The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has announced an imminent purge of “doubtful contracts” in the forestry sector, promising new anxiety in an area of the economy deemed to be dominated by foreign entities.
The decision was announced on Monday by the government spokesman and minister for information, Patrick Muyaya, who said Kinshasa will revisit all contracts on tree harvesting to ensure they are fair.
Muyaya said line officials had been directed to conduct a “technical and financial” audit on all forest concessions in the DRC. President Felix Tshisekedi, he said, had also ordered Ève Bazaiba, deputy prime minister in charge of the environment and sustainable development, to suspend “all doubtful contracts pending the outcome of the audit”.
According to an initial review, the Congolese government claims that there are numerous “illegal” contracts, including “those signed in September 2020, including six concessions by a single company covering a total area of 1,376,375 hectares in violation of the law”. Congolese law limits the acreage control by a single firm to 500,000 hectares.
This review especially targets a firm known as Trade Link Sarl, based in Lubumbashi, the biggest city in southwestern region of Haut-Katanga. In September last year, the environment minister, Claude Nyamugabo Bazibuhe, signed six concessions, raising eyebrows on whether due diligence was followed.
In February this year, environmental conservation charity group Greenpeace called for the cancellation of four forestry concession contracts covering more than 777,000 hectares awarded to Group Services, a local operator, which it deemed “illegal”.
In September 2020, Codelt and Océan, two civil society organisations, appealed to the Council of States to invalidate the granting of nine forest concessions covering nearly two million hectares, notably because of the violation of the 2005 moratorium on authorising new concessions.
“We know how important the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo are in the fight against climate change. If the DRC really wants to play an important role in the fight against these scourges, what is the point of giving more than two million hectares for industrial exploitation?” the groups said.
The DRC has the largest area under forest in Africa. It is home to 60 percent of the Congo basin's dense forests, the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon with 375 million hectares. In fact, the region is often referred to as the ‘right lung’ of the world, with the left being the Amazon.
The depletion of forests, often under hazy contracts, has also been cited by critics as the continuing exploitation of DRC’s natural resources, something President Tshisekedi promised to end.
Earlier last month, Kinshasa also announced a purge of mining contracts, promising to suspend those with exploitative clauses and renegotiating them.
The programme to clean up the sector, DRC’s biggest source of revenue, is a result of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July. Under this arrangement, the IMF committed to a three-year credit to the tune of $1.5 billion.
But it came with conditions, including enhancing the fight against graft as well as cleaning up messy and lopsided mining agreements with foreign firms.
The DRC must also revise old mining agreements and set up policies that will prevent future deals from being one-sided.