How did you first become interested in the protection of rivers and freshwater in Africa? Was there a specific moment or experience that made you decide that this is what you had to do?
Ange during a field visit in San Francisco during the Environmental leadership program at UC Berkeley in 2017
I wouldn’t say I’ve had just one moment. I’ve had various moments which have led me to where I am today, working with International Rivers. I was always interested in conservation when I was growing up. We used to have forest excursions and river trips back when I was in primary school, so I guess it really started there. I spent a couple of years in Sierra Leone in West Africa as a child and we’d go and spend some time on the rivers, and for me those were moments that I would really enjoy and look forward to. Also, I remember as a child I had an interaction with a bonobo – a type of chimpanzee endemic to the Congo Basin. My first interaction with this bonobo was just amazing, I still remember that moment – it really left a mark on me – so it was just natural for me to get involved with river protection and with International Rivers.
In your article ‘Why I love the Congo river’, you talk about the role of the river in shaping Congolese culture and promoting unity and identity. Could you talk a little more about the place of the river in Congolese culture?
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we have 250 ethnic groups or more and it’s a society that, in my opinion, is a bit fragmented. But the Congo River is something which links these groups, as they all depend on it to a greater or lesser extent for their livelihoods. It unites all these tribal ethnic groups.
The river criss-crosses most of the country, starting from the source to Kisangani then flowing West all the way to the mouth of the river on the Atlantic coast. Then you have all these tributaries in each region flowing into the main river, so it provides unity. If it wasn’t for the Congo River, we wouldn’t be called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The river plays a central role in Congolese culture: in our food, language and music. The Congolese are known for music, right? And language itself, one of our local languages, Lingala, is spoken across the country because the river opened up movement, allowed people to move from one area to another. The river also promoted trade between different ethnic groups. Even in Congo-Brazzaville – ‘the other Congo’ – we have similar cultures because of the river and we have certain shared practices that former generations and our ancestors had. For example, we used to have a day in the week where people would just stay at home and not go into the fields, a rest day, and that was practised across many ethnic groups in the DRC as well.
The river also has a place in the spiritual life of the country, maybe not as much as it had in the past, but it definitely has a place at a spiritual level. So, these are just a few ways in which the river unites us.
How would you summarise the impact of Inga I and II dams on rural communities in the DRC, specifically those communities living near and dependent on the river itself?
In terms of Inga 1 and 2, it’s very clear to us that they have left a trail of poverty, a