Current forestry practices, heritage of colonial rule

A shameful legacy

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Sandra MBANEFO OBIAGO
Aerial view of pockets of forest which have been heavily logged. Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
© WWF-Canon / Sandra MBANEFO OBIAGO
The current logging practices in the forests of the Congo River Basin are partly the heritage of colonial rule. How did this happen?

Under colonial rule, all forested land in the Congo Basin region was the property of the state. Even after independence, which most of the countries in the region had achieved in the 1960s, the situation persisted.

Segregation of power and control

At that time, forest exploitation was still largely for domestic use. The central control of land mostly benefited urban Africans and Europeans, who were entitled to formal access to land and resources through commercial licenses, permits and quotas.

Rural Africans, however, only had the legal right to use the forests – not to own them - and only as long as these forests had no commercial value.1

Governments and logging companies get cosy

From the 1970s onward, logging activities in the region increased to feed market demands.

As forestry profits soared, the industry developed close ties to the power structures in the countries of the Congo River Basin and in the former colonial powers. In the late 1970s and 80s, logging began to spread into remote, and relatively unexploited, parts of the basin.

Rise of forest crime and impunity

This occurred at a time of general decline of infrastructure and government services in Central Africa. As a result, forest ministries loosened their institutional grip, and commercial logging companies became less inclined to make long-term commitments. Various forms of forest crime and associated corruption began to emerge.2

Today, the leading role of foreign timber interests in the Congo Basin forests means outsiders still have a huge influence on the fate of the forests in the region.3


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1 CARPE. 2001. Central Africa and Forest Governance Counter-Balancing the Powers of Public and Private Sectors. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #11.
2 Sayer J., Ndikumagenge C., Campbell B., Usongo L. 2005. Wildlife, loggers and livelihoods in the Congo River Basin. In Forests in Landscapes: Ecosystem approaches to sustainability. Sayer J, Maginnis S. (Ed.). 2005.The Earthscan Forest Library.
3 CARPE. 2001. Central Africa and Forest Governance Counter-Balancing the Powers of Public and Private Sectors. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #11.

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