Greenpeace Africa and the Congo River Basin: From Moratoriums to Auditoriums

Cover image courtesy of Greenpeace Africa (2018).

–by Zoe Douglas–


Greenpeace International, an organization that “uses peaceful, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and develop solutions for a green and peaceful future,” was victorious in 2006 after exposing the mass deforestation practices of soy plantations in the Amazon, which led to the moratorium that placed 98% of soy production in the vast rainforest under the Brazilian government’s vigilant control. The famously dubbed “soy moratorium” has effectively reduced Amazon deforestation ever since, inspiring a branch of Greenpeace International, Greenpeace Africa, to fight for the same protection of the rainforests in the Congo River Basin. The situation in the Congo, however, is slightly different: the primary source of deforestation is illegal logging, and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), unlike the Brazilian administration, is complicit in this transgression. The country’s 2002 moratorium that prevents the allocation of new logging concessions has easy-to-maneuver loopholes, inviting companies to illegally log in the world’s second largest rainforest. Unfortunately, the DRC is on the verge of lifting this moratorium, even though all its conditions have yet to be met, which would allow the crimes of these illegal loggers to be protected under law. This article thus explores how Greenpeace Africa’s response has shifted from using its past tactics in the Amazon to incorporating more creative means, such as dancing and ship tours, to advocate for the protection of the Congo River Basin’s rainforest.


In May 2002, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signed a moratorium—a temporary legal measure that can only be lifted when specified conditions are met—that prevents industrial loggers from receiving new titles and allocations of forested land in the Congo River Basin. Within weeks, several companies had breached the DRC’s moratorium by attaining new titles, but a presidential decree in 2005 reinforced the moratorium’s power to prevent further violations (Thoener). Nevertheless, industrial loggers continued to disobey the moratorium, drawing the attention of local, national, and international communities. Greenpeace International, an organization that focuses on peaceful efforts to protect the environment, has been a frontrunner in the movement to preserve and protect the Congo River Basin rainforest since the 1990s. A branch of Greenpeace, Greenpeace Africa, opened in 2008 to more easily direct localized efforts in the Congo River Basin forest campaign and, in the past ten years, has adopted various approaches to further its goals. Initially following the example set by Greenpeace International’s crusade to save the Amazon rainforest in the mid-2000s, Greenpeace Africa published reports in 2016 and 2017 that exposed the misdeeds of both industrial logging companies and the DRC government. Unlike the similar Greenpeace report published in 2006 about the Amazon, however, these two reports failed to move the DRC government to action, which forced Greenpeace Africa to adopt a new, more effective approach that focuses more on mobilizing the people through creative social campaigns, like #DanceForTheCongo, to demand the protection of the vast rainforest of the Congo River Basin.

Intact Forest Landscapes: Greenpeace Africa’s Solution in the Congo Basin

Greenpeace Africa promotes the protection of Intact Forest Landscapes, or IFLs, which are “a seamless mosaic of forests and associated natural treeless ecosystems that exhibit no remotely detected signs of human activity or habitat fragmentation and are large enough to maintain all native biological diversity, including viable populations of wide-ranging species” (qtd. in “Cut from Congo” 5). Greenpeace’s idea of IFLs took root internationally in 2014 when the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) passed Motion 65, aiming to protect the majority of IFLs within FSC-certified forests so that the biodiversity of ecosystems would be maintained and the human impacts of climate change reduced. Thus, Greenpeace Africa hopes to not only save forests globally through conservation policies like forest certification and reduced deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) for the sake of the forest, but also for the tens of millions of people who depend on the Congo River Basin for their livelihood as well as the estimated 30 Gt of carbon that is stored in the Basin’s peatlands—a “carbon bomb” that could drastically increase global carbon emissions if they were removed for logging (“Cut from Congo” 7). Fighting for both the protection of the environment and of the people, Greenpeace Africa has therefore entered the international scene as a prominent advocate of IFLs in the Congo River Basin, but the environmental organization is not the only one with a solution.

Other Methods to Save the Forests: The Science of Conservation

Haurez et al. (2017) explore the IFL idea introduced by Greenpeace, arguing that although IFLs are an improvement in forest coverage from previous protection-area definitions, they still have their limits. Forest conservation policymakers fail to consult with the locals who depend on the forest, protected areas often lack the resources to preserve their designated forests, and satellite imagery imperfectly measure human involvement, considering that not all activity disrupts the forest canopy growth that is captured by satellites (195-6). Rather than design and implement an entirely new forest conservation method, Haurez et al. propose a solution that addresses the flaws of the IFL concept: include local assessment in forest conservation policy. This seemingly simple solution is rather complex, for it requires the construction and proper execution of a multiple-use management plan that implements local evaluation of the intactness of and human impacts on the Congo River Basin forest while balancing the environmental and socioeconomic needs of both resident stakeholders and governments (198).

Others, like the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), suggest following the DRC’s REDD+ plan that was adopted in 2012. Greenpeace Africa supports this initiative, seeing as it follows its own goals, but the RRI reveals that there is a plethora of problems with the program, the most concerning among them an inadequacy of governance. The national REDD+ committee has “only existed on paper since 2012,” failing to adhere to its own duty to implement the state-sponsored REDD+ initiatives, especially at the community level (“Mai-Ndombe” 39-40). Rather than scrapping the program altogether, RRI suggests reforming it by strengthening the legislative enforcement of REDD+ and devising a sturdier structure for executing the program. This plead for action coincides with Greenpeace Africa’s platform as it urges the DRC government to address the drivers of deforestation by maintaining the moratorium on logging concessions and establishing a more secure monitoring mechanism to ensure the successful implementation of REDD+ (64).

How the DRC Government is Complicit in Illegal Logging

Interestingly, most scholars of the Congo River Basin forest report a common theme: the inefficacy of the DRC government to enforce any anti-deforestation policy. Samndong et al. (2018) finds that corrupt forestry officers supplement their low incomes by circumventing the DRC’s moratorium and REDD+ procedures and awarding new logging concessions. Bribed by industrial loggers seeking to secure the coveted timbered lands of the Congo River Basin, these officials often turn a blind eye to not only their own unlawful actions of assigning new titles but also the surveillance of these concessions and the consequent illegal logging that occurs in them (672). Nevertheless, individuals are not the only ones who are corrupt, for the entire government itself greedily partners with industrial loggers to build new road networks that reach previously inaccessible swaths of the Congo River Basin (Bele 3), disregarding its own commitment to forest conservation by flagrantly violating the moratorium that supposedly protects IFLs. With all this illegal activity still occurring through the present since the initial breaches of the DRC moratorium weeks after it was signed in 2002, Greenpeace Africa sought to alert the oblivious international community to the unceasing transgressions of logging companies and especially the DRC government. To accomplish this project, Greenpeace Africa gathered information related to any moratorium breaches, both past and present, and decided to tell the story of the steady destruction of the Congo River Basin forest through seemingly powerful publications.

Fighting Government Corruption: Greenpeace Africa’s Two Reports

Hoping to expose the DRC government for failing to adhere to the 2002 moratorium and urging federal officials to commit to the protection of the Congo River Basin forest, Greenpeace Africa released a report in 2016 that publicly denounced the DRC government’s violations of the moratorium. The report exposed the government for privately awarding in August 2015 three new concessions spanning a total of 650,000 hectares: two concessions were given to the logging company Société La Millénaire SForestière (SOMIFOR), and the other to La Forestière pour le Développement du Congo (FODECO) (“How the DRC Government” 2). Just five months later, in January 2016, the DRC Environment Minister announced plans to soon lift the moratorium, despite having yet to meet the condition of preparing “a three-year rolling plan of concession allocations” (3). Releasing this information freely in the report, Greenpeace Africa called for both the cancellation of the illegal concessions and the preservation of the moratorium, and the new Environment Minister responded immediately to the report’s public pressure and cancelled the three titles in August 2016. Greenpeace Africa thought this to be a victory for forest conservation, but just one month later the Environment Minister granted new permits to one of the president’s advisers and to a member of Parliament (Betoko). A final blow to the moratorium fiasco, Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister finalized an agreement three weeks later to gradually transfer $200 million from Norway’s Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) fund to the DRC government, which was not supposed to begin until the DRC made evident progress toward and genuine dedication to IFL protection. Displeased with CAFI’s unexpected complacency in the moratorium violations, Greenpeace Africa urged a suspension and thorough revision of the program (Betoko), though neither came to fruition.

As the DRC government continued to breach the 2002 moratorium even after Greenpeace Africa’s 2016 report, the environmental organization released a more illuminating exposé in 2017, discussing both the government’s recent transgressions and those it has committed continually over the course of fourteen years. It cites that ten million hectares are currently in possession of industrial loggers, where half this area is classified as IFLs (“Cut from Congo” 9). Even more alarming is that half of today’s FSC-certified areas were IFLs in 2000, but that percentage is only 23% today (12). IFL acreage is shrinking rapidly, with more and more of it falling into the insatiable hands of logging companies, an exploit nearly impossible without the DRC government awarding new titles and accordingly breaching its 2002 moratorium. The report also accused logging companies of blocking the implementation of Motion 65 in the DRC to protect their own interests in the forested land. According to Greenpeace Africa, logging companies attempted to portray IFLs as an irrelevant forest conservation method in that it is outdated and excludes all current human activity, sidesteps the domain of government regulation, and could be replaced by the superior method of proper management technique. However, Greenpeace Africa easily discredits these accusations, explaining that IFLs permit traditional and modern low-impact human activities, exist to strike a balance between environmental and socioeconomic needs, and encourage a 25-year canopy regrowth management technique rather than the dishonest 5- to 6-year figure provided by industrial loggers (“Cut from Congo” 18). After disputing these false claims, Greenpeace Africa demands a solution to preserving IFLs that is more binding for industrial loggers than the voluntary FSC certification, namely REDD+ (23).

Unfortunately, the report had virtually no effect on the actions of any political body complicit in the illegal logging of the Congo River Basin, for in October 2017, CAFI transferred money amounting to $41.2 million to the DRC government for its national REDD+ program (Greenpeace Africa, “DRC government”). Greenpeace Africa’s previous call for CAFI to suspend its funding was obviously futile, a failure that was deepened in February 2018 when the Minister of Environment awarded the logging concessions that were cancelled in 2016 to SOMIFOR and FODECO yet again. Once more, Greenpeace Africa demanded a suspension of CAFI, citing that its donation was an unjust departure from its own commitment of waiting until the DRC government created an oversight plan to prevent further breaches of the moratorium, like the handout of the previously cancelled concessions (“DRC government”), but the DRC government yet again did not heed the voices crying for the accountability of the country’s misguided forest conservation policy.

Why Greenpeace Africa Was Ineffective: A Clue from the Past

In the mid-2000s, Greenpeace International adopted a similar campaign in the largest rainforest in the world: the Amazon in Brazil. The patient organization’s path to forest protection was a precursor to its current campaign in Africa, albeit more successful. Much like Greenpeace Africa, Greenpeace International (hereafter, ‘Greenpeace’) had been urging for cooperation between commercial, civil, and legislative bodies to put an end to the increasing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. On April 21, 2006, the road to victory saw fewer obstacles upon the publication of a report titled “Eating Up the Amazon.” Centered around the soya bean and its consequences, data had been gathered since 2004 through aerial surveillance, tracking of shipments to international markets, field investigations, interviews, and a multitude of other methods (“Eating Up the Amazon” 8). Brazil became the world’s leading exporter of soya in 2005, and with the savannahs on the edge of the forest being quickly overtaken, soya farmers drove their crop further north into the Amazon rainforest where areas designated as “empty lands” were under essentially no legal control from the Brazilian government. Half of Mato Grosso, meaning “thick jungle,” is in the Amazon rainforest, but one-third of this “jungle” had been cleared for soya farms, with two-thirds having been done illegally (13). Three companies—Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Bunge—financed a total of 60% of soya production in Brazil, and the head of Grupo André Maggi, the largest soya producer in the world, was also the governor of Mato Grosso; blinded by his own economic interests, “the soya king” supported vast agricultural encroachment into the immense rainforest, not seeing nor caring for the environmental and social impacts of his actions (17). Deforestation was not the only environmental problem, for pesticides that were sprayed upon the crops not only drifted in the wind onto the vegetation on the edge of the forest but also polluted local waterways after rainfall, killing animals like amphibians and fish (22). The largest, most repulsive social impact was that the agricultural work was performed by slaves, usually poor people who were initially promised good wages but then paid nothing and ultimately treated like “disposable razor[s]” (qtd. in “Eating Up the Amazon” 31).

If these soya crimes were not enough to spark a mass movement, the questioning of 30 supermarket and fast-food chains by Greenpeace about their complicit involvement in the soya trade were. None answered with certainty that their meat suppliers’ soya could not be traced to the Amazon; their responses were instead regretful, patronizing, willfully ignorant, or passing the buck (“Eating Up the Amazon” 41). McDonald’s in Europe was one of these offending fast-food chains, purchasing its Chicken McNuggets and Big Mac patties from Cargill’s Sun Valley. Although the famous food joint claimed to care about the protection of the rainforests, “[b]y selling the products of the Amazon soya, McDonald’s and other companies show that they still prefer to disguise the real practices behind their products rather than combat them” (45). Hence, Greenpeace uncovered the complacency of European food markets in the illegalities of the soya industry, a fact that shocked the world and motivated people to action.

Why Was the Amazon Campaign So Successful?

Having exposed the soya farmers, European investors, and prominent European buyers, Greenpeace International called upon the world to right the wrongs of the soya industry and trade. It worked. Upon learning that their favorite fast-food chains bought from meat suppliers who imported the crime-ridden Amazon soya, people became outraged and refused to purchase products that promoted rapid deforestation and brutal slavery. The food giants were forced to respond amidst this public boycott and met with the soy industry and civil societies to settle upon a moratorium. The famously recognized soy moratorium guaranteed that “companies wouldn’t buy soy[a] from soy[a] traders who get their supply from farmers who clear the rainforest, use slave [labor] or threaten Indigenous Lands” (Greenpeace, “10 Years Ago”). In accordance with the soy moratorium, the Brazilian government is now responsible for monitoring 98% of soya production in the Amazon rainforest. Despite this vigilance, the industry has grown by over 260% in ten years, with only 1% of that growth occurring in newly deforested lands (“10 Years Ago”). Backed by a strong, alert government while still supporting the growth of soya production, the moratorium is wildly popular with both those who care for the environment as well as those in the soya industry. Initially fueled by public outcry and continually driven by an industrial fear of losing business, the soy moratorium has been renewed yearly by the Brazilian government and has been successful at halting the once-thought-to-be-imminent soya takeover of the Amazon rainforest.

Greenpeace’s incredibly effective Amazon movement provides a clear explanation for the apparent failures of Greenpeace Africa’s current Congo River Basin forest campaign: the Brazilian government wholeheartedly supports the soy moratorium, whereas the DRC government is willing to circumvent the law and succumb to corruption. Additionally, no major public outcry has arisen from the Congo—nobody today is trying to commence a worldwide boycott of the renowned golden arches. Therefore, the solution to guiding the Congo River Basin rainforest movement toward success is not only reliant upon the government’s cooperation but also the engagement of the people. After all, as Struhsaker et al. (2005) summarizes neatly, the greatest indicator of success for any local initiative is the positive engagement of the neighboring communities (52).

Engaging the People: Greenpeace Africa’s Forest Campaigns

Understanding that its previous efforts to convince the DRC government to accept responsibility for IFL protection no longer worked like they did in the Amazon, Greenpeace Africa initiated two major social movements in 2017 to educate the local communities about the deforestation and forest degradation in the Congo River Basin and engage them in peaceful, environmental activism. The two initiatives, #DanceForTheCongo and #CongoBasinWish, were part of the overarching “Give the Congo Basin Forest a Chance” campaign, which included a ship tour in Central Africa (Greenpeace Africa, “Annual Report 2017” 13-4).

Greenpeace Africa changed its methodology in 2017, undertaking a massive push to involve key influencers in the campaign, its first attempt and success ensuing at the All Africa Music Awards where the hopeful organization recruited 56 celebrities (“Annual Report 2017” 14). Twenty-three artists recorded “Give the Congo Basin Forest a Chance” pledges, and numerous staff and volunteers filmed themselves doing the #DanceForTheCongo to a song made by some of these local celebrities. The other social campaign, the #CongoBasinWish initiative, encouraged people to write their wish for the Congo River Basin forest on a piece of leaf-shaped paper and then pin it to the Wish Tree aboard the Greenpeace ship My Esperanza, bringing global awareness to the locals’ hopes for forest preservation (13).

The ship tour captured the most media attention of all the campaigns Greenpeace Africa launched in 2017 for the Congo River Basin forest. My Esperanza began its planned six-week journey in Cameroon, where it stayed for Solutions Day, for which representatives from various ministries traveled to solve the issues presented to them. The ship then sailed to the DRC and hosted a political day, which amassed an impressive turnout, including “the Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development, Civil Society, Indigenous People, Scientists, and the media” (“Annual Report 2017” 15). Attendees discussed how to best protect the newly discovered 3.7-m thick peatlands on the edge of the Congo River Basin forest, a new project that Greenpeace Africa has adopted and since been a focal part of its present goals (16).

Unfortunately, when the My Esperanza attempted to enter a port in the Republic of Congo, government officials barred entry. Although Greenpeace Africa had submitted all the necessary documents prior, the officials claimed that they had no knowledge of the ship’s arrival. Disappointed in a missed opportunity to engage the Congolese in forest conservation, Rencontre pour la Paix et Les Droits de l’Homme (RPDH) president Christian Mounzeo expressed, “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” (Greenpeace Africa, “Congolese officials”). Nonetheless, Greenpeace Africa declared the ship tour a major success, grateful for the opportunity to engage with some communities and foster discussions about the Congo River Basin rainforest (“Annual Report 2017” 17). Although Greenpeace Africa does not disclose the Republic of Congo’s true reason for halting the ship tour mid-trip, one could deduce from observations of both past and present political administrations throughout the world that a government’s refusal to allow one’s expression of opinion is often, but not always, a scheme to stifle that popular opinion amongst the masses because it conflicts with the current administration’s agenda. This idea hints that the Republic of Congo itself is corrupt, like its political neighbors in the DRC, in forest conservation and fears immense international backlash like that which was seen with the Amazon rainforest campaign.


Although Greenpeace Africa consistently struggles to convince the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that it should accept moral responsibility for the protection of the Congo River Basin rainforest, it triumphs in educating and fueling the flames of environmental activism in the Central African people. It may not have caused an abrupt end to deforestation like its parent organization, Greenpeace International, had over a decade ago in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, but it did and continues to develop creative means for engaging people in conversation about forest management policy. The primary social initiative that Greenpeace Africa launched, #DanceForTheCongo, has been more effective than any previous campaign because dance is a simple, universal action people can take to raise awareness about the Congo River Basin rainforest. Appropriately, Greenpeace Africa’s dancing movement has solicited a response from not only the international community, but finally the Congo River Basin governments themselves. Such success has finally earned Greenpeace Africa a foothold in Central African forest policy and will undoubtedly urge the renowned organization to further pursue inspired social means to ensure that moratoriums dedicated to protecting IFLs have an auditorium of support—perhaps on a ship like My Esperanza—not only in the Congo River Basin rainforest, but also in forests across the world.

This post may have been edited by admin for clarity and length.



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