Historic Elections Underscore Significance of Fight to Protect Okapi Reserve in Eastern Congo

December 1, 2011

What do Ben Affleck, Cindy McCain and Corneille Ewango (2005) have in common? An understanding that local communities working together at the grassroots level is the surest way to defeat a common problem or reach a common goal. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in the midst of a contentious national election that threatens to spark a new wave of violence in the war-torn country; yet Congolese citizens are determined to have their voices heard.

We are reminded of the courage that 2005 Goldman Prize recipient Corneille Ewango displayed when he refused to flee the Okapi Reserve in the Ituri forest at the start of the civil war. He was the last senior staff member to stay behind to protect the reserve and its splendid flora and fauna.

Working with local communities, Ewango successfully pressured warring parties out of the forest. This saved invaluable amounts of data, equipment, wildlife and prevented violent pillaging among forest communities. He spoke about his work at TEDGlobal2007.

Recognizing the power of local citizens to affect change, Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain have started a project known as the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) that provides support to grassroots initiatives, facilitates partnerships with independent media sources and seeks to give strength to local Congolese citizens trying to improve their communities.