Think Tank on Odzala National Park (Congo)
I had the great pleasure to design and facilitate a two day think tank on future measures for Odzala National Park with a group of mostly African conservation experts and philanthropists. I have to admit that I knew very little about this park or the Congo and it was fantastic to dive into the research about the local context.
I soaked up the topic through literature (both new and very old), video clips, phone calls with experts on the region and then of course the actual workshop. Thanks to a fantastic group and an amazing caoching team, it was really successful and produced concrete projects that the teams took home for execution.
Having gathered so much new knowledge on this new context, here are five things I’d like to share:
1. There are two Congos. The Democratic Republic and the smaller Republic of Congo, also called Congo Brazzaville, which is the name of the capital. Both countries have gone through a period of conflicts and civil war, very much driven by effects of their colonial heritage. The smaller Congo was a French colony, while the larger Congo was Belgian.
2. Odzala is part of the second largest coherent rain forest on earth. It’s 13.500 square kilometers. Since this doesn’t mean a lot: It’s a damn huge forest, very much in an untouched state and important for everyone. It’s kind of like Africa’s Amazon and hosts an important population of gorillas.
3. Congo is very safe for tourists and yet has very little tourist infrastructure, but travellers and international interest will actually help the park. Only if the park offers some return, conservation will have a chance to beat logging, bush meat or mining as a land use. So if you feel adventurous and want to check out one of nature’s (still quite hidden) gems, you should go. I certainly will.
4. Though poor and no doubt corrupt, the Congo must be an absolutely amazing place. It’s a nation on the move with a really good attitude. Here are some things we researched that helped us get an idea what urban life in Brazzaville may feel like:
A “Happy” video with really cool insights into the capital Brazzaville:
The amazing “Sapeur” culture, which is basically about men in awesomely elegant outfits. There is a documentary by Guinness about this tradition:
5. Apart from the fascination of the Congo itself, I have to say that I was very impressed by the conservation experts. They are people who dedicate their lives to dealing with complicated governments, convincing donors, fighting poaching and organizing the impossible in order to save hectare after hectare of precious rain forest for all of us. They have my utmost respect.
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