The shenanigans surrounding the FODECO logging concession in Tshopo
FODECO logs for export
In 2015, the Chinese-owned logging company Forestière pour le développement du Congo (FODECO, Forest company for the development of the Congo) was granted a logging concession (n°003/15) in the territory of Basoko, located in Tshopo province in the DR Congo. In August 2016, the concession was cancelled at the instigation of then Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo. The reason? It violated the moratorium on new logging concessions pronounced in 2002, designed to end the widespread chaos in the logging sector. Curiously, in February 2018, the new Minister of the Environment, Amy Ambatobe, decided to restore these concessions, despite their obvious illegality.
Towards the end of 2018, FODECO signed a so-called social clause with the populations affected by the exploitation, as stipulated by the Forest Code and its implementation measures. However, the company did not draw up an inventory, that is, it did not identify the total number of trees of each species to be felled and their location. Moreover, it failed to develop a management and land use plan for its concession. However, the inventory is essential to ensure an equitable distribution of development funds for local communities and of social investments, such as the construction of roads and schools.
Taking advantage of local authorities’ limited knowledge of forestry laws, FODECO convinced the three affected groupements (local government entities), namely, Mohonge, Onduka-Opandu and Winawina, to sign a collective clause instead of a single clause per groupement as required by law. In the absence of an inventory, there was no solid basis for determining the total budget for social investments, which hence was an arbitrary amount. There was no realistic budgeting for any of the social investments either: for the construction of a bridge near Mokeke, for instance, a lump sum was set aside without its dimensions and the technical aspects of its construction having been studied.
Despite the absence of an inventory and management plan, the company mysteriously managed to obtain a logging permit. During 2018, it began logging operations, without paying the 10% pre-financing for the realization of the social clause as required by law. It soon exceeded the limits of its concession by building a port and a base in the village of Koki in the Bomenge sector. In addition, it began logging in the groupement of Gbakulu, which is very rich in Afromosia, without having signed a social clause with that groupement.
Ravaging the forest
The industrial exploitation carried out by FODECO is marked by the felling of wood without respecting the norms and without any hope of reforestation, according to the inhabitants of the chiefdom of Yaliwasa.
A local leader interviewed in 2019 testifies: "they exploit with too many incidents, transgressions, irregularities....they have exceeded even their logging permit. They are already in the third Assiette annuelle de coupe (AAC, the annual area authorized for cutting)".
Other violations of forestry laws are also observed: according to a local dignitary of the village of Yaboloko, "for logging to be sustainable, a tree must be cut at one meter from the ground. But they cut it down to the ground. When they cube, they take the heartwood circumference while rejecting the sapwood. But then they evacuate the whole log”. He goes on to explain that they sometimes cube only a part of the logs harvested, which makes it difficult to determine the volume taken and, consequently, the amount of money that should go into the local development fund.
In its avidity to cut the highest value species as quickly as possible, the company even does not respect the ban on felling seed trees or on logging within 50 meters of water. In addition, it logs near people's agricultural fields, which is also prohibited. According to an agent of the agricultural office of the Yawinawina chiefdom, the fields of several farmers have been devastated.
Another problem is the road that the company built without any environmental impact assessment. This road is not well constructed but built in an improvised manner. Logs placed as foundation obstruct the passage of water, which has become stagnant and full of scum. "People are at risk of getting sick from this dirty water. We have asked for the road to be opened so that the water can flow as before, but nothing has been done," says a dignitary from Yaboloko.
In addition to the water problem, several residents have noticed the disappearance of animal and plant species, including caterpillars, because of the noise of the machines in the forest and the felling of caterpillar trees.
Logging road constructed by FODECO
The population resists
The irregularities surrounding the social clause and the harmful impact on the forest have provoked the anger of the population. Faced with these problems, local leaders are working hard to rectify the situation with the support of NGOs and local associations from Basoko, so far with limited results. In 2019, the NGO Union pour le développement de Basoko (UDEBA, Union for the Development of Basoko) sent a memorandum to the governor of Tshopo province and organized several meetings with him. At the end of one of these meetings in late June, the governor ordered the suspension of FODECO's operations, but did not sign any order. The suspension therefore remained informal and was lifted after only 20 days.
In November 2019, after another fact-finding mission, the then Minister of the Environment, Claude Nyamugabo, once more suspended FODECO's operations and the transport of its products. However, on the ground, logging activity quickly resumed, without the main problems having been solved.
Faced with FODECO’s ongoing failure to respect the law and its commitments, a new organization, la Minorité silencieuse (the Silent Minority), which brings together the intelligentsia of Basoko, is born. This structure calls for judicial and direct action against the company, while engaging in advocacy and lobbying the authorities and elected officials.
Following pressure from the Silent Minority, a delegation from the Ministry of the Environment conducted yet another field mission in March 2020, followed by a delegation from the provincial assembly in June and another provincial delegation in October. None of these missions brought any results. In the meantime, timber continues to be extracted, without any of the promised social investments being realized.
In April 2021, Ève Bazaiba Masudi, a native of Basoko who was already informed of the FODECO dossier, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment in the government of Sama Lukonde. At the beginning of her mandate, she promised to clean up the forestry sector, which gave a glimmer of hope. However, her plan to lift the moratorium on new logging concessions, announced in July, is causing concern, despite her insistence that it will be replaced with even stricter measures.
While any progress on the FODECO case is blocked politically, on the ground, people are showing their anger towards the company through direct action. In May 2019, they blocked the road to stop the evacuation of logs. According to one resident: "This time, we barricaded the road here because it [exploitation by FODECO] was plunder. When we saw the vehicle with the logs, we blocked it.” Other actions followed in October 2020, leading to altercations. A local leader testifies: "We, the local community, would like this company to leave today”.
Direct resistance is dangerous. Those identified as "troublemakers" are often targeted by the authorities. The Chinese working for FODECO and their Congolese collaborators have many contacts with the authorities at all levels, from the village to Kinshasa. These contacts are most likely facilitated by so-called "gifts" and "envelopes”.
In return, the authorities help silence dissenting voices, for example, through broken promises or evasive manoeuvres, such as more field missions or more meetings that do not yield any results. They also orchestrate subtle intimidation or heavy-handed responses by the security services.
Basoko is not for sale
Despite these threats, local leaders and their allies in civil society but also among media professionals reporting on illegal logging, are not ready to give up the struggle.
As one of them explains, he cannot accept that the company exploits the forest while the population, already very poor, gets nothing. "Imagine, we produce wood at home, but people don't even have a wooden bed. They don't even have windows or doors from wood. They send all the wood to Europe or to China. This is unacceptable.”
Others are concerned about future generations. "They log brutally without reforestation, so there will be nothing left of the forest for our children," laments a member of civil society.
To say "no" to this plunder, these defenders of the forest have adopted the slogan "Basoko is not for sale" thus emphasizing that this space should not be commercialized to the detriment of the population. A female leader of the Silent Minority expresses herself as follows: "The people will always win. Basoko is not for sale and will never be sold”.
This blogpost is part of a series on socio-environmental struggles in North-eastern DR Congo
Judith Verweijen is a Lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on the interplay of violence, conflicts around natural resources and social mobilisation. She focuses on eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she has regularly conducted fieldwork since 2010.
Augustin Tsheza is an investigative journalist, researcher and climate change communications expert. He conducts research on community development, security and conflicts related to forests and the exploitation of natural resources in north-eastern DRC