Africa: Forests under threat
CHAD - CAMEROON
An international consortium consisting of Exxon, Shell and ELF is planning a multi-billion dollar oil exploitation project that will involve territories of Chad and Cameroon. It is feared that the project brings with it very serious environmental and social risks that may create another Ogoniland, Nigeria's oil-producing region marked by environmental devastation and brutal Human Rights violations. The project plans the development of the Doba oil-fields in southern Chad, and a 600 mile pipeline through Cameroon to transport oil to an Atlantic port for its export. Public funding from international development agencies - mainly the World Bank - is needed to realize the project. The WB intends to fund it both with International Development Association (IDA) credits - supposed tohelp the poorest countries - and through the International Finance Corporation, that supports private sector companies directly.
The WB claims that the project will alleviate poverty because revenue from the oil for the Government of Chad and royalties for that of Cameroon for the use of the pipeline would be invested in poverty programmes. However, this strategy has clearly little credibility, since both governments have shown a complete lack of commitment to poverty alleviation and besides are known for their lack of transparency in their financial transactions. So the allocation of aid dollars for these kinds of projects actually diverts scarce resources away from investments for social welfare.
From the environmental point of view perspectives are also negative. The projected pipeline will pass through ecologically fragile rainforest areas, including one that is the home of a Pigmy minority of traditional hunters and gatherers. Deforestation, wildlife poaching and the loss of farmland of local villagers, together with the danger of groundwater contamination and pollution of river systems through the expected leaking of oil from the pipeline itself, are points of grave concern. July 1997.
The oil pipeline: response from the World Bank
On June 10 1998, the WRM Secretariat addressed
a letter to the president of the World Bank, expressing our concern
over the arrest of Ngarlegy Yorongar and two journalists in relation
with a declaration by the former opposing the construction of the oil
pipeline Chad-Cameroon, which is being financed by the World Bank.
"As I am sure you are aware, we are supporting the Chad-Cameroon petroleum pipeline project because of its potential to substantially increase spending in Chad, one of the poorest countries in the world, on poverty alleviation activities. Let me assure you that notwithstanding the project's potential to reduce poverty, we will only proceed if our environmental and social safeguards have been respected, included meaningful consultation with local populations in Chad on the impacts of the project". August 1998.
The World Bank again shows who it serves
Facing strong opposition from civil society representatives, the World Bank recently approved a controversial oil and pipeline project led by Exxon-Mobil, that will link oil fields in Chad to Cameroon's Atlantic coast. The project sponsors also include Chevron and Petronas, the Malaysian state company. The total cost of the megaproject will reach US$ 3.7 billion and it will be one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa.
Even though the Bank argues that the project includes a programme to direct new revenues to support socioeconomic development in Chad and that environmental and social impacts of the project will be especially considered and periodically monitored, environmental and human rights groups emphasise that this megaproject will forcibly displace villagers along the 673-mile length of the pipeline as well as the Chadian villagers living near where the 300 oil wells are to be located, harm forest wildlife in the affected areas and contribute to further corruption at the government level in both countries. An added problem of the project is that it might spark the renewal of armed conflict in the oil-producing region and lead to severe human rights violations. The claim for a two-year moratorium to the project in order for Chad to develop a proper legal framework to handle the revenues and for Cameroon to establish environmental safeguards was ignored.
Taking into account the negative social and environmental performance of the actors involved in the project, as well as the proven effects of this kind of megaprojects undertaken in the South in the name of "progress", the idea enthusiastically expressed by the Bank, according to which the project is "an unprecedented framework to transform oil wealth into direct benefits to the poor, the vulnerable and the environment'' is really difficult to believe. Unless the Bank considers oil companies to be poor and vulnerable and that oil exploitation and transport can in some way benefit the environment. In sum, the Bank has unfortunately once again shown who it serves. June 2000.
Oil revenues versus human rights and environment
"This is the world's most scrutinized and controlled project," retorted a senior French official in Chad to representatives of Chadian human rights organizations who went to see him in March 2001. "There is absolutely nothing to worry about", he added. However, many people are very worried and have been fighting against the project for a very long time.
Indeed, the international campaign on the Chad/Cameroon Oil and Pipeline project which was spearheaded by African NGOs and supported by NGOs throughout the world, has been very successful in terms of getting the project to include numerous pre-cautionary measures designed to make the project environmentally and socially more responsible. For example, the pipeline was re-routed to avoid some of the biodiversity-rich areas, an Oversight Committee which includes civil society representatives was established in Chad to ensure that the oil revenues be used for poverty alleviation and, overall the role of civil society, local communities and indigenous peoples has been highlighted in the official documents. Furthermore, an International Advisory Group has been established whose task is to monitor the environmental and social impacts of the project as well as "governance" issues, which include human rights. At least on paper, all these measures indicate a serious departure from the previous laissez-faire approach in which the World Bank and the private companies it supports would leave it to recipient governments, no matter how corrupt, to manage the projects according to their own interests.
Despite these impressive changes on paper, there are serious doubts about what all these measures amount to in practice, since they cannot be considered in isolation from the countries' overall political situation. The most recent U.S. State Department's Reports on Human Rights confirm that both governments continue to commit serious human rights abuses with impunity and that citizens do not have access to an independent judicial system.
Chadian and Cameroonian NGOs demanded a moratorium on the funding decision until proven safeguards were in place to ensure that the project would not lead to further human rights violations and environmental destruction. However the governments, the oil companies and their international financial backers were in a hurry and the project was approved in June 2000.
The fears of the NGOs were soon thereafter
confirmed when the Chadian government used a part of its first payment
from the oil companies for weapons purchases. Despite World Bank claims
that the Oversight Committee is working, no regulations concerning its
functioning have been published. In addition, the government's draft
implementation decree proposes a decision-making process based on a
simple majority system which would assure that the government would
always have the majority. Furthermore it severely reduces the area of
intervention for the Oversight Committee and requires that it only report
to the government.
The International Advisory Group, which is headed by a former Senegalese Prime-Minister, is about to make its first field visit to Chad and Cameroon. The effectiveness of the group will depend on its ability to cut through the public relations efforts that are likely to surround its visit and establish independent relationships with the affected communities and the NGOs on-the-ground.
Independently of the IAG's work, the World Bank's Inspection Panel has just registered a claim presented by a Chadian member of parliament who represents the oil-producing region and 120 local residents. The claim states that local people and their environment have or are likely to suffer as a result of the World Bank violating its own policies. It is only after World Bank management has had a chance to respond to the allegations that the World Bank Board of Executive Directors will decide whether the Inspection Panel should be allowed to investigate the claim or not. Given the controversial nature of the project and climate of political oppression in both Chad and Cameroon, the World Bank's credibility would be seriously damaged if it should fail to get to the bottom of the allegations made by the claimants who are risking jail, torture and assassination for speaking up.
Perhaps the most positive outcome of the international campaign on the project so far has been the strengthening of civil society organizations in Chad and Cameroon. Despite enormous difficulties and danger, there are plans for a coordinated NGO-effort to monitor the oil fields and pipeline construction with the goal of preventing a humanitarian and ecological disaster. These efforts deserve the international community's full support. By: Korinna Horta. April 2001.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Compared to other countries in the Congo region, the Central African Republic (CAR) has a relatively small area of forest - around five million hectares - corresponding to 8% of the country's territory. Yet in terms of commercially valuable species such as Sapelli (Entandrophragma cylindricum), Ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon) and Sipo (Entandrophragma utile), its forests are some of the richest in Africa.
The country's forests grow in two distinct
French companies and capitals dominate the forestry sector, where almost 3.2 million hectares have been granted under concession to 3 stricly French companies (4 concessions), 1 French-CAR, 1 Malaysian-French (2 concessions), 1 Syrian-CAR, 2 Lebanese and 2 CAR. In total, French capitals are involved in the exploitation of almost half of the forests under concession. The recent arrival of WTK of Malaysia has marked a change in the pattern of European dominance, although SESAM, the company WTK acquired in the late 1990s, retains some French capital.
Total log production has increased significantly during the 1990s and is set to continue rising in line with structural adjustment policies. In 1993, total log production was 167,700 cubic metres and in 1999 it reached 552,800 cubic metres. In spite of government efforts to ensure that logs are mainly processed in the country, the majority of exports still consist of logs rather than processed timber and the gap is increasing: in 1993, raw log exports represented 56% of total wood exports and this percentage had risen to 71% in 1999.
Forestry activities are resulting in direct and indirect impacts on forests and forest peoples. Because of transportation difficulties and substantial costs, logging is highly selective and only the most valuable species are cut. But this selective logging leads to large areas of forest being opened up as companies go deeper into the forest in search of the best timber. Sapelli, Ayous and Sipo are the main species logged, but because of the damage caused to surrounding trees, some estimates suggest that selective logging in fact damages as much as 30% of the forest in CAR.
Once loggers leave the area, poachers and settlers come in on the roads built by logging companies, causing further damage to the forest. It is interesting to note that in the 1980s the French government - via the African Development Bank - funded the construction of a road in the south-western part of the country, which facilitated the entry of logging companies into the forest. It is also interesting to highlight that most roads built by loggers in the western area of the country have been aimed at serving their interests rather than those of the local people. Roads between CAR and Cameroon, for example, run near concessions held by French company Thanry in both countries.
It is clear that logging is benefiting the logging companies, that export most of the production to the European market where they are able to sell them at high prices. However, logging has certainly not contributed to higher living standards for the local population. In spite of wood and diamond exports, the Central African Republic remains one of the poorest countries in the region and its 3.4 million people have an average life expectancy of only 49 years. July 2001.
IMF, logging and mining
The dense, moist forests of the Central African Republic cover about four million hectares. Although the country has maintained loan arrangements with the IMF dating back to the 1980's, it came under increased pressure when the Central African Republic signed a three-year, US$ 66 million loan agreement with the IMF in 1998. The IMF has encouraged the Central African Republic to increase exploitation of forest and mineral resources. "Mineral resources in the Central African Republic have so far been insufficiently exploited " reads a policy framework paper jointly drafted by the IMF, World Bank, and Central African Republic in 1998.
The Central African Republic has followed
the IMF's advice, and between 1993 and 1999, total log production increased
three-fold. About half of the humid forest area is now held by a handful
of transnational logging companies. Despite government efforts to ensure
that wood exports have been processed to capture the jobs that come
from value-added products, raw log exports have increasingly dominated
the sector, making up 71 percent of wood exports in 1999.
Once logging activities have been concluded, additional damage is done as settlers and poachers (of "bushmeat" and ivory) gain access to new areas via the logging roads. This has resulted in tragic consequences for the Central African Republic's populations of gorillas, elephants, and rhinos:
- Survival of two species of endangered gorilla
- the western and lowland gorillas - is threatened by continued human
encroachment and illegal poaching.
New mining codes were also adopted by the Central African Republic in 2000, as directed by the IMF. In 2001, the nation adopted a new finance law that provided for the reduction of duties on the export of minerals. It is anticipated that these measures will cause additional harm to the county's natural areas. By: Jason Tockman. January 2002.
Logging companies destroy "Pygmies'" livelihoods
The rainforests of the Central African Republic's Dzanga Sangha national park are inhabited by the Ba'Aka indigenous people, which counts with some 20,000 members. Like many other so-called "Pygmy" groups of neighbouring countries, they have been hunter-gatherers living in the heart of the forest and have developed a whole body of knowledge on the local rainforest resources.
Until logging companies came, they had somehow resisted harassment of their home and livelihood by other Central Africans. But now the scale of the predatory activities are threatening their centuries-old way of life. The Bayanga Wood Company carries out logging of selected trees, but to reach those trees a network of roads is built, which not only destroy forest land but also open up the forest to outsiders, mainly immigrants from Congo and Cameroon seeking employment at the company. Poverty and unemployment drive many newcomers to poaching, supplying nearby bush meat markets with gorilla, elephant, gazelle and antelope.
Forest outsiders generally hunt with guns, which makes a difference with the traditional hunting practices of the Ba'Aka, who are also honey collectors and edible vegetable gatherers. The western-biased approach to forest conservation usually disregards the knowledge behind traditional wildlife hunting. The words of Jean Yamindou, of the World Wide Fund for Nature, reflect that: "These people aren't used to cultivating things. For centuries they've been used to getting up in the morning and killing an animal for that day's requirements". So, they are "teaching" the Ba'Aka and Bantu people to breed fish and poultry, in order to prevent the further killing of the animals.
Traditional hunting is now considered "poaching" and poaching is forbidden along the board. That implies that the Ba'Aka can no longer hunt elephants, which they used to kill to eat. Anyhow, they have welcomed that regulation since at least it means a decrease in poaching by outsiders. But their life is being changed - and everything indicates that not for the good. Loan opportunists leading to debt, traders, Western missionaries, alcohol, discotheques entering all of a sudden may disturb and distort any society. In the case of the Ba'Aka, they are even condemned by their culture: "The missionaries have told them their traditional music is tantamount to worshipping the devil", says a Bayanga resident. "Some of the young Ba'Aka don't know how to collect honey... Some listen to pop music and drink alcohol. Not all change is for the better", he adds.
But while "poaching" is forbidden, industrial logging is not. Logging companies constitute a major threat for forest conservation. Not only do they bulldoze the green frontier destroying fragile ecosystems, but also construct roads which leave the forest exposed and open to outsiders for comercial hunting. Shouldn't missionaries and conservationists "teach" logging companies a different way of reaping money? June 2002.
Rainforests in the centre and northern regions of Congo Democratic Republic (ex-Zaire) occupy more than half of the country's total area of 2,345,409 square kilometres and represent 82.5% of the original forest cover. About 47% of the whole dense tropical forests of Africa and 6% of the Planet's forests are in Congo DR. The long distances between the forests and commercial harbours, as well as the political crisis and the armed conflict between domestic groups and with neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi during the decade of 1990 caused that most of the country's forests remained untouched, which constitutes a difference with respect to other countries of the region. However, logging concessions are now threatening those forests.
SIFORZAL - subsidiary to the German Danzer Group - has been granted an area of 2.6 million hectares. Since 1996, several Malaysian timber companies are also exploiting vast areas: Idris Hydraulic Bhd. has got timber concessions totalling 1.25 million hectares in Congo DR and Gabon, while in 1997 Innovest Bhd announced it was buying two timber concessions for 707,000 hectares. Additionally, China is promoting logging in Congo DR to supply its huge internal market, which has increased its external demand due to an internal logging ban. Conserve at home and cut abroad seems to be the motto.
Even though being very rich in minerals and forests, Congo DR is among the poorest countries in the world according to its social indicators. The government has seemingly reacted to defend the vast area of remaining forests, and in April 1999 log exports were banned for three months. Foreign companies immediately claimed that this would be "the end of the forestry sector in the country" and soon logs were again being exported.
The question is if the government will submit to foreign interests - and give indiscriminate logging the green light - or if it will try to use forests sustainably and equitably for the benefit of present and future generations. Given the critical economic situation prevailing in the country, much will depend on support from all those governments which in international fora appear to be gravely concerned over the fate of the forests ... among which Germany, Malaysia and China, whose companies are now eager to begin the destruction of the forests of Congo. May 2000.
The case of the Twa of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park
A book written by Albert Kwokwo Barume recently published by the Forest Peoples Programme and IWGIA - "Heading Towards Extinction? Indigenous Rights in Africa: The Case of the Twa of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo" - examines the fate of the Twa indigenous people in that country.
The author, a Congolese human rights lawyer, uses an indigenous rights framework to examine the case of the Twa indigenous "Pygmy" people located in the eastern region of the country, who were expelled from their traditional lands in order to create the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The Twa, a hunting and gathering people of the tropical forests, face a dismal future. Denied access to the lands that they have depended on for millennia, they now live in miserable squatter camps on the margins of other villages in the area surrounding the Park. Deprived of rights, compensation or justice, and exposed to discrimination from other sectors of society, the Twa are also suffering an alarming rise in malnutrition and disease.
The wider context of African policies regarding ethnic identity and the rights of indigenous peoples are also examined. The report situates the Twa within two important new areas of thinking: the growing movement of self-identified 'indigenous peoples' in Africa, who are invoking emerging concepts of international law to renegotiate their relationship with the states that encompass them; and new models of conservation which recognise the rights of indigenous peoples, value their knowledge and seek to give them a central role in the management of conservation zones.
The Twa of Kahuzi-Biega have yet to benefit from either of these changes in thinking and this report therefore discusses land rights and possible options for the Twa to challenge their expulsion from the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and negotiate new arrangements based on the recognition of their rights. The report ends with concrete recommendations for reforms in the way the Congolese authorities, conservationists, and the aid agencies supporting them, are dealing with the Twa.
The contradiction between nature conservation and indigenous peoples rights is false. So the report does not seek to undermine the efforts of Congolese and expatriate conservationists who have struggled to protect the country's wildlife in war-torn eastern Congo. However, the need to respect the rights of peoples who have been and are being abused, is self-evident. The author asserts that conservation will be strengthened and not weakened when local communities experience it as a positive project for their own benefit. February 2001.
Pillage certified in Uganda?
A UN mission has recently presented its report on the widespread exploitation of mining and forest resources in Congo (ex-Zaire) by forces of Rwanda and Uganda, in collaboration with Congolese opposition groups in the Eastern region of the country.
Among the different issues analysed in detail in the report, there is a special case study on the Ugandan-Thai forestry firm DARA Forest, which started to operate in the Ituri area in 1998. The company immediately requested a forest concession to the Congolese authorities, which was refused by the Kinshasa government. In spite of that, the company began its activities by buying wood to local loggers and that same year set up a sawmill at Mangina. By the year 2000 it already had a forest concession granted by the armed opposition group Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Mouvement de Libération (RCD-ML).
Between 1998 and 2000, deforestation increased - particularly in Djugu, Mambassa, Beni, Komanda, Luna, Mont Moyo and Aboro - as a result of large-scale unsustainable logging related to DARA Forest's activities.
Wood extracted from that region - occupied by the Ugandan army and the RCD-ML - is transported to Uganda both for local use and for export. Given that the wood extracted from Congo pays no taxes at all, acajou wood from that country is much cheaper in Uganda than the same wood cut locally. Logs from Congo are later exported to Kenya, where important volumes are re-exported to countries in Asia, Europe and North America. The companies that purchase the undocumented DARA wood are mainly based in Belgium, China, Denmark, United States, Japan, Kenya and Switzerland.
In order to try to "legalize" its operations, DARA Forest signed a contract in May 2000 with SmartWood and the Rogue Institute for Ecology and Economy from Oregon, United States, aimed at obtaining certification for its wood. The plot consisted in certifying the Budongo forest in Uganda - for which DARA didn't even have a concession at the time - and to use that certification to market the wood extracted illegally and unsustainably from Congo.
According to its own internal documentation, DARA Forest would then import logs from Congo, which would be processed at Namanve in Uganda together with the wood extracted from the certified forest in Uganda. In this way, its entire production would be marketed as FSC-certified wood. DARA's partners in this operation would be: DARA Europe GmbH from Germany, Shanton President Wood Supply Co. Ltd. from China, President Wood Supply Co. Ltd. of Thailand and DARA Tropical Hardwood, Portland (Oregon) from the USA. A neat operation which, after the UN mission report, will hopefully fail. May 2001.
Will Zimbabwe become a member of the logging club?
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has
nearly half of Africa's, and 6% of the world's, tropical rainforest
and the area has been recently designated one of the most important
forests on the planet by the United Nations.
The logging concession has been granted to Socebo, a subsidiary of Cosleg (Pvt) Ltd. Cosleg is itself a joint venture between the ironically named Operation Sovereign Legitimacy (Osleg), a company largely controlled by the Zimbabwean military, and Comiex-Congo, a firm largely owned by the family of DRC President Joseph Kabila. The operation is expected to bring in profits of up to US$ 300 million over the two to three years it will take to clear the concessions of the most valuable timber.
The intention is to log four concessions, located in Katanga, Kasai, Bandundu and Bas-Congo Provinces, from each of which Socebo hopes to produce over 150,000 cubic metres of timber per year at full capacity. All the concessions were scheduled to be opened by 30th April 2001 but, as far as we are aware, the starting dates have not been met. The reason for this delay appears to be that the company has been unable to raise the necessary funds - estimated at approximately US$30-40 million per concession - of which more than half would be borrowed from financial markets.
The timber would be exported - as Zimbabwe is self sufficient - although some could be used for domestic consumption in DRC. At this stage it is not clear exactly where logs will be exported to, but it is likely that timber from the Katanga concession would be exported by rail through Zambia and eventually from Durban (South Africa) to countries outside the region. The other concessions are further north and, due to poor road conditions, it is likely the timber would be transported by river. Currently 80% of logs exported from DRC transit Congo-Brazzaville and are destined for the European market. Judging by regional trends France would almost certainly be a major importer (as it is from Cameroon, Gabon and Liberia).
Timber in DRC has been exploited for over 60 years by what has effectively become a cartel, which includes French, Belgian and some German interests. Unless a company is a member of this cartel, it is considered that operating timber concessions would be extremely difficult if not impossible. Will Zimbabwe become a new member of this destructive and exclusive "club"? September 2001.
Millions of acres of forest under unsustainable logging
Located in the heart of the African continent, the Democratic Republic of Congo's 2.3 million square kilometres territory covers most of the Congo River basin and has a narrow outlet into the Atlantic. The center and northern regions are covered with rainforests (1.1 million square kilometres in 1993) which, although sparsely populated, are the major livelihood for many of the country's 48 million people who depend on the forests for non-timber forest products such as food, building materials and medicines.
Though Congo DR is a country rich in natural
resources, landlessness, competition for land and a long history of
conflict have led a great proportion of its population to poverty, hunger,
chronic malnutrition and indebtedness.
The extremely low yield of logging operations resulting from a highly selective cut where only the best trees are taken, just accelerates the pace at which rainforests are being opened up.
Although there are several protected areas, the war has prevented management and monitoring of those within conflictive zones. But also those outside the war zone are not being properly monitored.
In social terms, on the one hand logging companies provide a certain level of health, education and transportation services to local people usually neglected by the State, but on the other hand, they pay very low wages and feel no responsibility for Congolese workers once they have finished logging and moved away. This means that those who have moved into the forest to work for the company often have to switch to clearing the forest to grow food in order to feed their families. They - and not the companies or the government - are then blamed for destroying the forest, while those responsible for the social, economic and environmental destruction triggered off by unsustainable logging cash their profits and leave. The victims thus become victims twice, while the forests continue to disappear. November 2001.
Forests Open for Business
The Democratic Republic of Congo contains over 50 percent of Africa's remaining tropical forests. Only Brazil and Indonesia have larger areas of tropical rainforest. Although natural resource exploitation did not cease during the war, many foreign logging operations halted their activities. The Malaysian company Innovest, for example, has sold assets in DRC due to financial losses incurred. On January 18, 2002 Innovest announced that they had entered into an agreement with Man Fai Tai Congo Ltd S.A.R.L to sell machines and equipment that were purchased in 1997 for the logging concessions in DRC and the Republic of Congo.
The main species exported from DRC in 1998 were Sipo, Sapelli, Tola, Iroko, Afrormosia, Tima and Wenge. The main importing countries were Portugal, Germany and France. The export of timber is now more difficult to estimate and track, in part because much of the wood leaves the country via Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon, or other neighbouring countries.
The resumption of more organised logging activities will be linked to the return of a measure of political and economic stability. Efforts have been made to facilitate a peace process in the region, and there is now increased calm in the country. There are, however, still sporadic outbreaks of violence. The challenge remains to find enduring political solutions. In April 2002, the inter-Congolese dialogue was adjourned inconclusively after 52 days of peace negotiations in Sun City in South Africa. At the Sun City talks, there was agreement among the Kinshasa government of Joseph Kabila, the Uganda-backed MLC and the majority of civil society groups and unarmed political opposition groups on a peace agreement that would see Joseph Kabila retain his post during a transition period, the creation of several new institutions, and the inclusion of RCD and MLC in the government and institutions such as the army. The Rwanda backed RCD-Goma rejected the agreement outright. Those party to the agreement have announced that they will install a transitional government in Kinshasa in mid-June.
In light of recent efforts to find enduring political solutions, foreign investors are re-gaining their confidence, and are returning to invest in the timber industry in DRC. Joseph Kabila has actively engaged with international financial institutions, and an IMF manager stated that there were good prospects for intensifying cooperation between the IMF and DRC. Kabila and the World Bank are supporting an economic strategy that rests to a very large degree on the extraction of the rich natural resources that exist in this enormous country. Kabila has been making the rounds; in October of last year he and his economic minister travelled to, amongst other places, New York, Paris and Brussels. In November of the same year, Kabila gave the keynote address to the US-Africa Business Summit. In his speech he outlined an ambitious economic strategy that would re-integrate DRC into the world economy. He pledged to strengthen the Congolese private sector and institute reforms that will increase economic stability. He also outlined preparations of a new investment and mining code.
Despite the civil war, and in some cases because of it, the extraction of natural resources continued unchecked. Global Witness and others have documented the links that exist between Zimbabwe's regime and the extraction of natural resources in DRC. The largest concessionaires in DRC are Socebo, a subsidiary of Cosleg. The concession covers 33 million hectares of land, more than 15 percent of DRC's total land area. Logging has already commenced in the Katanga province, carried out by the Zimbabwean military in cooperation with a company called SAB Congo.
Throughout the conflict there has been concern that natural resources, including timber, have been illegally harvested. In December of 2001, the Security Council received a report by a UN Expert Panel outlining ways of tackling illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In December, the Security Council agreed that a reconstituted expert panel should assemble in January 2002 for an additional six month period to examine in more detail the extraction and trade in natural resources. The interim report released in May 2002, found that the illegal exploitation of natural resources in DRC are being consolidated, and the effects on the local populations are disastrous. The panel has found that various strategies are being employed to divert money from the exploitation for personal gain, or to finance military operations. To date, however, the Security Council has failed to take any concrete actions to attempt to rectify the situation.
There is little doubt that there will be an increase in private investment and extraction of timber resources from DRC. In the climate of uncertainty, with sporadic outbreaks of violence, and political and economic instability, it is necessary to monitor logging operations carefully. Investors and loggers are anxious to gain their access to the rich forests of DRC. The next couple of years will be critical for the forests and for people who depend on forest resources for their livelihood. June 2002.
Apart from its well-known oil operations, Shell company is also involved in a less known activity: tree plantations. The company has planted - on its own or in joint-ventures - almost 150,000 hectares of mostly eucalyptus and pine trees in Argentina (10,000), Chile (36,000), Republic of Congo (42,000), New Zealand (23,000), Paraguay (8,000) and Uruguay (28,000).
In the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Shell holds 90% of the shares of Eucalyptus du Congo (ECO-SA), while the government owns the remaining 10%. Its plantations are established on state-owned land near the coastal town and port of Pointe Noire. The plantations are composed of clones of Eucalyptus hybrids (Eucalyptus alba x Eucalyptus urophylla and Eucalyptus tereticornis x Eucalyptus grandis). The main market for these clonal plantations is the pulp industry and nearly half a million cubic metres of raw logs are exported each year to Norway, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Morocco for the production of pulp and paper.
As usual in this type of plantations, job creation by this company is poor: a mere 400 jobs. This means that - counting only the planted and not the entire area covered by the plantation - it requires 105 hectares to create just one job. But things have now got even worse. Last month, the company's administration decided to stop cutting and selling eucalyptus wood because of a fall in the international price, allegedly due to overproduction of this type of wood. As usual too, the cost will be borne by the workers. According to the company's manager Mr Perrin, the number of workers will decrease until "the price of wood returns to a correct level". In other words, "the market" will decide the fate of those workers.
This is one of the numerous examples regarding the unsuitabily of the large-scale monoculture plantation model as a means for the improvement of local peoples livelihoods. In this case the company, with support and participation of government, has appropriated more than 50,000 hectares of land for an activity that produces very few jobs and generates very little export-incomes because it exports unprocessed logs. While the international price is high the company makes profits that do not "trickle-down" to local workers and communities. When the price is low, workers are dismissed.
Additionally, this situation offers yet another example of the pulp and paper industry's strategy to ensure a cheap and constant supply of raw material: to promote large-scale plantation of eucalyptus in countries that can produce vast amounts of cheap wood. This implies that trees must grow fast, that labour and land must be cheap and that environmental controls must be lax. Those needs of the pulp and paper industry are certainly met by the Republic of Congo. But they are also met by many other countries, which are encouraged, through different mechanisms, to dedicate vast areas of their territories to tree plantations. The result is a worldwide competition to sell the same commodity, which lowers the price - to the benefit of the global industrial and trade actors. May 2001.
Foreign loggers deplete forests and livelihoods
The Republic of Congo, often referred to
as Congo-Brazzaville, has a total area of 342,000 sq. km, 60% of which
is covered by rainforests (21.5 million hectares), mainly located in
the scarcely-populated north of the country. The forest and its resources
are the main source of livelihood for most of the rural population living
Approximately half of the country's forests are classified as productive forest suitable for timber exploitation, mainly operated by multinational logging companies under concession. Low forestry taxes, weak monitoring and enforcement capacity, irregularities and corruption in the awarding and exploitation of generous concessions have allured companies and boomed forestry operations. Main tree species targeted are Okoumé, Limba, Sapelli and Sipo.
Exploitation of the forests has facilitated commercial bushmeat hunting, which is decimating wildlife in a number of areas. The loss of biodiversity which results from logging has long-term consequences both ecologically and socially. Although the country has protected areas, the capacity to monitor them is minimal.
The practices of forestry companies have also had social impacts, including discrimination against local people who usually have not had access to an adequate education so they do not possess the skills required by the logging companies. Pygmies in particular, who are forest dwellers and use forests for their subsistence activities, are twofold negatively affected: their livelihood is being destroyed and they find it difficult to obtain reasonably remunerated employment because they are perceived as unreliable by logging companies.
Companies do not listen sufficiently to local people, whose needs are rarely taken into account or respected unless they take direct action, such as blocking the loggers' roads with barricades.
As usual, the sad story goes that profit led activities which benefit only a rich transnational elite with their local cronies disrupt the environment and the livelihoods of ancient dwellers and guardians of the forest. August 2001.
Increased logging activities
The Congo Basin contains the second largest area of tropical rainforest in the world after the Amazon Basin. Renowned for its high biodiversity, this forest is also home to culturally diverse peoples who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods. The Republic of Congo has recently emerged from a bitter civil war, during which timber exploitation was dramatically reduced, and as stability has increased in the region, exploitation of natural resources has also increased. Timber companies are eager to resume, or begin, exploitation of the resource-rich forests of Congo Brazzaville, and forestry operations in the south of the country have resumed, with the remote primary forests of the north, which were largely unallocated prior to the civil war, now also being allocated for timber exploitation.
Logging operations will increasingly disrupt the lives of local people, especially Pygmies, who depend on the forest for their livelihoods. As the north is being opened up to logging operations, the demand for bushmeat to supply workers' communities will increase and will contribute to the impoverishment of forest opened up by roads. This will have direct consequences for Pygmy groups who use forest areas for their subsistence activities.
An expansion of the timber industry is also facilitated by the policies pursued by the government to liberalise their economy. With the support of the IMF, Congo Brazzaville will liberalise its natural resource sector to maximise profits, and to those ends a new forestry law was introduced in 2000. Henri Djombo, the forestry minister, has estimated that the log production in Congo Brazzaville will double, or triple within the next two to three year period.
As a result of government policies to liberalise the economy, new allocations have been made and large scale logging operations are now underway in the northern regions of Sangha and Likouala. German owned Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB) is the largest forestry operator in the country (1.15 million hectares), but other companies are also moving in to secure their position in the profitable industry - particularly in the previously unexploited north regions. The following is a list of some of the most important companies involved in Northern Congo (March 2001), including each one's concession areas (in hectares):
Bois et Placages de Lopola (BPL): 199,900
Companies are also investing in increased logging activities in the south. For example, the Portuguese company FORALAC recently reported an investment of eight billion F CFA (US$ 11.4 million) and the creation of 500 jobs in its concessions.
As a result of the expansion of forestry activities, Congo-Brazzaville is emerging as an important supplier of tropical timber to Europe; and Germany, for example, has increased its imports of timber from this country. Species exported from Congo Brazzaville include Sapelli and Sipo. The commencement of logging in the north has also provided the impetus to build new roads linking with Cameroon and the Central African Republic, and all timber from the northern regions is exported via Douala in Cameroon, making it difficult to estimate exactly how much timber is being exported from Congo-Brazzaville.
At a meeting in Paris in March 2002, Henri Djombo, the Congolese forestry minister recognised that illegal logging was occurring in tropical Africa. He further stated that in order to fight illegal logging and introduce sustainable forest practises, democratisation must be encouraged, and funding must be made available to tackle the problem. He cited his country as an example of how lack of access to resources results in weak government control of the forestry sector. Djombo explained that the government of Congo Brazzaville only has 300 agents and foresters, when at least 2000 are required to do the job.
In conclusion, the situation is changing
rapidly in Congo Brazzaville, and export of timber is up from the low
caused by the civil war. The government is actively pursuing an export
oriented economic strategy, and aim to double, or even triple log production.
At the same time as concessions are being granted and companies are
starting their operations, the Minister responsible for the forests
has recognised that illegal logging is taking place, and that the government
are lacking human resources to effectively oversee the industry. April
Go to Home Page
World Rainforest Movement
Maldonado 1858 - 11200 Montevideo - Uruguay
tel: 598 2 413 2989 / fax: 598 2 410 0985