Nov. 17, 2014 by Darius
Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is one of the most spectacular places on Earth, containing mountains, forests, savannahs, and everything in between. It is one of the very few places in the wild where gorillas can be seen. Unfortunately, it might also contain oil.
SOCO International, a British oil company, has pursued oil prospecting inside Virunga. The Congolese government is, not surprisingly, very, very, interested. And so Virunga is heading down the same path that has repeated itself in countless places across Africa.
Already, locals have complained of rogue Congolese soldiers in SOCO’s pay beating, torturing, and even killing anyone opposed to the oil project. The director of the park himself was shot and narrowly survived.
The Congolese government, like other African governments in similar situations, has claimed that it has a moral obligation to do anything it can to ameliorate the poverty of its people. But everyone should realize by now that the riches from oil in Virunga, should there turn out to be any, won’t get anywhere near Congo’s poor. No. The money will go straight into the pockets of corrupt government officials, just as most of the DRC’s mineral wealth already has.
This whole story reminds me of Ishmael Beah’s book Radiance of Tomorrow, set in Sierra Leone, another country with rich natural resources that were ruthlessly exploited. (See https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/thinking-aloud-radiance-of-tomorrow/)
There’s a passage in Radiance of Tomorrow that has stayed with me: “Most days [the] people wished that the [contents] of their land were like all others, undesirable, and that their earth didn’t carry within it beautiful things that brought them misery.” The people who live in and around Virunga no doubt feel the same way. But nobody is asking them. It is all too likely that the fate of Virunga will become yet another dark chapter in the long, dark, exploitative story of Congo.
For more on the dirty fight over Virunga’s oil, see “Oil Dispute Takes a Page From Congo’s Bloody Past,” The New York Times, November 16, 2014, p.A6, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/world/oil-dispute-takes-a-page-from-congos-bloody-past.html?_r=0.