The image shows a baby and a mother mountain gorilla Photograph: Carine06/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

IT ALL STARTED WITH GORILLAS: In the 1990s, rangers in the border areas between Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda started to work together to monitor endangered mountain gorillas. Since then, the collaboration between the three countries has expanded.

Transboundary collaboration on conservation and natural resources in East Africa

Published: 5 Dec 2018

How can transboundary collaboration on conservation and the management of natural resources transform a zone of war into more peaceful coexistence? The case of Uganda-Rwanda-DR Congo holds some promise.

On 26 November, a number of stakeholders met in Kigali, Rwanda, for a conference aimed at furthering the collaboration on the conservation of wildlife and the management of natural resource in the border areas between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda. The Conference was organized by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) in partnership with the Office of the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Great Lakes region.

The area in which this collaboration takes place is called the Greater Virunga Landscape, includes several protected areas, and is, like the rest of the DRC and neighboring countries, home to a number of natural resources. These include gold, timber, wildlife and fish, including the products charcoal and ivory. However, a difficult security situation in this area puts a strain on the utilization of these resources, both challenging the livelihoods of locals and keeping potential income away from the states.

Livelihoods and natural resources

Two examples discussed at the Conference in Kigali showcase some of the challenges faced. First is the suffering of locals, exemplified by the mass killings around the city of Beni in the Northern edge of the park, notably the August 2016 massacre of around 20 farmers. The farmers, with no other alternative, were forced to farm inside the park boundary, an area in which various armed groups seek sanctuary and which they safeguard with violent means.

The image shows David Gressley (DRSRG MONUSCO), Daniel Ruiz (MONUSCO), Virunga National Park Director Emmanuel de Merode, Colonel Leon Mahoungou (Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism). Foto: GTVC

David Gressley (DRSRG MONUSCO), Daniel Ruiz (MONUSCO), Virunga National Park Director Emmanuel de Merode, Colonel Leon Mahoungou (Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism) discuss Peace and security in Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL).

Second is the illicit flows of natural resources. Ivory is a key one, whose illegal exploitation was estimated to be around 5000 kilos for 2017, though the number is likely to be higher. Another is charcoal. Charcoal is used by most of the people in this area, as well as in Africa overall, for cooking on a daily basis. One key challenge is the deforestation that comes with the use of timber – and the more dense charcoal – for cooking. Another is that, per now, the income from the charcoal trade goes almost in its entirety to finance the armed group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) (see for example here).

Formalizing a transboundary collaboration

In the 1990s, rangers in these border areas started to work together to monitor endangered mountain gorillas. Since then, the collaboration between the three countries has expanded, and was formalized with the signing of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration treaty (GVTC) in 2015. Now, the collaborative efforts have expanded to comprise harmonious wildlife conservation and tourism development. Due to the heavy presence of armed groups in this area, however, numerous park rangers have lost their lives and the livelihoods of locals have been strained.

The Kigali Conference was an attempt to build further momentum for this initiative. However, going forward, it also identified the need for the three states that own this initiative also to fund it. While the Kingdom of the Netherlands funds it per now, it will significantly decrease this starting 2019, wanting the governments themselves to overtake.

A model for regional collaboration elsewhere

The challenges in this area are large-scale and cannot be tackled by the collaborative management of natural resources and conservation efforts alone. This collaboration can, however, become an agent for change in this area, and a model and inspiration for collaboration between these three countries also in other areas. While this area for long has been an area of conflict, it is also an area of massive wealth that can become a force for peace.

See also:

This article is written by Bård Drange who participated at the Conference in Kigali on 26 November 2018 through the TaxCapDev network.