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Deconstructing Newsweek and the Gorilla Killings in Congo

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Georgianne Nienaber     Permalink
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Well Armed Congo Rangers

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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 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 the accompanying photo clearly shows, the Congo Rangers are not ill-equipped. Their well-oiled weaponry and mercenary training begs the question why they cannot or will 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.

The Newsweek article of July 29 also cites Wild Life Direct’s Richard Leakey calling the gorilla killers “a corrupt mafia of charcoal merchants,” while simultaneously playing the tired refrain accusing Hutu extremists responsible for Rwanda’s genocide.

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This is not journalism—it is more of a public relations fabrication serving as both a fundraiser and cheerleader for Wildlife Direct—and its backer and board member Walter Kansteiner. The Congo rangers trained by Wildlife Direct are mostly outsiders with no ties to the local communities around the park. In a place like Congo, this ethnic influx is tantamount to a foreign invasion.

Similarly, the framework of the Newsweek story shields the true reasons for poverty and suffering of Congolese soldiers. International mining in Congo is a scandal reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in profits monthly, and the problem of non-payment of soldiers “salaries” lies with those who make this possible: international business cartels, the World Bank, IMF, and the European Union. Foreign interests and their Congolese agents have expropriated local people’s livelihoods and rights, and the Mai Mai militias are known for taking a nationalist stance against foreign interests and for Congolese people.

But, we interviewed one Congolese conservation expert with the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) who attributed all responsibility for the massive failure of conservation and community development in Congo to institutionalized corruption in Western “conservation” organizations and high-level ICCN officials they have corrupted.

The massive ongoing propaganda front peddling the recent gorilla “executions” has fast-forwarded the privatization process, which today appears to be unfolding through increased military surveillance, boundary protection, mercenary operations, and the use and proliferation of surveillance devices and sensors—developed for military and intelligence applications—for anti-poaching and periphery defense.

The Washington Post and its sister publication, Newsweek, cover for such interests by ignoring the machinations behind the scenes and putting their spin on the “Congo Rangers” and “gorillas executed” stories coming out the Virungas National Park.

In the corner of the on-line Newsweek feature—below the picture of a dead silverback sprawled out on a stretcher—like KING KONG himself—carried by a team of very well dressed “conservationists”—is a little “READER’S VOTE” asking: “Would you be willing to pay higher taxes in order to protect endangered species?”

Check: ( ) “yes” ( x ) “no” or ( ) “not sure.”

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Wildlife Direct operates under the mantle of the Africa Conservation Fund (ACF), a tax-exempt (501-c-3) non-government organization registered with the US Internal Revenue Service. Beyond Richard Leakey, a survivor of an elephant attack whose family achieved fame unearthing anthropological and paleontological specimens in East Africa, there are some very prominent and notable people on the ACF board.

The late (2006) board member of ACF, Paul Van Vlissingen, worked for years to privatize all of Africa’s national parks for tourism. The BBC reported in 2003 that Van Vlissingen’s company “planned to take over a string of national parks throughout Africa,” through a private firm, African Parks Management and Finance Company. At a press conference, Zambian Member of Parliament, Sakwiba Sikota, called for an investigation, saying the scheme “borders on theft and plunder of the resources of the people of Barotseland [Zambia/Angola] and should be thrown out.”

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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