Seleka is a alliance of rebel militia factions that formed in September 2012. In March 2013, Seleka staged a bloody coup and seized power in the Central African Republic. Michel Djotodia was installed as president.
By November 2013, the Guardian was reporting “unspeakable horrors” and “a massacre of the innocents” in the Central African Republic (CAR), while the world looked away. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius described the country as “on the verge of genocide”.
Seleka was ousted in 2014 and a transitional government is currently in place. But the crisis hasn’t gone away. Earlier this year, the UN Refugee Agency wrote that, “the CAR crisis is quickly becoming the largest forgotten humanitarian crisis of our time”. Two years on from the Seleka coup, 2.7 million people in CAR are in need of humanitarian aid.
Rebel militias in the rainforests
In 2013, Seleka rebels were sent to the country’s rainforests, where they struck deals with logging companies from France, Lebanon and China.
A new report by Global Witness documents how the logging industry helped bankroll the atrocities carried out against the people of CAR.
In 2013, CAR logging companies paid more than €3.4 million to rebels so that they could continue logging illegally, “at scale and for significant profit”, as Global Witness notes.
Global Witness’ report, Blood Timber: How Europe helped fund war in the Central African Republic, can be downloaded here, and Global Witness has produced a short film with highlights from its undercover investigation:
Europe is complicit
Global Witness points out that Europe is complicit in three ways:
- Trade: European companies are trading with CAR logging companies. Global Witness identified two traders in particular that play a key role – Germany’s Johann D. Voss and French-registered Tropica-Bois.
- Illegal imports: Europe is the premier destination for CAR wood, meaning EU member states are failing in their legal obligations to keep illicit timber off European markets. Official CAR
figures suggest that 59% of the country’s timber exports end up in Europe, with most going to
Germany (32% of total exports), France (20%) and the UK (5%).
- Donor aid: France has paid millions of euros in development aid to CAR’s logging companies, based on the flawed assumption that CAR’s logging industry contributes to local development. The EU is also pursuing a timber trade agreement with CAR that further benefits its logging industry.
Global Witness investigated three companies – IFB from France, SEFCA from Lebanon, and Vicwood from China – which together account for 99% of timber exports from CAR. SEFCA alone is responsible for 62% of all exports.
All three companies made regular payments to Seleka. Global Witness obtained a leaked document that shows that shortly after Seleka took power SEFCA paid more than €380,000 to the treasury, to buy the goodwill of the Seleka government:
The French company, Tropica Bois is the biggest traders of timber from CAR. It registered record profits in 2013. Tropica Bois is part-owned by SEFCA.
“It’s not a war where they attack white people”
Global Witness went undercover and spoke to a Tropica Bois representative, who was unaware she was being filmed. She dismissed the war in CAR. “It’s not really a concern,” she said. “It’s not a war where they attack white people. It’s not a war we have to avoid.”
She assured Global Witness that the timber was legal:
“In terms of the legality of the wood with them we’re sure of the legality of the wood. Because in order to import into Europe now you need to be sure that the wood is of legal origin.”
In response to a question about the kind of documents the company needed to establish legality, she said,
“Well it depends on the country. But there are certificates that offer proof of legality. You need to give proof that the company exists, that it pays all the taxes it owes. That the timber has been checked by a certified body, like BIVAC or SGS. So you need to give all sorts of documentation.”
But back in CAR, Global Witness spoke to a logging company director who told them that,
“In the current situation one cannot think that legality is based on the law being respected and enforced. It can’t be. What kind of legality can there be when someone’s pointing a Kalashnikov at you?”
Despite the company’s involvement in financing militias, in March 2015 SEFCA was invited to the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Conference. Alexander Pardal of Global Witness commented, “A logging company like SEFCA does not belong at an EU stakeholder conference. It belongs in a courtroom.”
The Central African Republic and REDD
Let’s take a look at the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility website for CAR, to see how Seleka’s coup affected the REDD readiness process.
On 23 May 2013, only two months after the coup, Seleka sent a revised version of CAR’s readiness preparation proposal (RPP) “to be analyzed by the FMT” (Facility Management Team). Five days later the FMT issued its “Completeness Check”.
CAR had presented the first version of its readiness preparation proposal in October 2011 at the 10th Participants Committee in Berlin. In May 2013, the FMT decided that CAR had met the issues raised in Berlin, and that the World Bank could “continue its due diligence process in view of making the Readiness Preparation grant available to the country, through a Delivery Partner to be identified”.
There is no mention of the coup in the FMT’s “Completeness Check”. Checking that CAR had provided “further information on the links between FLEGT and REDD+ process” was on the FMT’s checklist for REDD readiness. Checking whether the government had recently seized power in a bloody coup was not.
On 25 October 2013, the World Bank produced a “REDD Readiness Progress Fact Sheet” for the CAR. By this time, even the World Bank had to acknowledge that the “very difficult” situation in the country:
The Government of CAR has made a formal request to work with the UNDP as a Delivery Partner for the Readiness Preparation activities. As long as the review of the R-PP was underway, there was no need to respond to the CAR.
As the revised R-PP is satisfactory to the FMT, the CAR is waiting for UNDP’s feedback from now on. Since the coup on March 24th, 2013, the situation in CAR is very difficult. That put UNDP’s decision on hold.
Since 2013, there have been no updates on the FCPF website about CAR.