The recent defection of troops to Bosco Ntaganda, for whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant, and their formation into the M23 rebel group has brought conflict back to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to Goma or into neighbouring Uganda, and are living in refugee camps. The rebels have now entered gorilla territory as well.
This situation highlights the need for a more holistic approach to conservation, which requires the inclusion of humanitarian and military organisations, and sees conservation in the broader socio-political and conflict landscape of the region. Equally, the presence of key biodiversity, including both high profile species such as the mountain gorilla and key carbon sinks needed for the fight against climate change (DRC has one of the world’s largest tropical rainforests, second only to the Amazon) offers an opportunity to use conservation as a ‘platform’ or ‘tool’ to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict. But how can this be done?
An approach that has come out of research in eastern DRC and remains under development at the Marjan Centre is to create a ‘Yellow Berets’ unit. This would be a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme, but with a difference. Rather than integrating the rebels back into the Congolese army, which has proven fraught with difficulty, the yellow berets would be an independent force, under UN control. Their task would be environmental protection and controlled natural resource extraction, combined with conventional DDR programmes.
Such a process would bring an end to the current uprising, and provide an opportunity for a lasting peace in the region, while simultaneously protecting key biodiversity in the Congo region as well as allowing for a controlled, sustainable extraction of natural resources to bring wealth into the country.
While there is currently not enough international motivation or willingness to provide the necessary resources to effectively intervene in the Congo, the ‘Yellow Berets’ plan offers a cost-effective way to bring peace to the region and to protect biodiversity and combat climate change. DRC would also offer a trial-run for the project, and the lessons learned could then be used to roll out the project across the world.
Put simply, the ‘Yellow Berets’ plan is designed to deal with the M23 rebels by converting these guerrilla soldiers into gorilla rangers.
Richard Milburn, UK representative, PolePole Foundation, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)