in Republic of Congo

Crocodile skin shoes, corruption, oil exploration, deforestation, and the Republic of Congo

Last week, REDD-Monitor wrote about the US$65 million that the Central African Forest Initiative is giving to the Republic of Congo, supposedly to stop deforestation.

Just over one week after the deal was signed, the republic of San Marino confiscated €19 million that the Republic of Congo’s corrupt dictator, Denis Sassou Nguesso, had allegedly squirrelled away in its banks.

€114,000 crocodile skin shoes

Between 2006 and 2011 Sassou Nguesso and his entourage deposited a total of €69 million in 36 bank accounts in San Marino.

The Telegraph reports that,

The money funded a lavish lifestyle for the president and his circle, with €114,000 spent on crocodile skin shoes, €2.3 million splurged on watches, and hotel stays in Paris that cost up to €11,000 a night.

Meanwhile, a recent report by Global Witness reveals how Sassou Nguesso’s son appears to have stolen more than US$50 million from the Congolese treasury. The fraud involved setting up a complex and opaque corporate structure in six European countries, the British Virgin Islands, and the US state of Delaware.

The Republic of Congo earns huge revenues from the oil sector. The country is sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest oil producer. Despite the oil money, one third of the country’s population lives below the poverty line.

The country has debts of over US$2.5 billion with China, and has struggled to repay its debts since oil prices dropped in 2014. In July 2019, the International Monetary Fund approved a US$449 million bailout of the country.

Global Witness oil researcher Natasha White told Reuters,

“The IMF’s decision to grant Congo another bailout is a concerning case of institutional amnesia and undermines the Fund’s renewed anti-corruption drive.”

The same could be said about CAFI’s Letter of Intent.

Oil, peatlands, forests and CAFI’s Letter of Intent

Predictably, the word “corruption” is not mentioned in the Letter of Intent with CAFI.

Mining, oil, and agro-industry is mentioned in the Letter of Intent. But the agreement with CAFI makes no meaningful attempt to stop the Republic of Congo from continuing to explore and drill oil in its primary forests and peatlands.

Instead, as Greenpeace notes in a press release, the Letter of Intent weakly asks for the “minimization of direct and indirect impacts” of oil drilling on “carbon stocks and forest and peatlands biodiversity”.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Greenpeace Africa Senior Forest Manager, says that, “Greenpeace Africa firmly denounces this agreement – peatlands must be a no-go zone for all industrial activity.”

The Letter of Intent does include a commitment “to not convert and to sustainably manage High Carbon Stock (HCS) and High Conservation Value (HVC) forests”.

But there’s a footnote. And it provides a loophole big enough for any number of oil rigs:

On an exceptional basis, HCS and HCV forest conversion may occur in case of the development of infrastructure and extractive industries outside the agro-industrial sector, which are deemed of vital interest to the national economy, ensuring that these activities satisfy the principles of carbon and/or biodiversity compensation.

While the Letter of Intent explains that High Carbon Stock and High Conservation Value forests will be “defined in consultation with all stakeholders”, it remains silent on who will decide whether allowing the oil industry to destroy forests and peatlands is “of vital interest to the national economy”.

Obviously, it will be President Sassou Nguesso and his cohorts. And given his record so far, it’s clear what his answer will be.

What is the rate of deforestation in the Republic of Congo?

The Letter of Intent includes a target of reducing conversion of forests to 20,000 hectares:

A long-term cap on the carbon-neutral conversion of non-HCS/HCV forests to other uses (and, exceptionally, HCS/HCV forests as noted in Point 1.a.iv) is established, on the basis of a temporary annual conversion cap of 20,000 ha as of 2019.

Compared to the figures for tree cover loss in the Republic of Congo from Global Forest Watch, a reduction to 20,000 hectares forest conversion per year would be a dramatic improvement. The average tree cover loss over the past three years is 80,200 hectares.

On the same day that the Letter of Intent was signed, Jeune Afrique published an interview with Henri Djombo, Minister of State for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Congo. Asked whether he was worried about the forests, Djombo replied,

Today, our rate of deforestation is 0.08%, which corresponds to 16 000 ha / year on 23 million ha of forests.

The self-reported average yearly figure given in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 for deforestation in the Republic of Congo from 2010 to 2015 is 15,400 hectares (page 10).

And in the Republic of Congo’s Forest Emissions Reference Level report submitted to the UNFCCC gives a deforestation rate of 12,000 hectare per year (page 11).

If any of these three figures are correct, the Letter of Intent is proposing an increase in deforestation.

PHOTO Credit: Peatland oil blocks in the Republic of Congo, Greenpeace. The Ngoki oil block is highlighted – exploration started there earlier this year. Oil blocks already allocated are coloured grey. Oil blocks not yet allocated are pink.

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