Yaoundé, 20 February 2024 – Six weeks after signing a $50 million forest protection deal with donors, the Republic of Congo has given the green light to oil exploration in Conkouati-Douli National Park, the country’s most biodiverse protected area and home to fishing communities since at least the 13th century.

The 18 January decision by Congo’s Council of Ministers to award a permit to “China Oil Natural Gas Overseas Holding United” is a violation of the 1999 Presidential decree establishing Conkouati, which bans, inter alia, oil exploration and exploitation in the park and its buffer zone.

The decision represents yet another embarrassment for donors who pay lip service to protecting Congo’s forests and biodiversity, greenwashing the Sassou regime at European taxpayers’ expense.

It’s also a blow to their flawed “fortress conservation” ideology. “While the Global North continues to back armed ecoguards in Congo and elsewhere notorious for violence against local people on ancestral lands, its love of nature stops short of criticizing oil, logging and mining multinationals,” said Dr. Fabrice Lamfu Yengong, forest campaigner for the Congo Basin campaign at Greenpeace Africa.

Conkouati’s major institutional donors include the EU, the Agence française de développement (AFD) and the World Bank-administered Global Environment Facility. 

The EU is particularly compromised.  In September 2022, it signed an €800,000 financing agreement with the French NGO Noé to “insure the sustainable management” of the park’s flora and fauna.  A month later, at the Three Tropical Forest Basins Summit in Brazzaville, the EU Environment Commissioner signed a “EU-Congo Forest Partnership Roadmap” designed to “safeguard Congolese forests and support the development of sustainable value chains.”  The accord was “backed by an additional 25 million EUR,” the Commissioner tweeted.

In December, at COP28, the EU, France and a handful of private donors committed to a $50 million Congo “Partnership for forest ecosystems, nature and climate.”  A week later the Mining Minister handed out a 1,500 ha gold prospecting permit in Conkouati’s buffer zone to Chinese oil firm Zhi Guo Pétrole.

Norway, too, shares blame for the plunder of Conkouati.  In 2019, the Norwegian-led Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) signed a $65 million Letter of Intent with Congo.  It called merely for “minimizing the impact” of oil and mining on forests – without mentioning Norway’s interests in Congo’s oil sector.  Today, Norwegian firm Petronor is doing record business offshore.

Last September UNESCO added Congo’s Odzala-Kokoua National Park to its World Heritage List, mysteriously ignoring IUCN’s recommendation to defer doing so.  For years, the park (surrounded on all sides by logging concessions) has been the scene of atrocities committed by ecoguards under the management of the South African firm African Parks. On 7 February Congo’s Forest Minister announced that the President has ordered the construction of a new paved road in Odzala. That should make this militia’s work easier.

“When will donors learn that greenwashing kleptocracy only encourages it?” wonders and concludes Dr. Lamfu. 



Raphael Mavambu, Media and Communications, [email protected]