In Congo, Guy Lagache investigates the curse of the makala

In Lands of Emergency: Threat to the Tropical Forest, the journalist goes to Central Africa, where charcoal trafficking serves as funding for local militias. Watch this Saturday March 30 on Ushuaïa TV, at 8:45 p.m.

The small team takes winding roads full of mud, on motorcycles whose fragility should have made the former presenter of “Capital” on M6 pale. Guy Lagache, accompanied by local guides, ventures hair in the wind into Pygmy territory, to understand the ins and outs of the catastrophe that threatens them. It comes down to one word: makala.

The mere mention of this fuel, the most used by the Congolese for cooking and heating, torments these mountain inhabitants. Makala, the name for charcoal, causes vast deforestation. Thousands of hectares disappear because of it every year. It has been a long time since the cries of gorillas no longer resonate near the village that we discover here. And until when will locals be able to continue picking their medicinal plants in the adjoining forest?

Rebel movement

Guy Lagache, who is visiting territories threatened by global warming for his “Emergency Lands” collection, then takes a 4 × 4 towards the north of Lake Kivu. An area full of tensions, flown over by shells from local militias. There, he managed to film traffickers in action.

The authorization, he confided in the summer of 2023, was given to them by a colonel of the armed group FDLR, a Rwandan rebel movement born in Hutu refugee camps. “We went to see him at 8 a.m. among his men in fatigues,” he remembered. He had a kalach in one hand, 60% alcohol in the other. We had to toast and chat for hours. We explained to him that we were there above all to understand. And he accepted. I will remember these exchanges for a long time in a makeshift cabin in the shadow of the Nyiragongo volcano. »

The woodcutters have no remorse. The group leader interviewed on screen earns ten times the average Congolese salary as a result. And consumers in the large city of Goma wonder why we are talking to them about ecology when charcoal simply allows them to eat. Lagache avoids the pitfall of the Westerner who would come, with his big rangers, to preach the good word. Rather, it highlights other, more virtuous, local practices.

Like the use of clay which, mixed with coal debris and agricultural waste, constitutes, once dried, a fuel just as effective as makala. There are also several hydroelectric power stations, but only one family in ten is connected to electricity… We would have had other questions, on the involvement of the militias who finance themselves through trafficking, on the government’s position, on the situation of neighboring countries…

Wood cutters

But a light single-engine plane awaits the journalist on a makeshift tarmac, in the middle of the Virunga National Park. A camera attached to the device shows all the beauties of this site, which several hundred guards protect with machine guns. Poachers no longer have the right to live there, but woodcutters continue to operate. In twenty-five years, 230 rangers have lost their lives trying to keep traffickers away. And so that the thick hippos we see on the screen can swim peacefully.

The camera actually surprises pachyderms in the river. Guy Lagache opens his eyes in wonder at this spectacle, almost as astonishing as the conversations between Macron and Putin filmed by him in 2022. The director of the national park would like to see this dazzled look multiply in the future. Virtuous tourism, he thinks, could constitute an economic prospect for the region. The guns still need to be silenced.

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