This is my second documentary filmed in team with Jim Foster and reporter Sam Kiley. We followed Conrad Thorpe, an ex British Special Forces colonel who got hired by the Congolese government to train anti-poaching units in the Virunga National Park. They are known as ICCN rangers (Institue Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature). After a decade of civil war it's a desperate attempt to protect Congo's endangered wildlife.
The production of this film offered me the first opportunity to witness the aftermath of the various civil wars in the Eastern part of Congo DRC. At first sight, the natural beauty of the vast wilderness is breath taking. But at the same time I was shocked by the extreme poverty of the local population. Most of them were (and still are) internally displaced people who suffered horribly during the civil war after the disintegration of President Mobutu's regime in 1997. These civilians are living in constant fear of pillaging militias.
Some of the worst bandits are the Interahamway, the former Hutu mass murderers from Rwandan who escaped into the Eastern Congo after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. They continue to terrorise the local population and they are also plundering the resources of Virunga National Park. They are some of the worst poachers and will be in direct conflict with the ICCN park rangers.
The so called 'Government Army' in Eastern Congo is also a constant worry. Most of these soldiers were members of former militias. They are not at all disciplined and always earned their living with illegal activities. They are controlling Gold and Coltan mining operations. They are involved in logging and charcoal production and of course they are also participating in the poaching.
The biggest headache of Conrad's park rangers is the fight against the illegal activities of the government troops because in jurisdiction they can't claim superiority over the Army - it's irrelevant whether they pursue criminal activities of not. It's also an illusion to believe that the government in Kinshasa will ever have the clout and influence to solve any of these conflicts. They are over 2000 km away and in Eastern Congo they have absolutely no control on the ground.
At the end of 2008 the political and economic situation remains very volatile. The outbreak of a new regional conflict between the Tutsi Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and various government troops and militias is a disaster.