Sunday, August 4, 2013

African Leaders Close Ranks To Protect Threatened Forest and Maritime Resources in the Congo Basin and Gulf of Guinea

By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
YAOUNDE, Cameroon - African leaders who met at the Maritime security meeting in the Gulf of Guinea in Yaounde Cameroon recently, were not only worried at the increasing pirate attacks in the region costing lives and property but also the disturbing threats in one of the richest biodiversity and forest cover in the globe, the Congo Basin Forest, leaving countries in the region increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Meeting at the Summit of Heads of State and Government of ECCAS, ECOWAS, and the Gulf of Guinea Commission on June 24-25 in Yaounde, the leaders agreed to put in place a joint and results oriented security system to protect their common heritage.

 “The heads of state of West and Central Africa and members of the Gulf of Guinea Commission are determined to work together to give the much needed security in the rich Congo Basin Forest as well as the maritime expands in the Gulf of Guinea the attention it deserves.  I think this is a commendable move. 

Without peace and security in our coastline and rich forest expands in the region we cannot talk of 
development because these areas constitute the core of our natural resources. The people inland depend on our seas and habour to import goods and services, many jobs and employment opportunities especially for our youths will be at risk if maritime security is not guaranteed, our rich forest in the Congo Basin is fast disappearing and something has to be done to safeguard it,” acknowledged Aja Isatou Njie Saidy, vice president of the Gambia and the lone female president at the summit.

The new commitment and momentum as contained in an adopted Code of Conduct at the end of the two day summit, for the suppression and prevention of cross border criminal activities like maritime piracy along the coastline of the Gulf of Guinea, illegal forest exploitation and poaching of endangered animal species according to experts only translates the urgent need to and determination of African leaders to take control of their common problems.

 The code of conduct for example required all the heads of state to sign and reaffirm their adhesion to the fundamental texts of ECOWAS,[Economic Community of West African States], ECCAS [Economic Community of Central African States] and GGC [Gulf of Guinea Commission] relating to good governance, peace and security.The code is mandatory to all the member states of the three groupings.

 According to professor Joseph Ntuda Ebode, a geo-strategist and lecturer in the University of Yaounde 1 Cameroon who took part in the summit, the signing of the three documents, Code of conduct, memorandum of understanding and the Yaounde declaration, makes it legally binding to all members.

Environment experts have commended the move to strengthen security in the Congo Basin Forest that will involve cross-boundary surveyance of all illegal activities.

“Many African countries are striving for emergence or transition to economic growth and it is critical for governments, civil society organizations, corporate leaders and other stakeholder to protect and manage valuable albeit scarce resources emanating preponderantly from the environment. The creation of a common security network to protect the forest of the Congo Basin as well as maritime resources is a plausible action,” Emmanuel Nyamshi, coordinator of Bio-resource Centre for Development, a local NGO in Cameroon told Thomson Reuters at the Yaounde summit.

He cited the incident of 2012 where some 400 elephants were killed at the Bouba Djida Park in the North of Cameroon in less than a month by poachers coming from neighbouring countries like Niger, Chad in search of ivory tusk.

“These cross border criminal invasions and activities against the environment would have been checked and contained if there was a strong regional security force and coordinated surveyance system, Emannuel Nyamshi intimated. 

According to Emmanuel Nyamshi, the code of conduct involves constituting a more united security force with an effective information sharing system among national security structures. He said this will constitute a stronger force than what obtained in the past.
 In another resolution the member countries agreed to hence include in their national budgets special funding for forest guards operational activities as well as a common security fund at the head office in Yaounde.
No fixed amount to be contributed by member countries was stated but in the memorandum of understanding countries pledged to put a reasonable amount in their budget on security in the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo Basin Forest. There were 13 heads of state in attendance and 1 vice president who all signed the three documents. Cameroon’s Paul Biya,, Côte d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara, Benin’s Thomas Boni Yayi, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré, Congo’s Denis Sassou N’Guesso, Chad’s Idriss Deby Itno, Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba, Guinea Bissau’s Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou, Nigeria’s Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Sao Tomé-et-Principe’s Manuel Pinto Da Costa and Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe and the vice prsident of the Gambia Aja Isatou Njie- Saidy all answered present.
In a document on peace and environmental protection in Africa published by the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP in 2010, emphasis was laid on the importance of peace and security to any sustainable environmental programme in the continent.

“Peace is a prerequisite for human development and effective environmental management, both of which are
critical to Africa achieving national and regional goals, such as those of the New Partnership for Africa’s
Development (NEPAD) and its environmental action plan (NEPAD-EAP), as well as globally agreed objectives, including those of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which focuses on promoting economic development with a view to eradicating
poverty and placing countries – individually and collectively – on a path of sustainable growth and development, recognizes the importance of peace,” the document stated. []

 Cameroons President Paul Biya at the close of the meeting saluted the creation of a common security force to hence ensure adequate protection of natural resources in the region with headquarters in Yaounde.
“Our natural resources have been constantly under threats and individual security efforts have not proved effective enough. It is our wish that the common security system comes to reinforce and reinvigorate existing structures for better results in the future, Paul Biya said.

According to Cameroon’s minister of environment, nature protection and sustainable development, Hele Pierre, existing continental or regional environment security processes, such as the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW)  that provide leadership on environment protection and freshwater security have not proven effective enough.

“AMCEN has been in existence since 1985, while AMCOW was launched in 2002.Both mobilize political and technical support to address diverse environmental issues, such as land degradation and desertification, chemicals management, access to safe water and sanitation, and integrated water resource management (IWRM) as well as the security of these resources,” the minister explained in an interview to the press on the sidelines of the summit.

According to a WWF Cameroon report, ensuring protection of the Congo Basin requires massive effort that reaches beyond political borders, especially when six countries have a direct stake. “As part of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, WWF collaborates with local governments and communities to sustainably manage the forests and protect wildlife. WWF supports the long term conservation plan of the Commission for Central African Forest[COMIFAC] as expressed by the Central African Heads of state during the 1999 and 2005 summits in Yaounde and Brazzavile respectively on the conservation and sustainable management of the Congo Basin Forests including trans-boundary areas"

The Congo Basin the report says, posses the most biologically diverse and complex forests on earth, the tropical rainforests, where rainfall is abundant and temperatures are always warm.  The forest which is the largest in the planet after the Amazon also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink—soaking up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns.

The Congo Basin spans across Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon who all signed the code of conduct, the Yaoundé declaration and the memorandum of understanding.

About 60 million people living in communities in the Congo basin depend on the rainforest for food, often bush meat, and income from selling timber. However, the forest is being cleared at a rapid rate because of global demand for minerals and wood according to  the Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor) an international NGO in Cameroon that protect forest resources in the Congo Basin.

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