TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH BY VIDAL & P. ERITHACUS
The Gabonese forest is part of the massive Congo Basin, which absorbs more carbon than the Amazon forest itself. In this report, Mbwelili describes the structures through which the Gabonese state and multinational corporations use the logics of green capitalism to develop extractivist practices in the forest, to the detriment of its inhabitants, whether Bantu or Pygmy.
When seen from the sky, this land is a great spread of green velvet. The tropical forest covers close to 88 percent of Gabon. Unlike other territories of the Congo Basin, you could say its ecosystem is doing well; rainfall is more acidic than before, as the higher-than-normal presence of ferns shows. It takes but a single step in the forest during the rainy season to observe its great health. The humid and suffocating heat, retained under the great tree canopy, enfolds us immediately. The tropical forest speaks ceaselessly; never completely calm, it is a vibrating body to be crossed without taking a seat. Sacred to the dead, vital to the nearby rural communities, useful to the industries. Gabon, which sits right on the equator, is half the size of the old colonizer France—and inhabited by two million people, most of whom are concentrated in the Libreville conurbation, its capital and the door to the Delta Province. To the North: Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. To the West: the Atlantic and the isles of Sao Tomé and Principe. To the East and South: the Republic of Congo.
In the Congo Basin, like in several countries on the continent, the land belongs to the state. Meaning that, when natural resources are found, neither customary nor modern urban law can prevent the land from being seized—an old colonial legacy. For close to sixty years, the country’s economy has danced to the rhythm of oil deposits and crude oil prices. According to the capitalist international compass, Gabon has become “the richest country” on the Continent, its GDP blazing. Its industries? Black gold, manganese, timber, uranium, exploited and sold to foreign companies. But some signs are clear: the same family has been in power since 1967. Its rule was protected from Day One by France, raised on the neocolonial system designed by Jacques Foccart, who constructed what is now known as “Françafrique,” Gabon being one of its two most important cogs with Ivory Coast. In this Africa where “crocodile presidents” have become chiefs of young states, they have made it an art to place foreign interests ahead of their own peoples’. A worldwide heritage of corruption, dedicated to silencing opposition. Speak no louder than Power, or work for it, lest a scandal shuts you up. It is not rare to come across power-hungry, formerly fervent opponents, who turned into right-hand men of such and such well-to-do individuals. After four decades of Omar Bongo’s leadership, his son Ali Bongo took his place. He ordered the shooting of protesters with live ammunition and incarcerated a number of union workers and opponents to justify his electoral fraud. The latter did not hesitate to “place” his sons in key strategic positions: you can see this coming from miles away. This is how, until 2018, Noureddin Bongo found himself appointed joint-CEO of Olam-Gabon, the country’s business partner at the heart of deforestation scandals.