‘Virunga’ documents Congo battle pitting gorillas against greed over ocean of oil

by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey

The documentary “Virunga” tells the story of the rangers at Virunga National Park in eastern Congo who are battling to keep the last remaining 800 mountain gorillas that live in the park alive – a battle against poachers, the M23 rebel forces and the British corporation Soco, which is trying to convince officials inside the park and in government to allow them to exploit the huge ocean of oil that lies under the park.

Virunga National Park Congolese gorilla caretaker Andre Baum carries one of his “family members,” a gorilla held at the rehabilitation center to recover from injuries inflicted by poachers.
Virunga National Park Congolese gorilla caretaker Andre Baum carries one of his “family members,” a gorilla held at the rehabilitation center to recover from injuries inflicted by poachers.

This is the age old story of how Western imperialism affects and infects the psychology of those in any given country. After Africa was broken into colonies to serve the European nations in 1885, the Congo was privatized and ruled by corporations, with mineral, rubber and lumber interests that mutilated and murdered millions to reach their extraction goals.

In 1960, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated after trying to bring the mineral rich Katanga province under control. White and Black mercenaries with the help of European and American intelligence and dollars carried it out.

In ‘94, the M23 soldiers involved in the Rwandan genocide fled across the border of the Congo and have been living off of the stolen mineral riches ever since, doing the bidding of global electronics manufacturers, while over 5 million Congolese have died from the fighting. In 2010, oil was discovered under the park, home to the last mountain gorillas in the world and thousands of people – prompting the British corporation Soco to set up shop near the park to legally or illegally attain the rights to the oil.

That’s the political context of the film, but the beauty in the filmmaking lies in the cinematography showing the beautiful Congolese people, terrain and animals, as well as the relationship that Congolese gorilla caretaker Andre Baum has with the gorillas that are being held at the rehabilitation center, because they were victims of poachers.

He has a very personal relationship with the gorillas that he calls family members. Together they endure massacres like one where nine of the endangered gorillas were killed, because of the belief that with the gorillas extinct, there is no need to protect or even have a national park. One Soco executive is recorded in the documentary as saying, “Only a monkey gives a fuck about a monkey.”

Congolese gorilla caretaker Andre Baum has a very personal relationship with the gorillas that he calls family members, trying to protect them from being massacred. One Soco executive is recorded in the documentary as saying, “Only a monkey gives a fuck about a monkey.”

This is the story of love, bribery, deceit, imperialism in a current setting, white supremacy, and an extravagantly resource-rich nation whose people are forced by Western imperialism’s orchestrated poverty to sell every resource they have, including their land, resources, wildlife and dignity.

You can catch this superbly crafted film at the Matatu Film Festival on Friday, July 18, at 9:15 p.m. It screens the same night as the much anticipated “Oya: Rise of the Orisha,” which screens Friday, July 18, at 7:15 p.m. – both at the Fight Deck, located at 1540 Broadway in downtown Oakland.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.