The Esperanza has been on a month-long tour of the coast of Central Africa to raise awareness about the importance of the Congo Basin forest
POINTE NOIRE, Congo (Republic of the), November 13, 2017/ — Greenpeace’s (www.Greenpeace.com) ship, the Esperanza was barred on Tuesday from berthing at the port of Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo. For two days, the ship had anchored in Congolese waters. But port and government officials in Pointe Noire refused her to berth, claiming no prior knowledge about the ship’s arrival and planned activities in Congolese territory. A claim rebuked by Greenpeace Africa and its local partners which had filed all necessary documents for the ship to berth in Congo.
The Esperanza has been on a month-long tour of the coast of Central Africa to raise awareness about the importance of the Congo Basin forest. With a name tag of “Give the Congo Basin forest a chance,” the ship has toured Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) urging environmental stakeholders to safeguard and sustainably manage the Congo Basin forest which is the second largest rainforest in the world.
“We are deeply disappointed by the shrinking liberal space available to Congolese civil society organisations and their partners to have a frank exchange about environmental conservation,” said Victorine Che, Greenpeace Africa Forest Project Leader. “The refusal to allow our ship berth in the Republic of Congo will only spur us to continue our role as an environmental watchdog and deepen our collaborative efforts with local and indigenous communities whose livelihoods depend on the forest,” added Che.
The Congo Basin forest is the second largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon. The forest serves as a vast carbon sink which needs to be preserved. Scientists recently discovered the world’s most extensive tropical peatlands in the DRC and Republic of Congo swamps which are believed to store some 30 billion metric tonnes of carbon. Protecting these precious forest resources is only possible if both countries collaborate with civil societies and local communities. However, industrial agriculture and logging pose a massive threat to the peats.
“So many indigenous people who travelled from far and wide to participate in the ship tour activities in Pointe Noire are disappointed by the government’s action,” said Sylvie N. Banga, Coordinator of the Platform for Sustainable Forest Management; a grouping of national organisations in Congo. “We also envisioned discussing the forest revision text and its implementation to protect local and indigenous people,” added Banga.
The government of the Republic of Congo has been mobilising neighbouring countries under the Congo Basin Blue Fund initiative, to demonstrate leadership on Congo Basin forest issues. The same government prevented Greenpeace Africa, civil societies and local and indigenous communities from meeting to discuss forest conservation issues on board the Esperanza. These meetings had as main purpose to address issues related to forest governance in the country, and challenges associated to the rights of forest-dependent communities.
“This is contradictory. One country cannot, on one hand, want to go to COP 23 in Bonn with the objective of demonstrating leadership on environmental issues with the Congo Basin Blue Fund, and on the other, restrict the right of association of NGOs to raise awareness on the importance of Congo Basin forest,” said Christian Mounzeo, President of the national organisation: Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme (RPDH) in Pointe Noire. “It is regrettable for the Congolese NGOs and communities who showed up to welcome the Esperanza at Pointe Noire,” concluded Mounzeo.
The month-long ship tour of Central Africa by Esperanza started in prelude to the COP23 climate meeting in Bonn, Germany. People in the Congo Basin region used a wish tree on board the ship as a medium to amplify the concerns of local communities that depend on the forest nationally and internationally during the upcoming Bonn meeting. Local communities and indigenous people in Cameroon and DRC also used this tree to send their ecological wishes to world leaders scheduled to meet later this month in Germany.