Interview with Cody Pope, AC4 Fellow 2011
Cody Pope, one the 2011 AC4 Graduate Fellows, works on political risk, policy analysis and sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa. He completed his Masters in International Security Policy and Conflict Resolution at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. As an AC4 fellow, he focused on foreign investment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in the mining regions in the east and south-east, and today continues to focus on the nexus of development, conflict and conservation.
The Origins of My Interest in AC4
In my first post-undergraduate life, I was originally and briefly a mountain gorilla researcher. I worked with mountain gorillas in southwest Uganda near to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s border (DRC) in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This is the story I always tell, and that I actually told to get into Columbia, about how I became interested in conflict and conflict resolution. When I was there in 2007, several mountain gorillas were killed, culminating with a massacre of four animals in July. In total, seven animals were killed in Virunga National Park in about two months; the park straddles the boards of Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda.
The incidents happened on the DRC side and it occurred when many of the world’s Mountain Gorilla researchers were near the parks for several meetings. It also happened only a few weeks after actress Natalie Portman had just finished filming a documentary on the Virunga Mountain Gorillas. All these events were somewhat unrelated, but helped amplify the newsworthiness of slaughter, bringing it to a worldwide audience. It made the cover of Newsweek in early August, into section A of the New York Times a few days after it happened, and was featured on the cover of National Geographic on the one-year anniversary of the slaughter. All this coverage happened in part, because there was so much attention on the area in the weeks leading up to the slaughter.
Long story long: the whole reason that the gorillas were killed, or at least one of the main reasons, was economics. At its heart, it was an extractive materials conflict centered on wood and charcoal, exacerbated by ethnic and regional tensions. At the time, there was charcoal wood going illegally into both Rwanda and Uganda to be burned for cooking. Rwanda and Uganda were rather complicit in this trade because they were actively protecting their national parks for tourism, so they don’t want to disrupt them.
I, as a researcher, used charcoal nearly everyday to cook and to boil clean water for drinking. Some of this charcoal came from very local sources, but most had been sourced from the DRC. And so the charcoal that I was using, in terms of trading hands, had been cut by someone working directly for the rebels that had killed the mountain gorillas, then given to a women who crossed the boarder into Uganda, then bought by someone locally and then used by me. So in terms of the line of consumerism, the link between the charcoal, the death of the gorillas, and me was very obvious. So I became interested in the idea of conflict, conservation and the extractive sector because of that.
My AC4 Project
In terms of AC4, my project was on the extractive sector and the conflict between the extractive sector and rural populations in southeastern Congo. This is essentially what I have gone on to do as a career. I have done it for both the conservation side and the extractive’s side. The AC4 experience transferred relatively directly into my career. It also gave me a lot of opportunities to network both during Columbia and through the project. At the time, Jean-Marie Guéhenno was the head of the conflict resolution specialization. He is also the former Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, so he had connections in the Congo that we used to start our project. Those became connections that I used later on in my work. I still talk with some of the people that I worked with during by AC4-sponsored field visit, such as Francesca Bomboko, who is very active in peace and reconciliation issues in DRC. These types of connections can open doors and help you understand your region of specialization in a new way.
Words of Advice
Words of advice to upcoming or potential AC4 scholars: I think it’s a great program. Obviously, I focused a lot on the conflict element of the 4 c’s – conflict is complex. It is a great opportunity to do independent research. The way that it was structured made it fairly liberal in how you could use your funds, which was very effective in giving you control on how to plan your trip. So, I was able to spend two weeks in the Congo, which was exactly what I wanted to do. I was able to combine my AC4 fellowship with several other different courses offered by SIPA, such as Conflict Assessment and Applied Peacebuilding. When you are applying for the fellowship, make sure that you have a good plan. Remember, it’s a good networking opportunity. Also, if you think you want to work with a company or organization in the future, then it’s a good way to know what they’re like and if they fit with your style of working.
Read the full interview (and see more photos) with Cody Pope here. This interview was conducted by AC4 Research Assistant, Alex James.