Chance Conservationist: A DRC lawyer defending biodiversity with passion and purpose

"In Africa, and especially in my country the Democratic Republic of the Congo, most young people orient their studies by projecting the person or iconic figure they will become, and the benefits that go with it. Very few, before making this crucial choice, ask themselves what their intrinsic qualities are, or how they will be useful in the chosen field; and for me, this is the reason why very few end up working in their chosen field," confides Christian Tshibasu, AWF Project Assistant, with a serene face during an interview.

The 39-year-old father of two has been working with the African Wildlife Foundation for the past ten years. He admits that he never imagined he would one day find himself traversing the middle of the forest or crossing a river by foot—overflowing with water up to his shoulders—to reach his destination almost daily.

"I studied public international law because my greatest dream was to become a diplomat. Conflict and violence have always repulsed me, and the day my mother told me that my year of birth corresponded with the dictatorial presidential elections in my country, in which our fathers were forced to choose the only candidate presented, I told myself that I must forge myself in negotiation to enforce the law in the most tacit way that could exist," he explains, sketching a slight smile.

Retained as an intern in charge of public participation in the Lomako landscape, Christian spent a year rubbing shoulders with the local community, with whom he has actively engaged in awareness activation exercises, which ensure a common understanding and massive participation in AWF-organized activities. When you sit and watch how easily he relates with the community members, it is clear that his path was indeed destined for conservation leadership.

In this landscape, African Wildlife Foundation supports the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature in anti-poaching activities, notably by providing patrol rations; training eco-guards in skills like data collection; supporting local communities through micro-grants of up to 200 USD for the creation of income-generating activities that reduce anthropic pressure on natural resources; and, more particularly, bush hunting.

Christian Tshibasu conducting an environmental education session with Ilima School students on Nature Conservation Day 2021.

Christian Tshibasu conducting an environmental education session with Ilima School students on Nature Conservation Day 2021.

After his stint as an intern, Christian received a consultancy contract as a public participation officer, then as an awareness-raising officer. He carved out four years of that engagement to dig deeper into wildlife law, devoting his energy to help local communities discover and understand their rights and duties in this remote and difficult-to-access area.

"When you work alongside the local community, you have a different view of the situations that arise because, having lived among them, you understand the daily challenges of their lives, their frustrations, their expectations, and you learn to adapt to their shortcomings. This equips you to interpret their language, making you understanding towards them," explains the AWF Project Assistant.

The ease at which Christian approached the local community is the same as when he spent four years as a consultant in charge of environmental education in Ilima, a village located in the Lomako landscape, where AWF built the (Ilima) elementary school in the Likunduamba groupement, where environmental basics are taught guided by a custom-designed book specially written for environmental education. Over 500 children attend the school without paying any school fees. Since its creation, in addition to training, the school has received numerous textbooks and school supplies donated by AWF over the years. The special training students receive has caught the attention of the neighboring villages who are keen on taking up the education model.

Christian Tshibasu explaining to teachers how to integrate environmental concepts into the regular curriculum at Ilima School.

Christian Tshibasu explaining to teachers how to integrate environmental concepts into the regular curriculum at Ilima School.

"Christian's role was to show us how to teach the national curriculum, integrating environmental notions through recitations, songs, theater, films, sketches, and organized nature walks," says NSEKA LIKOLO, one of the teachers at Ilima School.

"Seeing him with the children, you'd think that's all he's done in his life. What I would like to learn from him is his ability to integrate. When in front of any audience, he is like a chameleon, he always knew how to blend in, and above all he knew what attitude to have and how to convey his message," he continued.

For almost a year now, Christian Tshibasu has been facilitating all the activities of the "Fighting International Wildlife Traffic in the DRC" project, implemented with funding from the Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Through this project, AWF trains agents at the airports and ports of Kinshasa and Matadi to improve law enforcement through the identification of CITES species and the application of human rights.

"Of all the roles I've had during my time at AWF, I have to admit I've enjoyed this one the most. Not only does it showcase my profession as a lawyer, but it also represents a compilation of all the expertise I have acquired through my previous positions. All my life in the Lomako landscape, I've spent raising awareness of the concepts that are the subject of the training modules in this project. What more would I need to feel at ease?" sighs Christian Mbuyi.

Christian Mbuyi is a young man who finds himself committed to the fight for environmental conservation. He embraces this noble cause by making every effort to reconcile the knowledge he has acquired with his expertise in the field, to be counted among those working to ensure a sustainable future for the fauna and flora of the Congo Basin.