In Eastern DR Congo, A Business Battles With Violence And Uncertainty
Muhammad Irfan 15 days ago Wed 13th October 2021 | 11:00 AM
Beni, DR Congo, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 13th Oct, 2021 ) :Roger Muhindo is proud of his chocolate factory -- an emblem of entrepreneurial courage in one of the world's most troubled regions.
"We are pioneers!" Muhindo proclaims at the entrance to his plant, where 10 employees make a locally sourced product, Virunga Origins chocolate.
Rebels in the region have killed nearly 1,000 people over the past year. Barbed wire and armed guards patrolling the grounds are a reminder that the front line is not far away.
In June, the UN's expert group for DR Congo reported that on top of the attacks and kidnappings by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), government troops had harvested cacao pods in abandoned fields, hawking the beans illegally in neighbouring Uganda.
Despite the many problems, the Virunga National Park manages to keep the chocolate factory running.
The goal is to process cocoa on the spot, creating value-added work in the Democratic Republic of Congo's agriculture-dependent economy.
"There are other people who would like to invest here, but they're afraid, with the war and everything that happens here," said Muhindo, the plant's production manager.
Last December, a few months after the first chocolate bars were marketed, Mutwanga and neighbouring communities -- until then relatively spared from violence -- were hit by deadly attacks blamed on ADF rebels.
In less than a year, more than 200 civilians have been killed within a 20-kilometre (12-mile) radius of the chocolate factory, mainly in isolated villages near cocoa plantations.
"We deploy small teams everywhere to protect those who are in their fields but it still makes the work so hard for us," said Antony Mwalushayi, Congolese army spokesman for Operation Sokola 1 -- the fight against the ADF in the Beni territory.
But among their ranks, according to the manager of an agricultural cooperative which supplies Virunga Origins, are soldiers who steal cocoa for resale to smugglers.
They swoop in "as soon as the planters leave the fields," he confirmed to AFP on condition of anonymity.
After a period of reduced production at the chocolate factory, the machines have been running at full speed for a few months.
"We are going to increase production capacity tenfold to meet local and international demand," said Bastien Allard, a park official.
"We will have one of the first chocolates produced 100 percent with renewable energy, thanks to the solar-powered roaster that we are going to install." The expansion of the chocolate factory is already under way, he adds.
After a small hydroelectric plant was launched in 2013, the park brought another into service at the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains two years ago. Its capacity of 2.4 megawatts supplies the town of Mutwanga and the chocolate factory.
"Today, with the chocolate factory, the people can see the cocoa being processed into chocolate," said Jonathan Kahumba, who works at one of the hydroelectric plants.
Newcomers may still be wary, but "other factories are being established... boosting the region's economy," he said.