Africa, Ali Bongo Ondimba, Cameroon, Congo, Congo River Basin, DC Environmental Film Festival, DC Israel Embassy Protest, Gabon, Heart of Iron, Leo Bottrill, Republic of the Congo, Tridom, Wilson Center, World Wildlife Fund
The ongoing Environmental Film Festival has screened numerous flicks with an Africa focus (how had I not heard about this annual event before?). Yesterday, I got my day started with a voyage to the Wilson Center, to watch a double feature of Forests on Film, sponsored by Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP). The second film, Heart of Iron: Mining in the Congo Basin, examined Tridom, a remote region 6x the size of Belgium, straddling Gabon, Cameroon, and the Republic of the Congo, rich in iron ore reserves.
The film, by DC-based (World Wildlife Fund) Leo Bottrill was pretty awesome, especially as it was his first, filmed in just over three weeks, and edited in evenings after work with film production students. Heart of Iron combined interviews with community members, government officials, and representatives of international mining companies to illustrate the need for a coordinated approach to tap into Tridom’s iron ore reserves.
The film first followed a Chinese company (CMEC – forget what it stands for) who sought to tap Tridom’s iron ore reserves. CMEC lost its license after failing to conduct an environmental impact assessment. Sundance Resources, an Australian firm then stepped in, although they then conducted a faulty environmental impact assessment and have been experiencing funding issues. Ironically, their company’s representative notes that most of the material their mine would produce would be exported to China.
As the Secretary of the Ministry of Mines of either Cameroon or Gabon notes (I think it was Gabon), the heart of the problem with industrial mining is that ‘it is difficult to make an omelet without breaking eggs.’ Nonetheless, Sundance Reources’ representative observes that if he was a local gorilla, he’d be ‘praying for the project’ as his ‘best chance for long-term survival.’
Bottrill notes that it will be impossible to show the film in Central Africa as ‘transparency is not neutral.’ This is quite unfortunate. In the spirit of that remark, I will not shy away from self-censorship in noting my severe disappointment with this magazine being distributed with other literature outside of the screening:
Gabon has been led by the same family for nearly half a century, with the government of France even investigating the assets of the Bongo family. It is very disappointing to see the Wilson Center supporting that political dynasty by distributing a magazine celebrating the rule of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba and the work of his wife as its cover story.
Update: In a Twitter exchange, ECSP noted that they had not sanctioned the display of the magazine.