Editor's Note
November 2011
The Paradox of Geography
Mai-Mai Kifuafua militia troops
Mai-Mai Kifuafua militia troops control Rift territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They believe greenery offers magical protection.
PHOTO: PASCAL MAITRE

What began as an attempt to do my job in Africa’s Albertine Rift still haunts me. A lovely young woman carrying firewood on her back was walking through lush forest. My guide, a local schoolteacher, asked the woman if I could take her picture. She readily agreed. Afterward I asked if it was appropriate to reward her graciousness. As I gave her a modest amount of money to make her life a little easier, a man swinging a machete burst out of the forest, screaming that he was her husband. In a drunken rage, he demanded more cash and threatened us. As we began to drive off, I glanced at the rearview mirror and saw the man beating her. I stopped and ran toward the stricken woman, but my guide pulled me back. He knew the man, he said. The situation could become more violent if I intervened. The man saw us and stopped his assault. They both waved me on. Reluctantly, I returned to my car, furious at the man and with myself, because I felt responsible for what had happened.

Five years later, in 1994, that region was the scene of more violence: the mass murder known as the Rwandan genocide.

The Albertine Rift, as writer Robert Draper and photographers Pascal Maitre and Joel Sartore show us in this month’s story, is a landscape shaped by violence—the convulsions of plate tectonics produced its beautiful lakes, savannas, and mountains. But the overlay of human violence on its geography is unremittingly ugly. The Rift is a malignant tangle of human need and suffering. For millennia, people have crowded into the region, attracted by its fertile land and minerals. “The paradox,” Draper says, “is that its very richness has led to scarcity,” and in the story you will read why. This dilemma provokes the unshakable worry: Is there enough for everyone? That’s the pervading question in this seventh story in our Seven Billion series on world population.
Chris Johns

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