While the capture last Thursday night of Laurent Nkunda, commander of a rebellious army in eastern Congo, raised hopes for peace in that troubled country, a more important story was unfolding in Kinshasa, the capital city. The government has cancelled 91 logging concessions in that nation’s vast rainforests, nearly two-thirds of the Congo’s total.
A year ago, international news reports described how the World Bank had completely reviewed and overturned its policy that supported timbering in the Congo. A report by the Bank’s own Inspection Panel the previous year had strongly criticized the Bank for not taking actions against the illegal and unsupervised logging. It also described the harm that those policies were bringing to the natural environment and indigenous peoples of the Congo. The homes and livelihoods of the Mbuti, along with many other indigenous societies, were being destroyed by the rampant logging.
An official in the Bank responsible for environmental and natural resource management indicated last January that the next major step was for the government to carefully review all 156 logging concessions to see which ones were appropriate to let stand. The results of the government’s review, funded by the Bank, represent a step forward.
A story in The Independent last week explained that the government has just voided 91 out of the 156 logging contracts. The Africa forest expert for Greenpeace, Rene Ngongo, expressed cautious optimism. He hopes the government will carry through and implement the cancellations, and that the government will commit itself to protecting the forests. But, he said, “It is unclear how the government will enforce the cancellations of contracts in the field, and how the operations of the approved logging concessions will be controlled.”
The Minister for the Environment of the DRC, Jose Endundo, commented Monday that loggers in the 91 concessions had 48 hours to stop their operations.
The article in The Independent points out that the decision by the government still leaves over 10 million hectares of forest open to commercial logging, despite recommendations from experts in the DRC to limit logging to no more than 4.4 million hectares.