By Chris Lang
In November 2021, the Central African Forest Initiative signed a new Letter of Intent with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the period 2021 to 2030. The US$500 million deal, signed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and DRC President Félix Tshisekedi, is a sham that will do nothing to prevent deforestation. On the contrary, a statement issued by Johnson and Tshisekedi announces that DRC will be allowed to destroy “a maximum of 667,867 hectares” of forest every year.
That’s a significant increase in deforestation. In 2020, according to Global Forest Watch 490,000 hectares of primary forest were destroyed in DRC.
Under the new agreement with CAFI, DRC will be allowed to hand over vast areas of forest to the logging industry. In September 2021, more than 40 environmental and human rights organisations wrote to EU governments demanding that any new agreement between CAFI and DRC must be conditional on a binding commitment to extend the logging moratorium that has been in place since 2002.
Instead, the Letter of Intent states that,
The decree formalising the lifting of the moratorium will be adopted only after the realisation, on the base of a consultative process, of the geographical programming  of future allocations in compliance with the Presidential Decree No. 05/116 of October 24, 2005], funded entirely by CAFI by the end of 2022.
 Targeted land-use planning at the relevant national and/or provincial level identifying priority areas for forest sector development based on ecological, geographic, economic, social and financial criteria and taking into account the climate change. Financial support for this process will be provided entirely by CAFI.
A few months after the CAFI deal was signed, DRC missed its first deadline. Under the Letter of Intent, before the end of 2021 DRC was supposed to publish an Audit Report into the legality and tax compliance of logging companies in the country, carried out by the General Inspectorate of Finances.
In February 2022, Serge Sabin Ngwato, Greenpeace Africa forest campaigner, told Sky News that,
“After pompous statements, glitzy public relations and hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been pledged to the DRC, not only are we facing a deal that allows for deforestation to expand by the end of 2022, but even this botched agreement is not being respected.”
The audit, which was commissioned in June 2020, was finally released on 1 April 2022, three months after the deadline in the Letter of Intent.
“A circus of illegalities”
After the audit was published, Irène Wabiwa of Greenpeace Africa told The Guardian,
“The audit reveals a circus of illegalities, corruption and crimes against the environment. Greenpeace Africa demands a legal investigation of all officials responsible for plundering the rainforest, and, where necessary, the lifting of their parliamentary immunity.”
The audit found that 18 logging concessions had been awarded in breach of the 2002 moratorium. Five of the concessions involved a company called Maniema Union 2, which was owned by the family of General Gabriel Amisi Kumba. Amisi has been accused of illegal mining and arms trading. He was sanctioned in 2016 by the EU and the US for overseeing “the disproportionate use of force and violent repression” of pro-democracy protesters in Kinshasa.
The Amisi family sold the company Maniema Union 2 and the logging concessions to Lei Hua Zhang, a Chinese timber tycoon. The General Inspectorate of Finances audit states that US$3.1 million of area tax for these concessions has not been paid.
Successive environment ministers have profited personally from issuing logging concessions. The auditors could only track down a “very limited” number of companies, with most addresses being “inaccurate or simply non-existent”. The Audit recommends upholding the ban on new logging concessions.
Joe Eisen, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK, commented,
“How the DRC government and its international partners respond to this damning report will be a litmus test of the credibility of the CAFI agreement that was hailed as a landmark deal for Congolese forests and the climate just five months ago in Glasgow. They must now act swiftly to review and cancel all illegal concessions, hold perpetrators accountable, extend the moratorium indefinitely and programme a far higher level of support to frontline forest communities.”
Rainforest Foundation UK and Greenpeace Africa have written to CAFI and the Inter-donor Group for the Environment in DRC, demanding once again that the logging moratorium be extended indefinitely.