Jean Paul Ikolongo sits on a plastic chair in his hut and looks skeptical. Since politicians from the distant capital Kinshasa and researchers from abroad have come to his village Mpeka, the Congolese fisherman no longer knows who to trust. Some say he should go so companies can look for oil. The others want him to stay and watch trees.
Ikolongos village is located in the north-west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Central African rainforest and in the world’s largest tropical peat bog. According to researchers from the Universities of Kisangani, Leeds and London, this moor, half the size of Germany, stores 29 billion tons of carbon. If they were released, there would be as many emissions as fossil fuels cause in the whole world in three years, the researchers write in their study. If the earth is not to become even warmer, the moor must remain.
Kinshasa announces auction for 27 oil blocks
But the Congolese government has other plans. In the peat area are three of 27 blocks where the politicians locate oil. It should be 22 billion barrels in total. Companies have been able to bid for licenses for the blocks since July last year. It would be a billion dollar business for the Congo.
The men from Kinshasa told Ikolongo that the 1,000 residents of Mpeka would have to move if the oil companies came. But elsewhere the government would build nice houses for the fishermen. Schools, roads and hospitals would also be built across the country.
Fewer and fewer fish in Congo’s rivers
“I’m old, I need a good home,” says Ikolongo. While the 60-year-old fisherman sits in his hut, water sometimes spills over his feet. It’s the rainy season. Almost all the huts on the Ruki River are flooded. So the family To be able to stay at home, Ikolongo has put in extra boards as a temporary floor above the water level. All around his hut Ikolongo sees water. It serves as a toilet, bathtub and dishwashing basin – a breeding ground for cholera. Maybe it would be better to move away, Ikolongo thinks.
However, researchers from Great Britain were also in Mpeka. They explained to Ikolongo that the climate is to blame for the fact that he is finding fewer and fewer fish. He should stay and protect the moor. Then everything would be better. Ikolongo’s son Dieumerci Bisalo, 38, was annoyed with the researchers. They would have forbidden him to cut down trees. But you can’t do it without firewood.
The financiers from the north don’t like the idea of extracting oil. Contrary to the Brazilian one, the rainforest in the Congo still absorbs net greenhouse gases. To keep it that way, rich countries are financing projects as part of the Central African Forest Initiative. Germany has so far given 151 million euros for this. The moor area in which Mpeka is located is supported by Germany with an additional 15 million euros over six years. But the funding is subject to one caveat: If the Congo produces oil in the rainforest, this would “inevitably” have an impact on the funding of nature reserves, says a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Berlin.
Donors demand: “Preserve the lungs of the earth!”
The Congolese historian Aloys Tegera finds that presumptuous. The “big polluters” in the Global North have become rich thanks to fossil fuels. “And now they’re telling us, please keep the lungs of the earth,” he scolds. If the Congo is to give up the oil and 90 million inhabitants are no longer to use charcoal for cooking, the country must be compensated.
René Ngongo agrees. The 60-year-old biologist received the alternative Nobel Prize in 2009 because he fought for nature conservation all his life. He now works for a government-affiliated think tank in the capital and metropolis of Kinshasa. He reminds the industrialized countries that at the 2015 climate conference in Paris they promised the poorer countries $100 billion a year to mitigate climate change. But that’s not enough, and he criticizes that it’s often just a mere promise.
Alliance of Rainforest Countries
Ngongo is pinning his hopes on an alliance that Congo, Brazil and Indonesia founded at the climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh. The countries with the largest rainforests want to negotiate budgets with the industrialized nations. Ngongo envisions a kind of “rainforest OPEC” modeled on the powerful Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The environmentalist is now even a fan of the oil business. “We need money to get out of poverty,” he is convinced.
Raoul Monsembula shakes his head at that. The 57-year-old biologist works for Greenpeace. “Even if oil were produced throughout the Congo, the population would not benefit,” he is convinced. Valuable mineral resources such as coltan and cobalt have been exported for decades, but the people of Congo are among the poorest in the world, he emphasizes.
Conservation areas in danger
Greenpeace accuses Oil Minister Didier Budimbu of lack of transparency. He wanted to give two blocks to a business partner. The environmentalists are calling for the oil auction to be stopped immediately, especially since six percent of the rainforest and the moors would be endangered if oil were to be extracted. Greenpeace also found that nine of the 27 blocks are in or near conservation areas.
While climate protectors and politicians argue, the fisherman Ikolongo sits in his hut in Mpeka and ponders how things can go for him and his 16 children. When he was young, he always got full, he enthuses. Now he is suffering. “When I think about the future of my children, it breaks my heart,” says Ikolongo.