The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) stunned the world at COP 21 in Paris last year by submitting its contribution to a planned global climate deal. Recorded as the world’s poorest country by the International Monetary Fund, it pledged to preserve its current forest cover of 152 million hectares and to plant an additional three million hectares by 2025. This puts the country in the extraordinary position of being a country that absorbs more CO2 than it produces.
But the DRC’s podium is being undermined.
In the province of Katanga, in the south-east of the DRC, illegal logging is underway with the complicit agreement of “certain high Congolese officials”, and the whistle blower is none other than the Catholic church.
Monseigneur Fulgence Muteba, Bishop of Kilwa-Kasenga in Katanga, describes the destruction of mukula (Pterocarpus chrysothrix) forests by Chinese nationals. “At Sapwe (150km from Lubumbashi); on the road between Minga-Kasomeo and Katendeji (378 km from Lubumbashi); on the road between Kilwa and Dikulushi as it passes Bowa (180km from Lubumbashi); and on the road Kasomeno-Lupembe and Chez Aaron (180km from Lubumbashi) there are piles of mukula logs awaiting transport,” he says.
Mukula’s rosewood, which is rare and slow growing, is in high demand around the world.
“This pillage is the work of the Chinese who are here officially to rehabilitate some of our existing roads. They employ local villagers, who are desperate for work, to cut the forest,” Muteba explains. “The logs are moved at night in large trucks to a well-known depot in Lubumbashi before they are smuggled into Tanzania via Zambia en route to China.”
Apart from the few villagers who are temporarily employed, no one gains as there is no official oversight and, therefore, no return to the public fiscus. No effort is made to rehabilitate the devastated land.
Monseigneur Muteba’s concern is manifold. The logging is illegal, it doesn’t benefit the country’s poor, and unchecked it will impact climate change, which in turn is detrimental to the impoverished people of the DRC.
“In the context of the Encyclical Laudato I am launching a loud call to the public authorities and the population of the territories of the Kasenga and Pweto and to well-meaning people to take measures to stop the spoiling of our heritage and protect our precious forests and safeguard the ecosystem for the common good and particularly for mitigating climate change,” says Muteba.