AND keith harmon snow
On Wednesday September 19, 2007 the U.S. State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced the provision of $496,000 of new funds for wildlife conservation in the Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to a State Department press release, poaching, armed conflict and “demographic pressures” are justification for the grant.
But investigations in Eastern Congo reported by these authors over the past six months indicate that USAID “conservation” funds—millions of taxpayer’s dollars—have been misappropriated, misdirected, and have disappeared. Evidence suggests that ongoing guerrilla warfare in Central Africa has and is continuing to receive clandestine financial support in AID-for-ARMS type financial transfers. Gorilla rangers are outfitted with well-oiled machine guns, courtesy of fundraising campaigns by conservation organizations.
It is historical fact that the U.S. underpinned the rule of Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko by providing more than $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training. Mobutu used his U.S.-supplied arsenal to repress the Congolese people and plunder his nation’s economy for three decades, until Laurent Kabila’s forces overthrew his brutal regime in 1997. In order to prop up US interests in the strategic resources of Congo, the Clinton administration quickly offered military support to Kabila and developed a plan for new training operations with the armed forces.
In neighboring Congo, what was the role of the U.S. in the assassination of Laurent Kabila in January 2001? What did the U.S. agencies do to promote a civil war and an invasion of that country that has cost 3 million lives?
In 2005, Amnesty International reported large quantities of weapons and ammunition from the Balkans and Eastern Europe were flowing into Africa's conflict-ridden Great Lakes region, Kivu Province, and Virunga Park.
Amnesty International revealed the role played by arms dealers, brokers and transporters from many countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, the UK and USA. The study traces the supply of weapons and ammunition to the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and their subsequent distribution to armed groups and militia in the eastern DRC that have been involved in atrocities amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Weapons sales by authorized private weapon companies, like the recently accused Select Armor, have also soared. Recently released US Defense Department figures show that private arms sales will reach an estimated $9.5 million in 2007, which is down from a 2005 high of nearly $15 million. Uganda leads this list with nearly nine million dollars in purchases from US authorized private arms dealers, and Djibouti once again hits near the top of the list with nearly six million dollars in purchases in 2005, 2006 and an estimated 2007.
“Our efforts are focused on conserving and protecting the habitat of these magnificent animals,” said Claudia A. McMurray, U.S. Assistant Secretary for State Oceans, Environment, and Science. “The survival of the mountain gorillas of Virunga is severely threatened by the tragic events in the region, and we will continue to devote whatever resources we can to protect the gorillas and other threatened species there.”
However, as reported by these authors, millions of dollars in USAID funds given to Virunga Park through the Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) over the past ten years have virtually disappeared. Wildlife conservation in eastern Congo is a shambles, and “rebel” armies fighting in the region are receiving massive military support from known and unknown sources. Russian made Kalashnikovs are everywhere.
The realities on the ground in Central Africa are disturbingly different from those painted in the fundraising drives and brochures produced by the big conservation organizations, and their partners and sponsors. Are these conservation programs merely providing a smokescreen for other activities?