Unlikely hero released from jail

Feature story - 12 August, 2002
Joseph Melloh has spent the last three months in a Congolese jail, not for his former career as a professional poacher, but for campaigning against the bushmeat trade and investigating the operations of one logging company in the Congo.

Joseph Melloh uncovering the bushmeat trade in Central Africa

Joseph Melloh used to be a professional poacher. But several years ago he not only turned his back on poaching, Joseph became an ardent campaigner against the bushmeat trade. He has become a leader in uncovering the illegal bushmeat trade in Central Africa guiding journalists from around the world to the story of the ongoing slaughter of wildlife.

Three months ago Joseph set out from his home in Cameroon for the rainforests in Congo and the forestry concession of a Swiss-German logging company Congolaise Industrielle du Bois (CIB). His investigation of the CIB concessions were aimed at forest law enforcement in the Congo, but it was the law that turned on him.

Joseph has been in a Congolese prison since May for an unfounded charge of 'jeopardising the external security of Congo'. Joseph was picked up by the police for conducting interviews with residents of Pokola and for filming the CIB forestry operations.

Joseph was released today after a judge in Brazzaville reduced the charge and sentenced Joseph to 45 days in jail, which he has already served.

Joseph's release is a victory for conservationists working in Africa to protect the last areas of rainforest and animals that live in the forest, but his case clearly highlights the current problems that exist globally around monitoring the activities of logging companies in the field.

Corporate forest crime costs forest nations several million US dollars each year, yet most of these nations have no formal framework or the institutional capacity for independent monitoring of the companies operating in their forests.

In just two weeks governments from around the world will meet in Africa for the Earth Summit on sustainable development. Yet the growth of the logging sector in Central Africa is a model of unsustainability. Africa has lost two thirds of its ancient forests in the last thirty years. It is a primarily foreign owned industrial timber industry that is responsible for destroying huge areas of ancient forest. These foreign-owned companies are rarely held accountable for their actions in Africa or at home where they import the illegal timber.

Governments will have the opportunity to commit to the development of a global framework on corporate responsibility, which should include transparency, independent verification and corporate liability at the Earth Summit.

Joseph was jailed for doing what all logging concessions should be required to permit. As in neighbouring Cameroon, we are now calling on the government of Congo to commit to formal independent monitoring of logging company activities. Without this kind of commitment, then current political processes to protect forests, like the World Bank's programme on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance, will mean very little.