Recent research from NGO Global Witness has revealed that elites close to power have been able to flout environmental regulations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Home to the world’s second-largest forest reserves, DRC is rapidly losing its primary rainforests. Notably, notorious Congolese general Amisi Kumba illegally traded timber licences in the run-up to disputed presidential elections at the end of 2018.
Amisi, an influential ally to former President Kabila, has been accused by the UN of involvement in illegal mining and arms-trading, and was sanctioned in 2016 by the EU and the US for his role in the bloody suppression of citizens protesting election delays in Kinshasa. In June 2018, Amisi’s family company acquired five logging concessions covering hundreds of thousands of hectares of tropical forests in the provinces of Equateur and Tshuapa, in violation of the DRC’s longstanding moratorium on the allocation of industrial logging concessions (FW 214).
Shortly after the dubious transaction, Amisi sold the concessions to Wan Peng International, a major Chinese timber, shipping and cement company with opaque operations in the DRC, Republic of Congo and Asia.
This forest trade deal raises major questions as it is possible it funded the elections and may have affected the outcome.
The EU, which is negotiating a VPA with the DRC and continuing to import DRC timber, cannot turn a blind eye to illegalities in the forest sector. The EU and CAFI must urgently raise the issue of the lack of governance in the forest sector with the new Congolese government, and insist that the moratorium remain in place and is respected. Donor programs should be put on hold until these issues are investigated and concessions allocated in breach of the moratorium are cancelled.
EU importers also need to step up vigilance, and the EU should assist the Competent Authorities to enforce the EU Timber Regulation and carry out due diligence checks for timber coming from the DRC. One final option for EU action could be to raise concerns about illicit forest trade deals through the Bilateral Coordination Mechanism on Forest Law with China.