Virunga National Park, founded in 1925 when the nation was still under Belgian rule, is Africa’s oldest protected wildlife area. It is home to a remarkable diversity of plants and animals and an important population of Mountain Gorillas. Unfortunately, it is also host to complicated and destructive armed conflicts. Fighting between rebel militia M23 and government forces has plagued the easternmost parts of the Park. Rich in natural resources but rife with violence, then, Virunga seems to reflect the wider situation of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This is an observation not missed by Orlando von Einsiedel, the creator of a documentary, named Virunga, which was released in 2014 to critical acclaim. Better than most, Einsiedel highlights the roots of conflict in Eastern Congo and the reasons why the National Park is today considered endangered. According to author Frits Andersen, the documentary is informative AND manages to raise awareness of affairs concerning preservation.
BUSINESS, BUSINESS, BUSINESS
The documentary uses hidden camera footage. It captures how corruption engaged in by foreign companies, fuels warfare. As one of the characters in the show explains, conflict in the Congo is all about “business, business, business”.
In this specific case it is implied that, SOCO, a British company supports M23 rebels in order to better access the National Park, so that they might exploit its supposed reserves of oil. This results in the continuation of warfare within the Park’s borders by funding the purchase of weapons, for example. Naturally, the conflict has grave consequences. Already, since 1994, some eighty rangers of the Park have been killed and animal populations are under constant threat of poaching as a result of the lawlessness resulting from war.
Einsiedel tackles the question of economic motivation to give an honest account of the region’s problems. One that can be used to better understand the persistence of conflict in the region but can also be used to better understand how to resolve them.
HOW TO RAISE AWARENESS EFFECTIVELY
Unlike other documentaries on Congolese wildlife and conservation, Virunga, does not focus exclusively on animals. Instead it describes the ways in which inhabitants of the region, be they human or animal, have fallen victim to a war fuelled by a quest for control over precious natural resources.
This means the documentary avoids the usual trap of ignoring the human victims of conflict. It also means that beyond merely giving the audience a sense of the scale of environmental damage, it gives them an idea of why it taking place.