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Congolese Conservation Expert Under Attack for Speaking Out About Corruption

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Congolese Conservation Expert Under Attack for Speaking Out About Corruption involving Western Conservation and Humanitarian Organizations in Central Africa

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):

On Monday, 27 August 2007, Congolese national Mr. Vital Katembo
Mushegezi, a state Conservator and Senior Game Warden, sent out an
urgent SOS appeal from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mr. Katembo
has come under attack from powerful forces seeking to maintain the
long-standing silence about corruption, extortion, and criminality
involving international non-government organizations (NGOs) working in
the conservation, development and humanitarian sector in Central
Africa. While previously concerned for his livelihood and security,
Mr. Katembo has now been barred from his offices at the Congolese
Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and he is deeply
concerned for his life and his family's security.

Vital Katembo Mushegezi has worked for years for the Congolese
Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), a state-run entity in
control of Congo's national parks. In the past year Mr. Katembo has
been increasingly concerned about "conservation" in Central Africa,
and he has shown unflinching courage by publicly challenging
organizations and individuals who are profiting from the billion
dollar conservation, development and humanitarian sectors at the
expense of human suffering and exploitation of the environment. Mr.
Katembo has been increasingly vocal, notwithstanding the threat and
actualization of retaliation over past months.

An August 16 communication by Mr. Katembo challenging the activities
and agenda of Richard Leakey's newly formed Wildlife Direct and other
NGOs in Central Africa has prompted direct retaliation.

"I have now worked in the Virunga for almost 15 years and my
experience of the last 2 years is of deception," Vital Katembo wrote
on August 16, 2007, responding to communications from Wildlife Direct
director Emmanuel De Merode. "Are we saving wildlife or are we trying
our best to save so called wildlife direct managers and experts? You
are not new to learn that good people can do evil and this is so
obvious in the conservation arena… Conservation in the Virungas is the
last stand of oppression, corruption and colonialism."

Mr. Katembo previously worked in the Ituri Forest for Wildlife
Conservation Society (WCS) and has been active in the Virunga National
Park since 1994. In 1998 he was a project leader for Mt. Tshiaberimu
conservation project and field assistant for Dian Fossey Gorilla
Fund-Europe (renamed The Gorilla Organization in 2006), in North Kivu,

An email from ICCN Executive Director Cosma Wilungula Balongelwa
circulated privately on Saturday, August 25, 2007 makes it clear that
Mr. Katembo is specifically being targeted by powerful conservation
forces aligned with officials working for the Congolese state and
ICCN. Mr. Wilungula's email specifically cites a previous
communication by Mr. Katembo sent to Emmanuel De Merode of Wildlife
Direct and certain former affiliates providing funding from the U.S.
It does not mention the actions or threats taken to retaliate against
Mr. Katembo.

The response by the ICCN Executive Director makes it clear that the
ICCN is beholden to powerful Western organizations whose
interests—often hostile to the environment—have been served through
bribery, extortion and corruption, at the expense of the environment,
the wildlife, the Congolese state and the millions of Congolese people
who have suffered, or continue to suffer, various forms of western
corporate exploitation. (For extensive background on these issues see:
< > and < >).

The list of recipients of the ICCN email include top level expatriate
personnel and in-country officials working for the Dian Fossey Gorilla
Fund International, UNESCO, Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), World
Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Wildlife
Direct, UNDP, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and
the USAID (U. S. Agency for International Development) funded Central
Africa Regional Program for the Environment. The list includes
individuals allegedly involved in corrupt activities.

In the event of Mr. Katembo's persecution, detention, or disappearance
the individuals listed below will be considered accomplices to an
international crime. The names and information have been turned over
to officials of the U.S. Department of Justice offices involved in
ongoing investigations over allegations of misappropriation of funds,
extortion, and corruption in Central Africa by the organizations named
above, and others, including the Africa Conservation Fund,
Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International, Jane
Goodall Institute, Frankfurt Zoological Society, U.S. Forest Service,
and the Born Free Foundation.

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The courage shown by Vital Katembo Mushegezi is exemplary of a human
rights defender faced with the most severe conditions and hardship.
The fear of persecution and professional ostracism by these
conservation entities has led to a universal silence in and amongst
the expatriate professionals who are aware of the realities that Mr.
Katembo has dared to publicly name. It is because of the silence of
the countless others who are aware of the corruption, extortion and
expropriation of funds that Mr. Katembo's life is now at risk. We
encourage conservation and humanitarian professionals to break this
silence and make their knowledge heard, for the benefit of nature
conservation, social justice and human rights everywhere.

For further information see:

Keith Harmon Snow
Georgianne Nienaber

Keith Harmon Snow <> worked as human rights
investigator for the United Nations, Genocide Watch and Survivor's
Rights International, and his series on conservation realities in
Central Africa, co-authored by investigative journalist Georgianne
Nienaber <>, is published under the title
KONG: <>.

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

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