Timber trafficking: The hidden history of looting

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Timber Trafficking

By Vincent Duhem

Posted on Monday, 11 July 2022 15:48

It is a universally acknowledged truth. The continent's forests continue to deteriorate year after year. There are many reasons for this rampant deforestation. Trafficking in precious wood (kevazingo, barwood, or rosewood) is one of them. Between 50% and 90% is said to be exported illegally.

This is part 1 of a 6-part series

Everywhere, the goodwill shown by authorities clashes with unfortunate realities; the greed of certain people and the difficulty of enforcing the law. Organised by criminal or even mafia-like networks, with the complicity of certain local actors, the trafficking supplies the Asian markets, which are particularly fond of these rare species.

The examples are so numerous that it is difficult to single out any one case. From Abidjan to Yaoundé, via Kinshasa and Dakar, we have investigated the plundering that threatens the continent.

Tensions, investigation, audit

At the end of January, rosewood trafficking was at the centre of tensions at the border between Gambia and Senegal. Two Senegalese soldiers lost their lives.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the minister of water and forests was dismissed in mid-April, six months after the launch of a vast investigation that led to the arrest of an Ivorian-Lebanese logger and forced Alassane Ouattara to commission an audit.

Finally, in Cameroon, a draft forestry law meant to curb the illegal trade in precious wood is gathering dust in President Paul Biya’s drawers.

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Also in this in Depth:

Côte d’Ivoire: The case that led to the fall of Alain-Richard Donwahi

Arrested in November 2021, Ibrahim Lakiss, an Ivorian-Lebanese logger, is suspected of having set up a racketeering system with the complicity of numerous regional officials and private operators. This is an investigation into a state scandal that cost the minister of Water and Forests, Alain-Richard Donwahi, his job.

Cameroon-Nigeria: from Yaoundé to Lagos, wood and money

For nearly 15 years, a new forestry law in Cameroon has been in the making to curb the illicit trade in precious woods. While waiting for its promulgation, the trafficking continues, all the way to the Nigerian border. We dive into the heart of a mafia with deep roots.

Senegal: when timber trafficking fuels rebellion in Casamance

Between Senegal and China, via The Gambia, the illegal trade in rosewood continues to flourish. An ecological disaster that generates colossal sums of money and finances an armed struggle.

Africa: The road to plundering precious woods

For more than 10 years, this illegal trafficking has been spreading in Africa from country to country as forests are decimated. We take a look at the figures through our infographics.

DRC: Tshisekedi and the impossible clean-up of the Congolese forests

The Congolese head of state has promised to bring order to the forestry sector, but given the anarchy that reigns there, does he have the means to reassure donors and potential investors?