Rebel-backed charcoal traffickers destroy swathes of forest in Congo

Swathes of forest land in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park are being destroyed for valuable charcoal by criminals backing one of the region’s most notorious rebel groups, a rights group said on Monday. Congo’s illegal charcoal trade - worth an estimated $35 million a year - is fuelling the widespread deforestation of Africa’s oldest national park, and a range of crimes including murder, forced labour and sex slavery, the Enough Project said. Charcoal traffickers are helping to finance the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group linked to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, according to a report by the Enough Project, a policy group fighting to prevent genocide and atrocities.

Time is running out to address the charcoal trade, which has operated for years with few successful interventions.

Enough Project’s senior policy analyst Holly Dranginis

Covering some 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometres), Virunga is Africa’s most bio-diverse national park, a UNESCO world heritage site, and home to endangered mountain gorillas. The charcoal from Virunga, called ndobo, is made by cutting down and burning trees in the park, and its trade is one of the FDLR’s most lucrative businesses, the Enough Project said. The rebel group coerces local people to produce ndobo, killing or enslaving those who resist, the group’s report said. Given that households across the region depend on charcoal as their main fuel source, law enforcement and military efforts to end its trade must be backed by alternative fuel initiatives to prevent a fuel shortage among millions of people, it said.