Kinshasa, 20 August 2021 – While threatening to lift the 2002 moratorium on new forest concessions – an attempt to raise the stakes in the run-up to the COP26 in November – Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister Eve Bazaiba continues to ignore the illegal allocation of two million hectares of so-called “conservation” concessions by her predecessor, Claude Nyamugabo.

Following the concessioning off of a zone half the size of Belgium to Tradelink, the trading company of a Belgian mining entrepreneur, we’re now confronted by the publication in the Official Gazette of three concession contracts in Maï-Ndombe and Equateur provinces awarded to a complete unknown: Michael Buhendwa Muhewa, owner of “Etablissement Buhendwa” in Goma.

In a press release, the Conseil pour la Défense Environnementale par la Légalité et la Traçabilité (CODELT) notes that Mr. Buhendwa has “no technical qualifications to carry out a conservation project.”

The nearly 600,000 ha of concessions that Claude Nyamugabo awarded him in October 2020 exceed the legal maximum area – just as Tradelink’s do.

How did the Buhendwa contracts finally find their way into the Official Gazette? Was this the doing of the Nyamugabo ministry or Bazaiba’s, as if there was absolutely nothing wrong with them ?

And how to explain the numbering of these contracts from #62 to 64? How many “conservation” concessions, in all, did Claude Nyamugabo award in 2020… or before, or since?

It’s only a matter of days now before the expiration of the legal deadline of the administrative complaint filed in June by CODELT and the Organisation Congolaise des Ecologistes et Amis de la Nature (OCEAN) demanding the cancellation of Tradelink’s gift of 1.4 million hectares.  Does Eve Bazaiba intend to meet this deadline?

Reacting to the  CODELT press release, Mr. Nyamugabo exclaimed: “For those who cry ‘illegal!’ signing an order for logging is bad, signing one for conservation is also bad. What do they really want?” A dose added to the sarcasm in the sale of Congolese forests. 

But one wonders, again: how did Tradelink and Buhendwa manage to convince the former minister that the hundreds of thousands of hectares they coveted were “for conservation”?

In both cases, what’s striking is the Deputy Prime Minister’s utter contempt for civil society. Her recent sovereignist rhetoric is laughable – and the prospects for transparent forest management and an end to impunity in this sector are fast receding.

Her comments on the decree legalizing the hunting of bonobos, gorillas and other protected species were pretty spine-chilling: “God did not give us animals just to look at.  They can also be used, but rationally […]. I’ll take a look and we’ll see what there is to keep in the decree, and we’ll keep it.  If that means repealing, completely rescinding the order, we will. If not, you’ll see.  All decisions made will be made in the interests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  And long live biodiversity!

Irene Wabiwa, head of the Greenpeace Africa forest campaign: “The Minister’s environmental poses are getting seriously tiresome, even if no one’s fooled by them.”

Greenpeace Africa asks the Deputy Prime Minister to cancel the “conservation concession” scams in Equateur, Mai-Ndombe, Tshuapa as well as in her own province of Tshopo…  And to use her authority to see that the scammers are finally prosecuted.

Contacts for interviews:

Raphaël Mavambu,
Media Consultant , Greenpeace Africa,
[email protected], +243810679437

Irène Wabiwa Betoko,
International project leader for the Congo Basin forest a.i., Greenpeace Africa,
[email protected], +243976756102 

Greenpeace Campaigner in the Democratic Republic of Congo. © Kevin McElvaney / Greenpeace Get Involved