The Mafia in the Park: A charcoal syndicate is threatening Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park
An illegal charcoal cartel is helping to finance one of the most prominent militias in central Africa and destroying parts of Africa’s oldest national park. Nursing alliances with Congolese army and police units and operating remote trafficking rings in the sanctuaries of Congo’s protected forests, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is a kingpin in Africa’s Great Lakes region’s organized crime networks and a continuing threat to human security. For years, the group has helped sustain its activities by exploiting valuable natural resources, including minerals, ivory, fish, and marijuana. But one of the FDLR’s most successful revenue-generating businesses is the illicit charcoal trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s cherished Virunga National Park. Headquartered deep in the remote southwestern sector of Virunga, the illegal charcoal trade is lucrative. Some have estimated it has an annual value of up to $35 million...the FDLR also commits a range of domestic and international crimes, including forced labor andillegal taxation...Virunga faces a number of threats, including poaching and oil exploration, but the illegal charcoal trade isuniquely damaging...The success of the illegal charcoal trade relies on the widespread deforestation of parts of Virunga and the perpetration of human rights abuses, including reprisal murders and sexual slavery. These acts stokeone another and accelerate cycles of insecurity, poverty, fear, and environmental destruction.