic Republic of the Congo (aka Eastern Congo) straddles the equator in Central Africa, northeast of Angola. The vast central basin is a low-lying plateau, with mountains in east. The highest point is Mount Stanley at 5,109 meters (16,762 feet), in the Mountains of the Moon. DRC is the second largest country in Africa.

Environmental issues include wildlife poaching, water pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, and mining. The Congo Biodiversity Initiative maintains an online portal dedicated to biodiversity issues in the DRC. DRC forms part of both the international Congo Basin Forest Partnership and Nile Basin Discourse. The Ibi Bateke Carbon Sink afforestation project is supported by the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund. Ministère de l’Environnement, Conservation de la Nature et Tourisme is the ministry in charge of environment, nature conservation and tourism. The Congolese green party, Parti Ecologiste Congolais, maintains a presence on Facebook. Save Virunga was established in response to threats of oil exploration in and around the famous Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park. Réseau CREF (Réseau pour la Conservation et la Réhabilitation des Ecosystèmes Forestiers) is the network for the conservation and restoration of forest ecosystems in the restive North Kivu province.

DRC has 3 international Biosphere Reserves, Yangambi Biosphere Reserve around the town of Yangambi, Luki Biosphere Reserve in coastal Bas-Congo province, and Lufira Biosphere Reserve along the Lufira River. National parks include Garamba National Park, Kahuzi-Biéga National Park, Maiko National Park, Mangroves National Park, Salonga National Park, Upemba National Park, and Virunga National Park. The parks at Garamba, Kahuzi-Biega, Salonga, and Virunga, as well as Okapi Wildlife Reserve are also designated as World Heritage. The Virunga Mountains lie in the Western Rift Valley along the DRC border with Rwanda. The active volcano Mount Nyiragongo, located inside Virunga National Park, has become a popular tourist attraction. Also in the Virunga Mountains but outside the park, Nyamuragira is another active volcano close to Lake Kivu, one of the world’s few so-called “exploding lakes”. (According to the official Virunga National Park website, tourism in Virunga was still suspended as of June 2013, due to regional insecurity.) The coastal Mangroves National Park is especially well suited for bird watching.

Primates, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, elephants and the rare okapi are most important for tourism in DRC. The Congolese wildlife authority, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, is responsible for the critically threatened mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park, assisted by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, comprised of three NGO partners: African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. In addition to mountain gorillas, the eastern lowland gorilla also faces violence and habitat destruction in DRC. Gorilla Doctors, a California based NGO, is helping save both mountain and eastern lowland gorillas – one gorilla patient at a time. The Okapi Conservation Project is responsible for the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. In 2007, a new monkey species, the Lesula, was first discovered in DRC, but only confirmed in 2012. DRC is also home to a mythical beast, the legendary Mokele-mbembe.

Culture:

The earliest known inhabitants of the Congo region were the Mbuti people, so-called pygmies of the Ituri Forest. The first European exploration of the Congo Basin was lead by Sir Henry Morton Stanley in the late 19th century. Subsequently, the Belgian king Leopold II enlisted Stanley’s aid in establishing the Congo Free State. Congo Free State was not controlled by the government of Belgium per se, but by King Leopold II himself and his private army, the Force Publique. Due to the brutal rule of the Force Publique, the Belgian government bowed to international pressure and took over Congo Free State from Leopold II and renamed it Belgian Congo, prior to WWI.

During the Cold War that followed WWII, the growing nationalist movement achieved independence in 1960, under the confusing name Republic of the Congo – the same as Western Congo (formerly French Congo), but quickly descended into a chaotic period between Left and Right, dubbed the Congo Crisis. The anti-Communist military despot installed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Mobutu Sese Seko, changed the name of the new country to Zaire in 1971.

Following the Rwandan Genocide, ethnic Hutus fled into eastern Zaire, which lead to the First Congo War, essentially the invasion of Zaire by Rwanda backed by Uganda that deposed Mobutu Sese Seko. Subsequently, the country was renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo. When the new DRC tried to get the foreign forces to leave, the Second Congo War broke out in 1998. U.N. peacekeepers arrived on the scene in 2001, now known as MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). However, the Kivu conflict has continued along the Rwandan border. Mostly recently, the Rwanda backed M23 rebellion lead to the fall of the tourist center of Goma in late 2012, but subsequently liberated by government forces. In 2013, the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of drone aircraft by MONUSCO peacekeepers in Eastern Congo.

The U.S. Embassy Kinshasa maintains an active Warden System for up to date security warnings and other important notices. The M23 militia (aka March 23 Movement) is the cause of immense problems for tourism in the not only mineral rich by tourism rich eastern region. More than 130 park rangers have been killed in Virunga National Park since 1996. In fact, in 2012 the rebels were widely accused of hijacking gorilla tourism to fund their own activity. There is a mechanism for the joint management of the greater Virunga landscape by DRC, Uganda and Rwanda, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, established in 2008 and funded by the Netherlands for 4 years.

In addition to the 5 natural World Heritage sites, 3 sites have been added to the Tentative Lists of World Heritage, Grottes de Dimba et Ngovo, Grottes de Matupi, Dépression de l’Upemba. The town of Gbadolite, the ancestral home of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, was rebuilt to resemble a French village in the jungle, and with an airport large enough to accommodate the Concorde aircraft. Yolé!Africa is an interesting cultural center and exchange program based in Goma, and supported by Yole!Africa US.

Congo Travel Service is a travel agency and Go Congo a tour operator, both based in Kinshasa. Pure Congo specializes in community-based fair trade tourism. Neema Namadamu, a prominent human rights activist in Eastern Congo, is seeking support for sustainable tourism development to help stabilize South Kivu. Mikeno Lodge (mikenolodge.com) is the main lodge of Virunga National Park at the park headquarters in Rumangabo, outside Goma.

3 routes of the Trans-African Highway network cross DRC. The Tripoli-Cape Town Highway, through the western extremity of the country on National Road No. 1, is paved between Kinshasa and Matadi. Both the Lagos-Mombasa Highway in the far north and Beira-Lobito Highway in the far south still require either construction or re-construction. There are a number of short rail routes throughout the country, though largely discontinuous; as, water transport on the mighty Congo River and its tributaries is better suited to jungle conditions. However, the Matadi-Kinshasa Railway run by ONATRA (Office National des Transports du RDC) is serviceable. High profile kayak expedition guide, Hendrik Coetzee, was indeed devoured by a crocodile on the Congo River in 2010. FlyCongo is a new airline based out of Kinshasa’s N’djili Airport, flying domestically as well as to Johannesburg, South Africa. Korongo Airlines is based out of Lubumbashi International Airport in the extreme south of the country, and also flies to Johannesburg in addition to select domestic destinations.

References:

  • Conflict in DRC Congo threatens chimpanzee tourism programme by M Tran, 2013
  • Congo, 2nd: Democratic Republic Republic (Bradt Travel Guide) by S Rorison, 2012
  • Congolese rebels cash in on gorilla tourism to fund insurgency by P Jones, 2012
  • Conservation implications following the rediscovery of four frog species from the Itombwe Natural Reserve, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo by A Rift, 2012
  • Determining Conservation Priorities and Participative Land Use Planning Strategies in the Maringa-lopori-wamba Landscape, Democratic Republic of the Congo by J Nackoney, 2012
  • Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits by J Gettleman, 2012
  • Gorillas And Guerrillas Share The Troubled Congo by J Burnett, 2012
  • Lesula: a new species of Cercopithecus monkey endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and implications for conservation of Congo’s Central Basin by JA Hart, KM Detwiler, CC Gilbert, AS Burrell, JL Fuller, 2012
  • North Kivu rebellion threatens Congo’s mountain gorilla tourist trade by P Jones, 2012
  • Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa’s Deadliest War by B Rawlence, 2012
  • The bushmeat market in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo: implications for conservation and food security by N van Vliet, C Nebesse, S Gambalemoke, D Akaibe, 2012
  • Western tourists funding attacks on Virunga’s wildlife and rangers Posted by L Musa, 2012
  • Action Plan For Conservation Of Hornbill Species In Irangi Forest, Eastern Democratic Republic Of Congo by RB Kizungu, 2011
  • Drums Along the Congo: On the Trail of Mokele-Mbembe, The Last Living Dinosaur by R Nugent, 2011
  • Forest Policy and Community-Based Conservation in Democratic Republic of the Congo by BN Taylor, 2011
  • Gott und die Krokodile: Eine Reise durch den Kongo by A Böhm, 2011
  • Rwanda, Uganda, DRC sign tourism pact by H Ssempogo, 2011
  • Waiting in vain for a train in DR Congo by J Keane, 2011
  • Conservation Prioritization, Livelihood Improvement and Potential for Carbon Credits in the Maringa-Lopori-Wamba Landscape, Democratic Republic of Congo by DW Grondardc, B Guayc, 2010
  • ‘Devastated’ American Kayakers Survive Congo Croc Attack by D Hughes, 2010
  • Monitoring law enforcement effort and illegal activity in selected protected areas: implications for management and conservation, Democratic Republic of Congo by L Mubalama, 2010
  • The Tayna Community-Managed Nature Reserve in Democratic Republic of Congo: A Grass-roots Approach to Conservation and Resource Management by P Mehlman, 2010
  • The Use of Small Grants to Build Civil Society Capacity to Support the Conservation of Natural Resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo by SO Omba, 2010
  • Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World’s Most Dangerous Country by T Butcher, 2009
  • Conservation Priorities and Geographical Variation in Flycatchers (Aves: Platysteiridae) in the Democratic Republic of Congo by M Louette, 2005
  • Short Communication Fishes of the Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo: survey and conservation issues by BI Inogwabini, 2005
  • The Upemba lechwe, Kobus anselli: an antelope new to science emphasizes the conservation importance of Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo by FPD Cotterill, 2005
  • Supporting protected areas in a time of political turmoil: the case of World Heritage Sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo by G Debonnet, K Hillman, 2004
  • Bushmeat poaching and the conservation crisis in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo by J Yamagiwa, 2003
  • Lessons learned from on-the-ground conservation in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo by AJ Plumptre, 2003
  • Rules of Engagement for Conservation Lessons from the Democratic Republic of Congo by T Hart, 2003
  • Facing the Congo by J Tayler, 2002
  • In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo by M Wrong, 2002
  • The Itombwe Massif, Democratic Republic of Congo: biological surveys and conservation, with an emphasis on Grauer’s gorilla and birds endemic to the Albertine Rift by JA Hart, TM Butynski, I Omari, NR Birhashirwa, 1999
  • East Along the Equator: A Journey up the Congo and into Zaire by H Winternitz, 1987