Fox-Owned <i>National Geographic</i> Uses Gorillas as Cover for Exploitation of Congo

The gorilla photography on the cover ofconveys a the message that animals are more important than people. It is colonialist, racist, and supportive of multi-national and strategic interests.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

2008-07-14-Silverbacks in Rwanda Where Fossey Worked-silverbacks.JPG

Image: Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda © G. Nienaber

Dateline -- December 1979, Karisoke Research Camp, Rwanda -- Dian Fossey opens a letter from the editor of her book, Gorillas in the Mist, and learns that National Geographic Magazine has decided to "put a hold on Fossey news." (Source: Letter from Anita McClellan to Dian Fossey. December 14, 1979; McMaster University) The magazine and its board of directors decreed that Dian Fossey was a wild card who would stymie plans to support tourism in the realm of the endangered mountain gorilla. The Boston cocktail circuit of celebrities and mainstream news media luminaries wanted someone who would work against the interests of the African people and develop a gorilla sanctuary which would function as an economic resource for conservation interests -- all under the guise of "science." The result would be hordes of tourists invading native lands and gorilla habitat. Fossey had all but eliminated poaching for antelope species and trade in gorilla parts by this time. The fuss was all about money and strategic interests, and the mantra of National Geographic that Africa was too wild, too uncivilized and too black to manage its own affairs.

Fossey would spend the rest of her days fighting for "active conservation," while National Geographic Magazine slowly cut off her funding. Dian Fossey wrote that "Africans are the backbone" of conservation efforts, realizing that without the support and protection of "Africans for Africans," there was little hope for either species.

There are de-classified diplomatic cables from Fossey's time which indicate outright collusion between Melvin Payne, then President of the National Geographic Society, Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, and Rwandan Ambassador, Frank Crigler to remove Fossey from Rwanda. A smear campaign was underway to discredit her so that money-making "conservation" schemes could be implemented by the African Wildlife Fund (AWLF) and the colonialist Mountain Gorilla Project.

Farley Mowat writes in Virunga, that Vance told Crigler that embassy cables from Rwanda about Fossey had been copied to National Geographic. These cables detailed a plan to remove Fossey from Rwanda so that AWLF could take over.

There were also other sinister forces at work that would resurface during the Rwandan genocide. Protais Zigiranyirazo was governor of Ruhengeri Province in Rwanda when Fossey worked there. Zigiranyirazo was also the brother-in-law of the Hutu President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyiramana, whose death in a mysterious plane crash ignited the Rwandan "genocide" of 1994. In a controversial ruling, a French tribunal has implicated the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in the assassination. Zigiranyirazo is currently ensconced in Arusha Prison for war crimes and genocide -- the murder of Dian Fossey considered a lesser crime.

Diplomatic cables and writing from that time indicate that higher ups realized Zigiranyirazo was a likely suspect in Fossey's murder. He was involved in illegal trading in endangered species and gold smuggling out of Congo, and there is much additional evidence in the historical record that Fossey was about to expose him when she was murdered.

Fossey was buried in the same graveyard as the gorillas she so valiantly attempted to protect, and National Geographic Magazine went on to provide logistical support for a movie which would forever tarnish her legacy and portray her as a madwoman -- the society failed to taint her image while she was alive, but it was a slam-dunk once she was gone.

In a 1988 article, "The Media Business: Advertising; Plan Helps Risky Film to Succeed," the New York Times explained how to sell a complicated story about Africa (the film Gorillas in the Mists) to the masses in America.

Thomas Pollock, chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group, said:

"We promoted different elements of the film. The story involves Ms. Fossey's work in Africa, as well as her romance with a married photographer. With women older than 25 in mind, 'we did a spot for the daytime soap operas,' Mr. Pollock said. The spot played off the notion of a woman choosing between her career and a married man who gets a divorce in order to marry her."

This biographical item was an outright lie, written into the script to sell a movie. The photographer portrayed in the movie was Bob Campbell, of National Geographic Magazine. Campbell and Fossey did have a romance, but the late Rosamond Carr, friend and confident of Fossey told biographers on numerous occasions that Campbell's betrayal of Fossey was "one of the greatest sorrows of Dian's life." Campbell refused to leave his wife and remains married to her to this day.

The studio also created a "more action-oriented" trailer that reflected the exotic nature of the movie, which had many of the elements of Universal's Out of Africa. The trailer was promoted on shows like Good Morning America and the Today Show, according the NYT article of October 1988.

Dian Fossey was a formidable woman while she was alive and her words and those of her friends remain in defense of her legacy and the legacy of the African people -- legacies which are being stolen by the neo-colonialism of conservation in the Virunga Mountains to this day.

2008-07-14-Fossey wanted AWF out of Rwanda-awf.JPG
Image: Fossey Wanted ALF out © G. Nienaber

Dateline July 2008 -- The National Geographic cover story begins in much the same manner as "news reports" that blanketed the mainstream press worldwide in 2007 and 1988. It is almost a quarter of a century since Dian Fossey was murdered and little has changed.

Sensationalist Stories "Sell" the "News"

"Killers" lurked on the side of the Mikeno Volcano in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, ready to "hunt down" the twelve-member "Rugendo family." In an excess of anthropomorphism, National Geographic describes the patriarch of a gorilla group as "accepting the proximity" of intrusions as "irritating but unavoidable." In a descriptive denouement worthy of a Greek tragedy, the gorillas are shot with blasts "through the chest" and with gunshots to the head -- "execution style" and in "cold blood." Seven gorillas were killed. There is no doubt that this was an environmental disaster, considering that the remaining population of mountain gorillas numbers little more than 700 individuals. These are the same gorillas that Dian Fossey fought and died for, with little support and much opposition from the National Geographic Society in the end.

Is this emotional, anthropomorphic slant unusual from a publication such as National Geographic, whose chartered mission is to "increase the diffusion of geographic knowledge?" Is diffusion of knowledge occurring on the pages of National Geographic, especially when it comes to the geo-political conflicts in the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa? If readers take the time to apply tenets of critical thinking to a deconstruction of the cover story "Who Murdered the Mountain Gorillas," has education been enhanced? Has the truth been exposed? Or, has National Geographic once again used a story about the senseless killing of animals to deflect attention away from what is actually happening in central Africa? Has National Geographic used this story to promote the erroneous and colonialist concept that Africa is incapable of managing its own affairs? Have the rules and ethics of accurate reporting been applied in this story? Have mass media interests formed a cabal with multi-national interests which are cloaked in the mantle of "conservation," while the Congolese people are being forced out of ancient tribal lands and along with them refugees of geo-political conflicts?

Imagine you are a woman who has been gang-raped by militia, and portions of your remaining genitals hang between your thighs while you are hiding in the bush with your children, hoping and praying that you will all die without great suffering. Do you think it matters what militias or country is responsible for your agony and suffering? Does it matter if you are Hutu or Tutsi or Mai Mai?

2008-07-14-Conservationists want them out-villagestorenearLubero.JPG

Image: Conservationists Want Them Out © G. Nienaber

Or, has National Geographic Magazine become the Playboy Magazine of the environmental movement? Do readers merely "look at the photos" without applying tenets of critical thinking, meanwhile absorbing the emotional wallop of manipulative photography -- photography that cannot be considered photojournalism. The photography that appears in the July 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine instead conveys a covert political message that animals are more important than people. It is colonialist, it is racist, and it supports multi-national and strategic interests. It has nothing to do with the unfortunate mountain gorillas, which are being used as pawns in this struggle, just as they were by multi-national interests in the days of Dian Fossey. Little has changed in this regard.

In Gorillas in the Mists, Dian Fossey wrote that she was terrified that every time a gorilla killing was publicized people would climb with evangelical zeal upon a "save the gorilla bandwagon," without taking time to learn about the complicated political, humanitarian and geographical conflicts which exited on the border of Rwanda and Congo. To put it directly and unvarnished in today's terms, Rwanda needs the vast resources of Congo. So does the United States.

In the preface to War and Tropical Forests: Conservation in Areas of Armed Conflict, Steven Price writes that war is the "enemy of biodiversity." One illustrative example offered is Vietnam, where United States forces cleared nearly a million acres of land by spraying enough Agent Orange to defoliate 10 percent of the country. The "deforestation" of Virunga pales in comparison.

Yet National Geographic enthusiastically parrots Wildlife Direct, a paramilitary "conservation" organization, and blames poor charcoal gatherers for the gorilla killings. Charcoal is the only source of heat for water purification and represents a tenuous link to life in the refugee camps. Yes, there is an illegal charcoal trade, but to blame charcoal for the ills of Congo is like blaming moon shiners for the social ills of Appalachia in the 1930's.

No reasonable analysis is offered in regard to the estimated 45,000 human deaths that occur every month in DRC, or an International Rescue Committee survey, which found that 5,400,000 people have died in Congo since 1998.

Most analysts agree that this number is probably much higher, given the inexactitude of census techniques in a country the size of Eastern Europe that has very few roads. The proliferation of militia groups described in detail by National Geographic aside, the majority of human deaths arise from "non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition -- easily preventable and treatable conditions when people have access to health care and nutritious food," according the IRC Report. 45,000 human deaths a month and not one of those individuals' deaths merit the same scrutiny as the demise of the gorillas. It is not the military that is killing the majority of civilians in DRC. It is misinformation nurtured and conveyed by interests behind mainstream media publications.

FACT: Fox Networks Owns Two Thirds of the National Geographic Channel

National Geographic begins its report by describing Virunga National Park as a "sanctuary" for wildlife. Is this true? This writer was in Virunga Park in February 2007, along the unpaved road that runs from Goma to the Rumangabo Ranger station and beyond. Readers who have a copy of the article can find this road on the pull-out map that accompanies the gorilla article. In grasslands that should have been teeming with wildlife, only a few antelope species were observed. There was not a birdsong in evidence, not a butterfly in sight, and we were looking.

2008-07-14-No wildlife in Virunga Grassland-DSC_0707_virunga_grasslands.JPG
Image: Empty Grasslands © G. Nienaber

Virunga Park, in existence since 1925, is a failed experiment in wildlife conservation--make no mistake about it. Even the opportunistic baboon species, which is decimating the plantation forests of South Africa, was nowhere to be seen. Virunga is not the crown jewel of wildlife parks. In fact, UNESCO's World Heritage Foundation has declared Virunga to be in peril with less than ten years of survival before the ecosystem totally collapses.

Yet, National Geographic quotes Emmanuel de Merode of Wildlife Direct as an encyclopedic source, and does not question De Merode's hyperbole that "Virunga is the greatest national park on the planet." Is the reader of National Geographic supposed to take this as a fact? Where is the rebuttal? Where is the vetting?

Is the fresh faced, white Belgian de Merode actually a public relations spinner for the Virunga Park--including the covert military operations in place there? Emmanuel de Merode is currently "on tour" in the United States with a National Geographic dog and pony show which is "premiering" a related video on the gorilla story that appears on FOX-owned National Geographic Channel. FOX Broadcasting is owned by Rupert Murdock's news corporation. This is the same network that is ginning up support for an invasion of Iran as it did with Iraq. What is even more amazing is that PBS and the Charlie Rose Program have bought FOX's version of Congo hook, line and sinker.

Is this the same technique used by MCA to sell a sordid "biography" of Dian Fossey on the networks in 1988? Linda Berkeley, now Executive Vice-President of National Geographic, was chairman of MCA Universal, having joined the company in 1990.

Is National Geographic recreating a page from the past when it opened its cartographic archives to the Unites States World War II effort, providing intelligence and about enemy held territory and strategic interests? The Virunga Mountains, home of the mountain gorilla, straddles one of the most strategic pieces of real estate on the planet.

Why the huge Public Relations pitch for biodiversity--code for multinational interests and land grabs that rival what the United States did to the Native American Indian population? National Geographic oddly describes Wildlife Direct as a "nascent" organization, but fails to make the connection that the gorilla killings began shortly after Wildlife Direct arrived on the scene in DRC in late 2006.

It is a little like blaming the American Indian for the demise of the buffalo as the pioneers pushed west.

War and Torture Funds from Piggy Banks

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Wildlife Direct was founded by Richard Leakey as a "joint project" with Wildlife Direct, Inc., a non-profit registered in the United States, and Africa Conservation Fund (UK), which is a registered charity.

Training of ICCN and Wildlife Direct's elite "Congo Rangers" was funded by the European Union, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, UNESCO, the London Zoological Society, and the Frankfurt Zoological Society and managed under the technical guidance of former British mercenary Conrad Thorpe. This is all documented in a video available on the World Wide Web at "Congo 2006: Guns for Hire." This video will figure into our discussion.

Leaky does not come to the equation without controversy. Both pitied and admired for his survival of a plane crash where sabotage has not been ruled out, Leakey lost both of his legs in the accident. In the spring of 1994, Leakey resigned or was forced out of his post as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service. The reason? Leakey was accused by the Kenyan government of favoring the wildlife interests over the needs and interests of local subsistence farmers. There are also allegations of financial mismanagement. Not missing a beat, Leakey formed his own political party, Safina, which is Swahili for "Noah's Ark."

So certain is Leakey of the world's interest in wildlife over human concerns that he is quoted on his own webpage saying, "I believe there are tens of millions of people out there who care about wildlife and would be willing to make a two dollar donation to secure the future of wildlife."

This background information is in itself a glaring omission, especially since Wildlife Direct has a blog that directly solicits money from school children in the United States. It seems as if USAID, the European Union, and Frankfurt Zoological Society funding for the elite Congo Rangers is not enough to fill the coffers. National Geographic omits this important background information.

Vanishing Web Links Whitewash History

There was no investigative scrutiny of the trustees of the Africa Wildlife Foundation, whose most prominent member is or was Walter Kansteiner III. Kansteiner is not a conservationist. He has over 20 years of experience in African and emerging market issues, advising corporations on mergers ranging from forestry, to mining to aviation. Kansteiner has publicly attacked South Africa's Nelson Mandela as a "Marxist." Kansteiner has also worked in the arena of strategic mineral procurement for the United States Defense Department. As of 2007, Kansteiner was listed on Source Watch (Center for Media and Democracy) as a director of Wildlife Direct, and Emmanuel de Merode identified Kansteiner as a board member in an email in 2007. Kansteiner has since vanished from the web links to Wildlife Direct. The Source Watch page was modified to remove Kansteiner in November 2007 after independent media reports linked him with Wildlife Direct.

Congo Mineral Rush

Virunga is rich is strategic minerals, including gold, tantalite (coltan) and uranium, and one reason why multi-national interests would gain the advantage if Virunga Park were devoid of human inhabitants. The gorillas provide a convenient pawn in this struggle and have paid the price. The issue of the land and resources belonging to the Congolese people is never mentioned by National Geographic, nor are possibly hidden stores of uranium.

Uranium might be a linchpin in the struggle for control of Virunga. A private Congolese investigative organization that was documenting infant gorilla smuggling at "Camp Vodo," right under the noses of the elite rangers at Rumangabo, discovered a "hole" near a path in the camp. A store of uranium was reportedly kept in the underground chamber, consisting of three rooms, and guarded by "soldiers."

This report was sent in 2007 to western conservation interests submitted to mainstream media outlets, and ignored.

National Geographic goes on to discuss the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and correctly describes the agency as lacking government funding, but does not examine the millions of USAID dollars that have vanished into the budgets of various NGO's that operate as fiefdoms in the conservation sector in Virunga. This does not take into account the millions in individual donor funding pumped into the region for "conservation," or the billions that go to the forestry sectors. The United States Congressional "Gorilla Directive" has squandered at least $5 million dollars in this sector. It is disingenuous to state, as National Geographic did, that ICCN is comparable to a "concessionaire."

National Geographic provides the requisite rhetoric and mentions former Dictator Mobuto Sese Seko as the root of all evil in DRC. This is a simplistic explanation and does not expose conservation colonialism and all of its horrific implications. The Congolese are not culturally deprived. Their way of life in all of its forms has been systematically destroyed by the stranglehold of colonialism which is still painfully evident in the British and American mercenary interests which dominate this region.

A Response from Mark Twain

In 1904, Mark twain wrote a response to Belgian King Leopold's rape of the Congo. Much like today's independent media efforts to get at the truth in central Africa, King Leopold's Soliloquy, could not find a publisher. Twain gave his expose to the American Congo Reform Association.

In the Soliloquy, Leopold laments that although he has used every means at his disposal to suppress news of his atrocities, reporters continue to expose his evil machinations, which include severing the hands of workers who do not meet their quotas.

"They have told how for twenty years I have ruled the Congo state [...] seizing and holding the State as my personal property; the whole of its vast revenues as my private 'swag' -- mine, solely mine -- claiming and holding its millions of people as my private property; my serfs, my slaves; their labor mine, with or without wage; the food they raise not their property but mine; the rubber, the ivory and all the other riches of the land mine -- mine solely --- and gathered for me by the men, the women, and the little children under compulsion of lash and bullet, fire, starvation, mutilation and halter.

These pests! -- It is as I say; they [reporters] have kept back nothing!"

Toasts to Torture

A small man with a big mission, British Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which has deep connections with Wildlife Direct, is described in National Geographic as he breaks out two bottles of champagne after brutally destroying a charcoal kiln operated by villagers that would have produced 20 to 100 sacks of charcoal. Muir shouts, "The charcoal mafia can be stopped!" Mafia? "Mafia" is a powerful word with implications that require much deeper analysis than is offered in this story.

We sat with Muir at a fancy restaurant on Goma on embassy row in February of 2007. At that time he was drinking beer and announcing that "He had Nkunda where he wanted him." Muir was referring to controversial Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda who is involved in a military struggle with the regular Congolese army and Hutu militias. Again the question must be asked, and progressive media has asked this question -- why are erstwhile "conservationists" discussing military issues?

National Geographic never asked the deeper questions about Robert Muir, instead portraying him as an effete Indiana Jones.

Muir lives in a well-fortified compound in Goma, dresses in faux safari clothing -- a British version of an LL Bean aficionado -- has a private car and driver, and pilots a small zebra-striped Cessna 206 provided by the Frankfurt Zoological Society. He is starched and pressed in true colonialist fashion. Muir wrote an article in the Gorilla Journal 2005 December issue, in which he described the ranger training program and additional "standard operating procedures" involving airborne "monitoring and surveillance" of Virunga Park.

"We have built a parade ground and a 100m shooting range, and have rehabilitated the airstrip, and will soon be underway with the construction of a basic assault course," Muir wrote.

This is the true portrait of the conservationist in Goma, DRC.

National Geographic omitted Muir's background writings which tell much about the man. One local told us that Muir "likes playing with his tin soldiers." Only this is no game. It involves starving people who have been oppressed for the last 120 years of colonial rule and home-grown dictators.

Muir invited us to Congo in 2007 after we hand-delivered a donation for gorilla conservation from the International Primate Protection League. Muir refused to fly us over Virunga, even though he had promised to do so, because of a "lack of petrol." Private, military, and corporate planes were flying in and out of Goma at that time on a regular basis. Fuel was not an issue and we offered to pay for it if money was the issue. A promised visit to the cave dwelling gorillas also did not materialize. Muir was "busy" in meetings in Kinshasa.

Photographic Smoke and Mirrors

There is a telling photo that accompanies the National Geographic report. Pages 56-57 consist of a two-page page spread of a Congolese woman literally begging for mercy, while another woman rests head and arms on the prostrate woman's back. It is a posture of total and absolute despair. Their "crime" was hauling sacks of charcoal out of the park for less than a buck a day. These women have names. Was any attempt made to identify them? This photo shows total lack of humanity and should be featured on the cover of National Geographic instead of yet another photo of a gorilla. Does the caption describe what is happening in a truthful manner?

The woman is probably barefoot -- walking over volcanic rocks and soil. How many people are in her family? How many mouths does she have to feed?

These questions are never asked, or answered. Instead, the caption describes the unfortunate toothless woman as an object -- a "mule" -- supporting the "evil" charcoal trade. Where is the real evil in this photograph? Is it the Ranger with trigger finger ready on the outside of the trigger guard on the Kalashnikov?

There is another photo of an emaciated Congolese woman with a green flip-flop sandal on her left foot. In this photo the confiscated wood is in the foreground and looks to be a substantial bundle. Travel along the roads in Rwanda and Congo and that is what women do. They carry bundles of wood on their heads to use for cooking and water purification. Take a closer look at the photo for scale and accuracy. The woman's red sandal from her right foot is tangled in the bundle of wood. It is clear that the bundle is small and the viewer has been tricked by the age-old photographer's trick of placing objects in the foreground to make them appear larger than they are in reality.

How many "big-game" or bragging fishing photos use the same technique?

Step back now to the training of the "elite Congo rangers" by British mercenary Robert Thorpe under the aegis of Robert Muir. Take a look at the video that is the real story behind this whitewashed tale.

Study the "training" that Muir condoned. The video footage does not lie. The Congo rangers have a snare placed around the neck of a village fisherman who was taking fish illegally for his family. A gun is pointed at his head; he is being psychologically tortured and wets his pants--the urine clearly running between his legs and into the dry African soil of Muir and Thorpe's torture chamber.

Muir has now moved from three years of training rangers to the charcoal trade, where his celebratory bottle of champagne reveals more than a thousand words.

A Whistleblower's Paper Trail Torched by de Merode

There is another piece to this story that National Geographic cannot possibly have missed. In late summer 2007, an ICCN official in Goma accidentally copied an email to Emmanuel de Merode. This email was intended for the eyes of investigative journalists, and named higher-ups at ICCN, as well as corrupts conservation interests, as the possible masterminds behind the gorilla killings and rampant corruption. This story was published on the Internet and is still easily accessible through progressive media outlets.

De Merode was obviously incensed and forwarded the email to ICCN authorities in Kinshasa. ICCN authorities have since been implicated in the killings. Why did de Merode immediately try to silence the whistleblower?

Consequently, the whistleblower was locked out of his offices by a directive from Cosma Wilungula Balongelwa, Director General of ICCN. Balongelwa suddenly had a big problem on his hands now that that the Goma official had implicated ICCN, Wildlife Direct, and other conservation interests in the gorilla killings, graft and collusion. Part of the testimony was on stolen videotapes and this created a real public relations problem that had to be cleaned up.

Fearing for his life and the welfare of his family, the official wrote down his observations in a document that was emailed to progressive journalists -- one of them is this writer. This document was offered to the Washington Post Africa desk, which declined to take a look at it, even though the Post had extensively covered the gorilla killings. Had National Geographic done its homework, writers would have discovered this document.

The source tagged key persons of interest to investigators in Kinshasa, including Executive Director Pasteur Cosma Wilungula, his brother in law and finance assistant Djomo Ngumbi, his Cabinet Director and Personnal Assistant in Charge of International Cooperation, Mr. Georges Mwamba, the Technical Director and Interim Finance Director, Benoit Kisuki and other advisors for the European Union and the world Bank.

Enemy Journalists?

It is also important to note that when the ICCN source was locked out of his offices in Goma after speaking with progressive media reporters, Cosma Wilingula sent an email calling the informant and American investigative journalists "enemies" of conservation. This email was copied to de Merode, and every American and British NGO working in Virunga. Damage control was in full force and National Geographic has essentially closed the circle on spin control by not delving deeper into this story, or reporting on these incidents. A paper trail of emails exists and has been made available to the Washington Post.

See No Evil: Hear No Evil

National Geographic can also be accused of promoting the simplistic message that there are only "good guys" (conservationists) and "bad guys" (militia and villagers). This is not journalism, it is not truth telling, it is propaganda. National Geographic attempts to get itself off the hook for this "investigative piece" by saying that no one will ever "know who pulled the triggers." No one will ever know who killed the mountain gorillas because the truth was buried by occult interests, lead by British and American mercenaries. There are those who saw what happened, those who know what happened, and they have either been silenced or killed.

If the ICCN Goma source was so off the mark in his testimony, why did a bodyguard recommended by Robert Muir steal related notes and video testimony from a female journalist, who was working under a MONUC Press badge and investigating NGO corruption in Virunga for independent media? Why take the risk?

What about the suggestion that charcoal is the biggest threat to Virunga and that the World Wildlife Fund is another "good guy," busily planting trees in Virunga? One Congolese source calls this idea, "laughable," noting that the WWF, in return for compensation, has been involved in the obliteration of the Congo rainforest by forestry concessions, most notably the Blattner Group. Logging operations of western companies comprise over 30 million hectares and the World Wildlife Fund rubber stamps their operations. The profits and the expropriation of Congolese land for the international logging sector dwarfs the $30 million a year charcoal industry run by and for Congolese people.

A BBC News report in May 2000 revealed that the WWF and the European Commission ordered a whitewash of a report on the destruction of the Congo rainforest. The report was written in 1997, but squashed because WWF was concerned that the multinational logging companies identified in the report and "governments accused of bribery and corruption would act against them," according to the BBC report.

Is it any surprise that there would be a local charcoal industry? As National Geographic points out, there is no electricity (or very little) in Goma, and none in the refugee camps. There is no other available fuel to cook with, heat homes or boil water to drink. What is the alternative for these people who have nothing?

Power for the People

In April 2008 the African Development Bank announced plans to build a hydro-electric plant upstream from the underutilized mouth of the Congo River. A power line will run from the Mobuto-inspired and defunct Inga plant to the DRC capitol, Kinshasa.

The Inga plant is situated on powerful falls north of the port of Matadi, and from there the Congo River runs down to the Atlantic coast.

The DRC has one of the lowest levels of electricity consumption in the world due to lack of investment. The development of hydroelectricity which reaches rural areas would go a long way towards reducing the need for charcoal use. Charcoal is also a health hazard and has been implicated in respiratory disease and shortened life spans in the region.

The DRC's electrification rate is only 6 percent compared to an average 20 percent for Africa as a whole. The energy generated in the restored Inga power plants would also be able to supply other provinces and neighboring countries, according to the investors. Two modernized power stations at Inga would be able to generate nearly 40,000 megawatts, enough to provide electricity to all of southern Africa.

Conservationists have already registered objections to this development project, yet they rubber stamp logging operations that make charcoal gathering in the Virungas look like a box of toothpicks.


Goma now has over 700,000 residents crammed into a city where the central feature is a huge, festering garbage dump. There is little available shelter in this city which was buried in lava at the last eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano. The United Nations and humanitarian relief agencies are unable to provide fuel for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who flood the camps.

National Geographic shrugs it off with a caption that reads, "Some people go hungry in densely populated North Kivu Province." The phrase "densely populated" is another buzz phrase promoted by conservation NGO's to advocate population control in Africa. The fact remains that, outside of the camps, Central Africa is less densely populated than the United States. See:

A Fool's Tale: Signifying Nothing

Then there is killing of the mountain gorillas. Does National Geographic offer a plausible explanation, or has the case been tried in the media for the last year with the FOX News' version of National Geographic only offering the final verdict?

In the summer of 2007, the Washington Post and its sister publication, Newsweek, offered essentially the same conclusions offered in the July issue of National Geographic, but from a different bully pulpit. The Goma ICCN whistleblower predicted in the autumn of 2007 that ICCN and conservation interests would offer up a low level "fall-guy" to take the rap. This appears to have happened in the case of former chief park warden, Honore Mashagiro, who was arrested in March 2008 and charged with plotting the gorilla murders to silence conservation "hero" Paulin Ngobobo. Ngobobo is a Wildlife Direct Congo ranger, who was in charge of the gorilla sector of the park.

It would take another "trial of the century" to sort out the competing rivalries, jealousies and competition for conservation dollars that infest the quest for truth in this case.

Consider, though, that the gorilla killings began shortly after Wildlife Direct and the Frankfurt Zoological society made their joint presence known in the park. Ngobobo was ostensibly posting his own blog about the killings, but the man does not speak or write fluent English. His blog was posted and written by a Wildlife Direct. Press officer. Spokeswoman and webmaster, Samantha Newport has not said publicly whether she is the person who wrote the blogs for Ngobobo. However, Newport has attempted to discredit freelance journalists who have been dogging this story and Ngobobo's role.

National Geographic made its bias clear in a pair of photos that appear on pages 64 and 65. ICCN suspect Honore Mashagiro is pictured in a small, blurry, cropped headshot, poorly lit, which hardly holds up to the standards of National Geographic photojournalists. He looks sullen, surly, and "evil."

On the facing page, there is a stunning backlit shot of the erstwhile "hero" Ngobobo, shadows and light playing across his impeccably pressed and starched uniform while he cradles the skull of a slain gorilla in his hands. Note the fancy field watch and the prescription glasses.

One half expects the line from Hamlet to accompany the photo: "Alas poor Yorick," with National Geographic playing the fool to Ngobobo's Hamlet.

This is the worst kind of pandering, manipulative "photo-journalism." One does not know whether to hold the photographer or National Geographic's photo editors responsible for this manipulation.

Finally, whether one believes that Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda is hero to his people or arch-villain, Nkunda is a military force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Congo. For National Geographic to describe him as looking like a "jazz musician" because of his choice of clothing for the photo shoot is unbelievable -- but they did so.

In another instance of photo manipulation, Nkunda is photographed from a distorted angle, making him look foolish -- and make no mistake about it -- Nkunda is nobody's fool. Friends of Nkunda, and this writer has met with them, describe Nkunda as a scholarly man -- well read, devout and a philosopher. Yes, he is a military man and as such he is responsible for great violence in Congo. So is the FDLR (Hutu army) and so also is the regular Congolese army.

One might also make the same case for Robert Muir and Conrad Thorpe and Richard Leakey who are responsible for teaching techniques of torture and killing to the Congo Rangers.

Refugees, War and Truth from Fossey's Protégée

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 was responsible for the migration of 450,000 refugees into the Virunga Mountains. The refugees were displaced again in 1996 during the civil war which ended the Mobutu regime, followed by a second civil war in 1998.

Juichi Yamagiwa is a Japanese primatologist and former student of Dian Fossey. Fossey speaks highly of him in her writings and Yamagiwa has extensive conservation experience in DRC.

He writes in "Bushmeat Poaching and the Conservation Crisis," that the killing of gorillas over the years since 1994 is due to the "tragic consequences of the social, political, and economic instability that developed in the region with the collapse of the Mobutu regime and the subsequent refugee crisis and civil wars." He also says that "habituation of gorillas and promotion of tourism may not be the best solution for conservation of gorillas and the development of local communities."

"It is plausible Yamagiwa writes in 2003, "that the habituation of gorillas [by conservation groups] facilitated the rapid poaching of certain gorillas."

Who killed the mountain gorillas? Multi-national and strategic interests, including those of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, fueled by white supremacy and cloaked in the mantle of "conservation," killed the mountain gorillas.

This article crossposted on OEN

Popular in the Community


What's Hot