Former president Thabo Mbeki’s assistant, Mukoni Ratshitanga has castigated South African journalists and think tanks for neglecting a recent report by the UK NGO Global Witness about the allegedly criminal complicity of French, Chinese and Lebanese logging companies in fuelling the continuing and very ugly war in the Central African Republic (CAR).
One may observe, in passing, that Mbeki and his people are always ultra-vigilant in sniffing out any whiff that foreigners – and particularly Europeans – are behind Africa’s wars and other disasters.
But, moving right on, Ratshitanga is nonetheless right to complain – in an article in the Sunday Times – that the report, “Blood Timber: How Europe helped fund war in the Central African Republic” deserves much greater attention. Not least because 15 of our soldiers died in that country in March 2013 when they were overrun by Seleka rebels en route to the capital Bangui to topple president Francois Bozize.
The Global Witness report alleges that after that revolution, the foreign logging companies gave Seleka e3.4 million to grease the wheels of their illegal and lucrative logging operations. This money “helped bankroll a fierce campaign of violence against the country’s population”.
And when Seleka fell from power in 2014, the logging companies continued to fund their arch-enemies, the equally-nasty anti-Balaka rebels.
Global Witness focuses on the involvement of Europe, no doubt because it is itself a European organisation. But it also finds Europe particularly complicit.
Several European companies – particularly one each from Germany and France which it names – are trading with CAR logging companies.
And Europe is the destination for some 59% of CAR’s wood exports, meaning EU member states are failing in their legal obligations to keep illicit timber off European markets.
Furthermore, rather ludicrously, “France has paid millions of euros in development aid to CAR’s logging companies, based on the flawed assumption that CAR’s logging industry contributes to local development,” Global Witness says. It adds that the European Union is also pursuing a timber trade agreement with CAR that further benefits its logging industry.
“Global Witness is calling on EU member states to cut all trade and aid links to CAR’s logging industry, which continues to be a source of instability.
“The Central African Republic’s brutal conflict has been kept alive with the help of European money,” said Alexandra Pardal, campaign leader at Global Witness, demanding that the logging companies should be tried as accessories to Seleka and Anti-Balaka’s war crimes –including mass murder, kidnappings, rapes and the forced recruitment of child soldiers.
The report also demands that China suspends timber trade with CAR. The UN should also investigate the link between the timber industry and armed rebels.
As the report notes, CAR has been officially barred from exporting its diamonds, which were its main source of export revenue, because they were deemed “blood diamonds” – diamonds which finance armed rebellions– by the Kimberley Process, a concerted effort by governments, the diamond industry and civil society to keep blood diamonds off the international market.
So now blood timber has simply taken the place of blood diamonds in CAR’s economy.
What the report clearly suggests is that the Kimberley Process should be expanded to prevent any raw materials which are funding violence, from entering global markets.
And that, by the way, should include raw materials which fund any violence, not just that perpetrated by rebels.
The Kimberley Process – strongly supported by the South African government – has so far resisted efforts to ban the export of diamonds which fund government violence and suppression as the Marange diamonds of Zimbabwe were purported to have done.
Global Witness, which had inspired the creation of the Kimberley Process, pulled out of it precisely for that reason.
Ratshitanga may be right that the complicity of foreign business in extractive industries which fuel violence has been under-reported. But the complicity of governments – including African governments – is likewise being under-regulated.