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NGO and Media Negligence Negates Their Credibility

July 20, 2018

The Democratic Republic of Congo has announced that oil exploration blocks will be awarded in certain areas of the country. One exploration license to be considered for award in the eastern part of the huge, unruly country has recently generated vast amounts of condemnation in the British press that is unwarranted and founded on ignorance. First of all, a portion of the block on Lake Edward is in the Virunga National Park and within the UNESCO World Heritage site. There is no doubt that the Virunga National Park is home and a wonderful sanctuary for a number of endangered species, including Mountain gorillas, Bonobo monkeys, Forest elephants, Dwarf chimpanzees and Congo peacocks.

Further, that sanctuary is located in the volcanic mountains in the northern portion of the UNESCO World Heritage site. However, as oil does not exist in volcanic mountains, that would certainly not be a target for anyone to search for oil. Any prospective oil accumulations would not only be a significant distance away but in a different world from both an ecological and human density perspective.

The location that would provide the highest possibility, even though remote, of having any commercial oil discoveries is in the area of Lake Edward. In fact, compressed air acquired seismic data on Lake Edward supported the premise that portions of the subsurface of the lake are analogous to the area to the north around Lake Albert on the Ugandan side. It is undergoing a massive and environmentally controlled oil development by large oil companies that will transform the lives of the people of Uganda. On June 30, 2018 BBC News commented that "Virunga National Park is considered the most bio-diverse park in Africa" as indicated below from this Brent Stirton/Getty file photo.

However, at this juncture we must depart from any undocumented media views and those articulated by NGOs to provide a measure of reality to the opinions voiced by either misinformed or otherwise malicious spokespeople. First of all, some 100,000 people live around the Congo side of Lake Edward that is controlled by the M23 Congolese Revolutionary guerrilla army. Though guerrilla and gorilla may sound like the same thing, they are vastly different and should not be the source of any confusion. The life span of the Congolese human inhabitants on Lake Edward is quite short due to the prevalence of cholera given the pollution by the fecal effluent from the villages which is evident in the image below.

There are several other things to note: the vast number of fishing boats on this small portion of the shoreline of the lake and the sparse land vegetation as far as one can see from the village. Despite the many species of fish that are attributed to be in Lake Edward, it is basically fished out. Donations of mosquito netting to thwart rampant malaria have been used by the villagers to make fishing nets which eliminated small minnows and truncated the regenerative food chain. On the other hand, have you ever been with someone in Africa who comes down with a recurrent malaria attack over dinner?

Look to the south and west of the village and it is evident that vegetation has been wiped from the face of the surrounding land to make charcoal for cooking. Wild game is not evident as it would have to survive in an unnatural, barren and hostile environment since it would provide a source of bush meat to the M23 army and the local inhabitants.

Fortunately, the Ugandan side of Lake Edward is a great distance away and there you can find an entirely different ecological environment. Even the hippos seem to know where the location of the contested boundary is between the two countries. The image below was taken from the Congolese shoreline looking eastward toward Uganda. When flying over the lake, there are no hippos visible on the Congo side though they are quite prevalent on the Ugandan side.

Lake Edward from the Ugandan vantage point is occasionally portrayed by the media to be that in Congo. In fact, cinematic representation of Congo was once filmed in Uganda for a good reason that we will come to shortly. By contrast, land across the lake in Uganda territory is a lush environment of savannah vegetation.

Moreover, an abundance of elephants can be seen from the ground and the air.

Therefore, how did the media get it so wrong? A trip to the Congo side of Lake Edward is not safe as it is controlled by the M23 army. Congolese government authorities will not enter the area without a convoy of Congolese soldiers armed with 50 caliber machine guns. Helicopters can fly over the Congo side but cannot land there. Accordingly, it can be accessed only overland from the provincial capital of Goma to which you can fly from Kinshasha or find your way to the Uganda border post of Ishasha. A flight to Goma might have more appeal though the take-off and landing statistics for that flight do not come close to being in balance.

First of all, the odds are remote that most NGO or media people have either an exit or entry stamp from Ishasha in their passport. Although one can attempt the drive from either Goma or Ishasha without significant security forces, the likelihood is high that they will pay a dear and permanent price for the journey. The threat has been demonstrated by the recent closing of the Virunga Park until 2019 due to the murder of a park ranger and kidnapping of two tourists. As the image below imparts, eastern Congo is a rough neighborhood.

Accordingly, if few people and, much less animals, can safely go there, why is the false image portrayed as it has been with such purported knowledgeable authority? Simply stated, few people know the reality and there is no compelling reason to share it. First of all, for some NGOs it has been a magnificent money raising opportunity. For the media, if the NGO speaks, it must be true as we all know they are compassionate people not trying to line their pockets. Shame on both groups. Moreover, if you cannot go there, how will anyone know the depth of deception for ill-gotten gains.

In the final analysis, who are the losers-the people who live on Lake Edward. Ultimately, the NGOs and activist groups have intimidated legitimate and environmentally conscious oil companies to forfeit the opportunity to lesser known, smaller entities. An already feeble ecological situation could suffer further. It is unlikely that minnow-sized oil explorers will provide potential environmental/corporate/social responsibility programs for the Congolese inhabitants that would be cast in stone as a matter of course by larger companies. The bottom line is a travesty of untruthfulness that has gone unnoticed without any accountability by the perpetrators.

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