in Congo Basin region, DR Congo, Indonesia, Republic of Congo

The Brazzaville Declaration: Words not action on peatland protection in the Congo Basin. And the strange case of the Congo Basin Blue Fund and the Brazzaville Foundation

Last week, the third meeting of the Partners of the Global Peatlands Initiative took place in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo. After the meeting, the United Nations Environment Programme, one of the organisers and funder of the meeting, put out a press release announcing that a “historic agreement” had been signed “to protect the world’s largest tropical peatland”.

The Brazzaville Declaration

The Brazzaville Declaration was signed by the environment ministers of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Indonesia. The Declaration is available in full below.

The Declaration is supposed to help protect the world’s largest tropical peatlands, the Cuvette Centrale region in the Congo Basin. Whether it will actually protect anything is open to question.

Greenpeace Africa points out that “recent developments on the ground show that industrial activities are already taking place which pose an alarming threat to those peatland areas”.

Amy Ambatobe, the Minister of Environment for DRC, recently illegally allocated three logging concessions covering an area of 650,000 hectares to Chinese-owned logging companies Forestière pour le Développement du Congo (FODECO) and Société La Millénaire Forestière (SOMIFOR). Two of the concessions overlap with the Cuvette Centrale peatlands.

Meanwhile, DRC’s President Joseph Kabila signed three oil exploration blocks also mainly in the Cuvette Centrale.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Greenpeace Africa Senior Forest Manager, comments,

“Greenpeace Africa is alarmed by these developments. We call on both governments of DRC and RoC to protect these peatlands by cancelling any current and future industrial activities in these areas and keeping the moratorium on logging permits in place.”

Just maybe, the next time the UN Environment Programme decides to help greenwash a corrupt and violent regime, it should carry out a little due diligence on some of the people and organisations involved.

The Congo Basin Blue Fund

The Global Peatlands Initiative meeting in Brazzaville was held under the auspices of Denis Sassou Nguesso, the president of the Republic of Congo since 1997. Sassou Nguesso came to power through a coup in 1979. He lost the elections in 1992, but returned to power during a civil war in 1997.

On the banners announcing the meeting, Sassou Nguesso is also described as “Président de la Commission Climat du Bassin du Congo pour le Fonds Bleu”.

Sassou Nguesso launched the Congo Basin Blue Fund at COP 22 in Marrakesh. On 9 March 2017, in Oyo, Republic of Congo, the governments of Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Morocco, Rwanda, and Chad signed a memorandum creating the Blue Fund.

The Blue Fund set a goal of raising US$100 million by 2020, “with long term commitments for annual renewal”. It hopes to receive money from the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Fund. A brochure about the Congo Basin Blue Fund explains that,

“This will enable the generation and servicing of up to Euro 3 billion in multilateral credit to be used to create real economic assets and finance the shift from the forest economy to the blue economy.”

The Brazzaville Declaration makes two references to the Congo Basin Blue Fund:

We are committed to: . . .

Work to accelerate the operationalization of the Blue Fund for the Congo Basin and the Green Economy Fund in Central Africa to finance socio-economic and ecological programs and projects in Lake Tele/Lake Tumba landscape with support from the Central African Development Bank (BAD) and the Central African Development Bank (BDEAC); . . .

Finally, we call on all major donors to support the Blue Basin Funds and the Green Economy Fund in Central Africa to finance national and sub-regional initiatives to address climate change challenges, economic development, private sector development, job creation and livelihood improvement.

On its website, the Congo Basin Blue Fund explains that the Fund was created by Sassou Nguesso, with the support of the Brazzaville Foundation for Peace and Conservation.

Jean-Yves Ollivier: “I’m not the Godfather”

The man behind the Brazzaville Foundation is Jean-Yves Ollivier, a French businessman who has spent almost 50 years working in Africa.

In an interview for a 2015 Bloomberg article, Ollivier explains his modus operandi:

“I am not the Godfather, of course, but I employ about the same system. It starts by him helping this one and this one and this one, not asking anything. But maybe one day I will ask you something. The gain comes afterwards and for a mutually beneficial project. That’s where I benefit, ultimately.”

In the 1960s Ollivier worked as an international commodities trader. In the 1970s, after the oil crisis, he started working in the oil and gas sector, and set up his own oil trading company, Vitank. In 1986, he became director of Charbons de France, a coal trading company.

Ollivier first met Sassou Nguesso in 1974. These days Ollivier even has a Congolese diplomatic passport. He’s made a series of oil deals in the Republic of Congo:

  • 2002: Ollivier was advising SNPC, the National Oil Company of Congo, on a loan of US$350 million to build energy infrastructure. South African investment bank Rand Merchant Bank was a joint lead arranger. Energy and commodities trader Vitol got the oil. Congo increased oil production. And, of course, Ollivier was paid for his role in the deal.
  • 2006: A unit of Elliott Management, a New York hedge-fund company, was trying to recover US$100 million debt it owned from the Republic of Congo. In a legal case in Hong Kong, Elliott alleged that Ollivier was helping the Congo hide its oil assets, so that they could not be seized. Not so, according to Ollivier. Bloomberg reports him as saying that, “he’d created a web of shell companies to conceal the owners of Congo’s oil and the payments the SNPC was receiving”. In the end, Congo settled out of court.
  • 2010: The government of the Republic of Congo granted an oil concession off the coast of the country. Ollivier helped Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC, a US hedge-fund company, to buy a stake in the oil project being explored by Italian oil company Eni SpA. Bloomberg reports that according to petroleum consulting firm McDaniel and Associates the price paid for the concession was about a third of its actual value. In September 2016, Och-Ziff pleaded guilty to paying bribes to gain mining assets in several African countries. The company agreed to pay US$412 million.

Between March 2007 and September 2010, Sassou Nguesso paid Ollivier US$1.3 million to lobby U.S. officials, amongst other things, for debt relief for Congo.

In 2008, Sherpa and Transparency International took out a legal case against Sassou Nguesso (and the presidents of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and members of their families). The case accuses Sassou Nguesso of embezzling a “substantial part” of Congo’s oil income by selling oil at below market value in exchange for bribes.

The Brazzaville Foundation

The Brazzaville Foundation was registered as a limited company in the UK in August 2014. And it was registered as a UK Charity in February 2015.

According to the Foundation’s Financial Statements for the year ended 1 April 2017, “The focus of the Foundation’s work has been the Congo Basin Blue Fund.” The Financial Statements document states that,

A great deal of work remains to be done to turn this concept into an effective financial instrument but the signature of the Mou marked a significant step forward achieved in a remarkably short space of time. The Foundation has been active throughout this process, explaining and refining its ideas and talking to the countries concerned and to the World Bank who were represented at the Oyo meeting. The Republic of the Congo will now take forward the work to develop the operational details of the Blue Fund in collaboration with the other signatories of the Oyo Memorandum.

Funding for the Foundation initially came from Ollivier. During the 2016-2017 financial year, the King Baudouin Foundation in New York provided a “large donation”. In November 2016, the Foundation raised £319,868 from a fundraising dinner in Hong Kong.

In addition to Ollivier, the founder and chairman, the Brazzaville Foundation’s Board of Trustees consists of: Philip Prettejohn; Lord Bell of Belgravia; and Nicholas Chance. And the Chief Executive is Sir David Richmond.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Philip Prettejohn

Prettejohn is a consultant at the London-based firm Rawlinson and Hunter, a company that helps rich people avoid paying tax. Prettejohn joined the firm in 1968, and was a partner from 1978 to 2016.

Among Prettejohn’s clients when he was a senior partner at Rawlinson and Hunter was the richest man in Britain, Hans Rausing. In 1996, Rausing made £4.5 billion when he sold his stake in the packaging company Tetra Pak.

In a 2002 article in the Guardian, journalist Nick Davies reveals how Rausing avoids paying tax. Davies writes that, “in handling the Rausings’ foreign operations, [Prettejohn] has always wanted to tell the Inland Revenue as little as is legally possible”.

Rausing avoids paying much tax by arguing that he may one day return to live in Sweden. He’s been in the UK since 1982, but argues that the UK is not his “domicile”. Meanwhile, his tax advisers have created a network of companies, registered in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, which own Rausing’s properties in the UK. Davies writes that,

Hans Rausing’s company accounts are scattered with perfectly lawful deals which consist of his offshore companies sending loans into the UK, usually at zero interest. His farming business in Kent, for example, received multiple loans from his offshore company in Grand Cayman and £200,000 from his Portuguese farm, which is ultimately owned by two more offshore companies in Grand Cayman.

Lord Bell of Belgravia

Tim Bell is a public relations executive. He was adviser to Margaret Thatcher and managed Thatcher’s three election campaigns. In 1985 he co-founded the PR firm Lowe Bell, which subsequently became Bell Pottinger. The New York Times describes Bell Pottinger as a “P.R. Firm for Despots and Rogues”.

There was practically no one for whom Bell Pottinger would not work. “Morality is a job for priests,” the New York Times reports him as saying. “Not P.R. men.”

Bell Pottinger’s client list reflected Bell’s missing moral compass. Clients included Alexander Lukashenko, dictator of Belarus since 1994; the Pinochet Foundation; Syria’s first lady, Asma al-Assad; repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain; Thai businessman and politician Thaksin Shinawatra; Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky; FW de Klerk, when he ran against Nelson Mandela for president; Rebekah Brooks when she left News International; and Oscar Pistorius after he was charged with murder.

Bell Pottinger was paid more than US$500 million by the U.S. government to make propaganda videos in Iraq. These included fake news segments made to look like Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos.

The company melted down after a scandal in South Africa. Bell Pottinger was hired by the Guptas, three brothers from India, who had built an enormous corporate empire in South Africa. The Guptas were so close to then-President Jacob Zuma that critics called it the “Zupta regime”.

The company was hired to support grass-roots political activism aimed at helping poor blacks. Instead, Bell Pottinger stirred up racial tensions through a campaign based on Twitter bots, websites and Gupta-owned media channels promoting a toxic story about “white monopoly capital” and the “economic apartheid” in South Africa.

In the fallout, Bell resigned from his company, Bell Pottinger lost clients by the boatload, and the company closed down in September 2017.

Nicholas Chance

In the mid-1960s Nicholas Chance was a soldier with the Royal Green Jackets in Borneo and Malaysia. Following that, he worked for the Financial Times. He worked as an investment broker. He was Chief Executive of the International Energy Division at the Hargreaves Group. In 1987, he became Chief Executive of Third Mile Investment PLC.

In September 1997, Chance was appointed private secretary to Prince Michael of Kent, who happens to be the Brazzaville Foundation’s Royal Patron. In 2012, it emerged that Prince Michael had received payments totalling £320,000 from Russian oligarch (and one of Bell Pottinger’s clients) Boris Berezovsky.

Sir David Richmond

From 1976 to 2007 Richmond worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He then spent seven years working for Bell Pottinger.




Under the High Patronage of their Excellencies the Presidents of the two Congos, Denis SASSOU NGUESSO et JOSEPH KABILA, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo co-organized, the 3 rd Conference of the Partners of the Global Peatlands Initiative with the support of UN Environment and the Global Peatlands Initiative partners,

We, Ministers in charge of the Environment Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, covered by vast expanses of peatlands, gathered in Brazzaville on March 22, 2018 with UN Environment support, on the occasion of the Third Meeting of the Global Peatland Initiative Partners, to discuss challenges and solutions related to Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Management of peatlands in the central basin.

Recalling the Marrakech meeting in 2016 on the sidelines of COP22, where the Global Peatlands Initiative was launched, during which the Ministers adopted the vision for 2050 and the strategic objectives 2020 and 2030.

Recalling the conclusions of the first meeting and the second meeting on the Global Peatland Initiative held in September 2016 in Rome at the head quarters of FAO and in May 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia, respectively.

Recalling the role of the Congo Basin forests, the second largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon, in regulating the global climate, including its very high carbon sequestration capacity in its flooded areas namely peatlands

Recalling that peatlands are natural treasures of great importance for the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for the planet, by their valuable carbon stock which is an essential source for the climate, and by their unique and exceptional biodiversity and by the provision of ecosystem services that ensure livelihoods for local people, making them relevant to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals on health, water and land life, but also relevant to the achievement of Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Recalling that the peatlands found in the central Congolese basin, in an almost intact state, are of great interest not only for its unique and exceptional biodiversity, for their contribution to mitigation and adaptation to climate change through carbon storage, biodiversity conservation, regulation of water regime and quality,

Recalling the Memorandum of Understanding and the Plan of Action on the Sustainable Management of the Binational of the Two Lakes, Lake Tele and Lake Tumba, signed between the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in July 2017 in Kinshasa.

Recalling also the potential of the Lac Tumba Lac Télé zone in economy of protected areas adopted by the Heads of State of the Economic Community of Central African. States (ECCAS), on 25 May 2015 in NDjamena, including ecotourism and scientific tourism as well as other non-environment services intended to develop the economy of the riparian territories with a view to a real improvement in the living conditions of the neighboring populations.

We reaffirm our commitment to preserve the right of local communities to use natural resources in areas covered by peatlands, to maintain their traditional uses and to implement the principle of free, prior and informed consent in engaging in activities with local people, to help them use peatlands sustainably and to develop methods other than destructive practices.

We also reaffirm our commitment to continue to make the fight against climate change and the promotion of inclusive and sustainable development a high priority for compliance with the Ramsar Convention, the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations and the 2063 Agenda of the African Union and the Marrakech Declaration of African Heads of State and Government of Action for Co-Emergence of the Continent.

    We are committed to :

  1. Implement coordination and cooperation between different government sectors to protect the benefits provided by peatland ecosystems. To this end, the countries are committed to set up multi sectoral and multidisciplinary national frameworks to manage peatlands in the Central Basin of the Congo Basin;
  2. Establish and finalize land-use plans that promote the conservation and protection of peatlands and prevent their drainage and degradation. To this end, the two countries announce the establishment of a transboundary collaboration agreement to preserve the future of these valuable natural peatlands and their ecosystem services, with the participation of communities and local stakeholders.
  3. Work for the development and promotion of a land use model that favors the sustainable management of peatlands and economic development of local communities in the Lac Télé/Lac Tumba landscape.
  4. Work to transform the growth of the economies of Lac Télé/Tumba landscape to ensure inclusive and sustainable development in order to eradicate extreme poverty, and improve the well-being of the local populations by leveraging human, financial, technical, technological opportunities as well as opportunities provided by the green economy and the blue economy;
  5. Take immediate action with the support of the African Development Bank to increase sustainable investments compatible with conservation and sustainable development in the Lac Télé/Lac Tumba zones in order to encourage and attract private sector partnerships;
  6. Encourage investment plans Climate of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, projects and programs of all stakeholders to reconcile the fight against climate change and inclusive and sustainable economic development;
  7. Take immediate action to develop ambitious diplomacy and marketing of Congo Basin peatlands with a view to publicizing the socio-economic and ecological challenges of these particular peatlands in Africa and beyond;
  8. Work to accelerate the operationalization of the Blue Fund for the Congo Basin and the Green Economy Fund in Central Africa to finance socio-economic and ecological programs and projects in Lake Tele/Lake Tumba landscape with support from the Central African Development Bank (BAD) and the Central African Development Bank (BDEAC);
  9. Promote best management practices in peatland areas covered by economic activities, so that they are managed in a sustainable and climate-smart way, that is, in such a way that are neither drained, nor degraded.
  10. Act without delay to set up an Observatory for the collection, monitoring and dissemination of multi-purpose data by decision-makers, scientists, journalists and all other stakeholders interested in Congo Basin peatland issues challenges
  11. Work without delay on the creation of a Center of Excellence for Training, Research and Innovation as well as on training centers for technical experts with the aim of developing a pool of competent and quality human resources to steer and promote green growth in Lac Télé/Lac Tumba peatlands.

We call on the international community, including the UN Environment, through the Global Peatlands Initiative, to bring their support to both Congo’s in the process of sustainable peatland management.

We call on the international community to fund research programs to better understand the state and extent of peatlands, to better understand the contribution of peatlands to greenhouse gas fluxes; to better appreciate the costs and benefits of restoring peatland ecosystem services as well as the opportunity costs of a wait and see or business as usual approach.

We solemnly call on donors to urgently provide adequate resources for the countries concerned for a solid climate action – for the benefit of the populations and the planet, as indicated by the general theme of the 3rd meeting of the partners of the Global Peatlands Initiative.

We also call upon the technical and financial partners to support the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the process of facilitating the emergence of an innovative market, where private investors, motivated by corporate social responsibility of their companies, are assured that their investments in peatland conservation and restoration will produce positive and verifiable climate benefits, verifiable by an independent validation and certification body.

We call on the international community to review existing international mechanisms, such as the National Determined Contributions, the REDD+ program and nationally appropriate mitigation measures adopted under the UNFCCC, for the integration of sustainable peatlands management into relevant policies.

Finally, we call on all major donors to support the Blue Basin Funds and the Green Economy Fund in Central Africa to finance national and sub-regional initiatives to address climate change challenges, economic development, private sector development, job creation and livelihood improvement.

Finally, we congratulate the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of Peru for their offer to share knowledge, management tools and lessons learned in peatland management, and look forward to an intensification of South-South Cooperation.

Son Excellence, Mme Arlette SOUDAN-NONAULT, Ministre du Tourisme et Environnement de la République du Congo

Son Excellence, Dr. Amy AMBATOBE NYONGOLO, Ministre de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable de la République Démocratique du Congo

Son Excellence, Siti NURBAYA, Ministre de l’Environnement et des forets de la République d’Indonésie

Brazzaville, 22 March 2018

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  1. This article has left me devastated, as I have been signing petitions all evening to save species and forests all over the world, and then this one comes aboard! Is there no hope for the Congo with all its brutality and bloodshed, along with gross exploitation of its resources by unscrupulous companies, individuals and countries, as if there will be no tomorrow, when the whole planet will be in such a state, there will be no future for the human race, and most species will have been reduced to genetic dead ends. It is obvious that greater economic gain for individuals and countries, is not accompanied by increased ethical behaviour, as seen by how that wealth is invested or spent, with Elephants and Rhinos read to give testimony to the rich Chinese and others who want to outlay large sums for their ivory and horns, when millions starve and thirst. The Dark Heart of Africa is going to become the Great Empty Space of Africa, and its peoples living in despair.

  2. A Reuters article dated 6 April 2018 reports on Milan prosecutors searching Eni’s offices as part of a Congo corruption investigation:

    Eni said last year it was being investigated by Milan prosecutors for international corruption in the Congo Republic.

    The case revolves around agreements signed by Eni’s Congo subsidiary with the country’s Ministry of Hydrocarbons between 2013 and 2015 covering exploration and production permits and the choice of partners in the African country.

    The sources said prosecutors were investigating whether certain contracts hid bribes to Congo public officials.

    “Eni has absolutely nothing to do with alleged wrongdoing regarding operations that are the object of investigation,” the Eni spokesman said.