The Marjan Centre’s recent (December 2012) article “The Congo Connection” highlighted how issues of conflict, conservation and biodiversity interact. The Centre has also, inter alia, identified such interaction in Colombia whose vastly diverse biosphere has been adversely affected by the drugs trade financed insurgencies against the government.
This writer firmly believes that the Centre’s approach offers optimistic but nonetheless very real opportunities for encouraging the creation of holistic approaches to dealing with all these challenges in a joined up and fully followed through manner.
The eastern DRC national parks, and their sisters in DRC’s eastern neighbours, present opportunities to implement such approaches in well defined areas which have , by the standards of conflict zones, been the subject of a degree of government regulation and the attention and assistance of international organisations. Such realities provide reasonable foundations for harm reduction and risk prevention strategies.
Given that the East African Great Lakes region continues to be subjected to serious military conflict, a military aphorism seems appropriate, “ amateurs talk tactics, professionals think logistics”. A key factor in successfully joining up the dots regarding all the conflicts and therir effects should be to think: how are these conflicts financed, and how are they supplied. The two questions should be looked at together.
Mining and forestry operations, legal and illegal, require vehicles, fuels and spare parts. Just like armies. There is much dependence on rough air strips in the absence of roads, requiring use of civilian transport planes which are modifications, if that, of military aircraft, with former military crews. Given that in many countries military operations, including the extensive commercial and especially commercial transport operations of the military, are not subject to fiscal or other law enforcement controls, there are real opportunities for using quasi military transport organisations to extract minerals and flora and fauna products to the international market.
These supply chains are long, complex and well protected. It is therefore more realistic to start identifying the supply chains in the immediate area, improve understanding of those operations, and then start tracing backwards and forwards. The concentration of knowledge – and knowledge about what is unknown – in relation to the national parks makes these locations as good a place to start as any.
Every means of transport – vehicles, animal, human, air, land and water – and every transport organisation- governmental, commercial, civilian or military – needs to be considered as a potential player.
As The Independent reports ( 11th January 2013) no wonder Rwanda and others oppose the mooted introduction of unarmed intelligence gathering drones (UAVs) by MONUSCO, citing the unacceptability of the introduction of foreign intelligence systems into the region, as “ the use of UAVs in Congo’s remote border areas would settle the argument and make it impossible for large-scale supply operations to be kept secret”.Just look at which states are opposed to such introduction.
Aspects of the methodology suggested above have been implemented by the author and his colleagues in relation to illegal exploitation of otherwise legitimate commercial operations in the East African Community. Euan Grant, a former Strategic Intelligence Analyst in HM Customs & Excise who has subsequently worked in East Africa