Central Africa's rainforests are currently being consumed by a vast system of forest fires dwarfing even those that are ravaging the Amazon. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been engulfed by flames over the past weeks—to comparatively little notice in the world media. Bloomberg reported Aug. 23 that Weather Source satellite data recorded 6,902 fires in Angola over the past 48 hours, and 3,395 in the Democratic Republic of Congo compared to 2,127 in Brazil. French newspaper La Voix du Nord states, "In Angola, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, thousands of fires consume phenomenal amounts of vegetation." Since the beginning of 2019, it is the DRC that has recorded the most fires, far ahead of Brazil. NASA attributes the fires to "widespread agricultural burning," as farmers employ slash-and-burn methods to clear land for crops.
A member of the Congolese environmental and human rights organization RIAO-RDC was killed by a security guard of the Canadian palm-oil company Feronia Inc on July 21, near the company's Boteka plantation in Bempumba, Eqauteur province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The killing follows months of intimidation directed at members of RIAO-RDC, who are supporting local communities in filing a grievance against the company for its occupation of their lands. Joël Imbangola Lunea operated a motor-boat to transport people and goods between local villages and the city of Mbandaka. He was also a community activist and member of the NGO Information & Support Network of the DRC (RIAO-RDC), and was involved in mediating land disputes in the area. He was killed when his boat, filled with passengers and their luggage, was approached by a security guard who accused him of transporting stolen palm oil from the plantation. He was beaten and finally strangled to death, his body thrown into the Moboyo River. The security guard is now said to be in hiding.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 8 convicted Bosco Ntaganda, a notorious Congolese rebel commander known as "The Terminator," of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These crimes were committed in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), from 2002 to 2003. Ntaganda was found guilty of "murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation" of populations, along with war crimes such as "intentionally directing attacks against civilians." Ntaganda maintained his innocence throughout the trial. He was indicted in 2006 but served as a general in the DRC's army before turning himself in in 2013.
A new UN report was released March 11 detailing violent ethnic attacks in December, leading to hundreds of deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A UN special investigative mission sent to the Yumbi territory, in the country's west, confirmed at least 535 deaths, including women and children—but found that the death toll may be even higher, as it was reported that bodies were thrown in the Congo River. The report also said some 19,000 people were displaced, many across the border into the neighboring Republic of Congo.
A UN expert called Jan. 7 for the restoration of telecommunication services in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The internet continues to be shut down across the DRC in the wake of the Dec. 30 general elections. Authorities ordered closure of Internet and SMS services the day after the vote due to "fictitious results" circulating on social media. The results of the election have now been postponed and the shutdown extends past its original Jan. 6 end date. On that day, the head of the elections commission stated that just over half of the ballots have been counted. Both the opposition and ruling coalition said they were on track to win the election. Many citizens were not able to vote due to an Ebola outbreak, and the delay led to protests in the east of the country. The opposition has alleged irregularities and fraud, and there have been reports of militias forcing voters to vote for the ruling coalition. The election commission dismissed any problems as minor.
Concern is mounting for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast forests and rich wildlife as logging concessions and licenses to explore for oil in protected areas are prepared ahead of presidential elections later this year. A moratorium on industrial logging, in place since 2002, has been broken with three concessions reportedly handed out by the DRC environment ministry to Chinese-owned logging companies since February. A further 14 logging concessions are expected to be granted within months, according to Unearthed, the Greenpeace investigative unit. In addition, reports referenced by Greenpeace indicate the government is preparing to reclassify large areas inside Salonga and Virunga national parks, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government recruited former M23 rebel fighters to protect President Joseph Kabila after protests broke out last December over his refusal to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two terms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Dec. 5. During December of last year, at least 62 people were killed and hundreds were arrested. The M23 fighters were granted authority to use lethal force. Many journalists were also detained to keep them from reporting about the events taking place. According to the report, rebel forces have long been recruited into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), without formal training or extensive vetting. The forces in question were deserters from the group, who were initially recruited from Rwanda and Uganda. The FARDC have themselves been criticized for various human rights violations.