Can forests help revive war-torn Central African Republic?

Earlier this month, the United Nations envoy for the Central African Republic (CAR) reminded the world of the neglected tragedy unfolding in my country.

Villagers push a cart loaded with wood in a forest community in Central African Republic by Lewis Davies

“The intensity of the attacks, their premeditated nature and the targeting of ethnic minorities are a reminder of the darkest moments of the Central African political and security crisis,” said the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.

He was speaking to the Security Council to mark the release of the U.N.’s 369-page report documenting human rights violations in CAR between 2003 and 2015.

He added that the political process needed to be re-energised to achieve sustainable peace.

Another way of helping bring stability back to CAR is by ending the trade in illegal timber. 

The forest sector drives the national economy. It’s the second-largest employer (after the state), and timber is the country’s number one official export – with its importance to the economy growing since the Kimberley Process cracked down on the trade in ‘conflict’ diamonds.

But just as our vast natural mineral wealth is plagued by high-level corruption - and those at the bottom of society rarely benefit from it - the same is true in the forest sector.

The market is flooded with illegal timber; even public figures buy it and build their houses with it.

Those who fight it can face grave retribution. For instance, when a forest inspector catches an illegal operator, they often receive a call from a minister, a general or some other high-ranking official, telling them to let them the illegal operator go.

As a result, the forest inspector feels that his job and family are threatened and that his children may pay the price of becoming orphans for his work - so he drops the illegal timber seizure operation he started in the area.

Even the municipal authorities are not spared from intimidation. Illegal timber shipments of all kinds enter Bangui, the capital, through the Pk9 barrier in Bimbo commune. Odon Omokoboumon, acting mayor of this locality, says he does not have sufficient means to stop illegal loggers who often have firearms.

Yet there is hope that things will change.

(...)

  • Read the full article on the Thomson Reuters Foundation website.

Bienvenu Gbelo is an environmental journalist with Radio Ndeke Luka in Bangui, Central African Republic