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Elites liquidate forest resources at expense of local communities in West Africa

Deforestation in West Africa is happening at an alarming rate, and without the consent of local communities. Okon Akiba writes:

"This edition of West Africa Insight attempts to capture the extents to which governments in the region are conforming or departing from recent injunctions to restrain the predatory proclivities of elite cadres and curb the destructive trend in the consumption of the earth's resources. The focus is on the health of our forest environment. We find that deforestation thrives and is continuing a-pace, with devastating consequences for a sustainable future; and that illegal logging for underground export trade serves the interests of the region's money makers. The search for fossil fuels, more productive grazing land for livestock, large scale agricultural plantations for production of commercial crops are additional reasons why forests are fast shrinking and species interactions in ecosystems compromised. Deforestation reflects the logic of economic consumption that is fundamentally based on short-sighted goals.

"Scientific reports confirm that the continuing erosion of forests in West Africa is mounting pressures on biodiversity West African biodiversity serves as the ecological habitat or sanctuary for 40 percent of Africa's mammals and roughly 2000 endemic species of plants. Roughly speaking, only 16 percent of the region's forests is currently identified and technically cordoned off for protection; and merely two percent of this endangered physical environment is marked for biodiversity conservation. West Africa's forest environment is severely ill, though little is being forcefully said about its fast deteriorating condition in the media within the region and abroad. Governments in the region are not seriously pursuing remedies or providing new enforcement mechanisms to save the forest ecosystem.

"Deforestation does more than destroy trees and biodiversity. It disarticulates and disorientates local human communities whose livelihoods are precariously hinged on predictable and guaranteed access to the resources in their immediate surroundings. Internal displacement, aggravated poverty, emotional sense of uncertainty, and rural-urban migration are a few of the severe consequent human costs. In this circumstance, family units are split and the cultural integrity and social heritage of communities face extinction."


These observations indicate a deeply critical and skeptical view on the behaviors of current governments and corporations in West Africa with regard to Forestry. The region's "money makers" get a deservedly bad rap in the introduction to this newsletter, and are positioned as unquestionably exploitative actors in the forestry realm. Between the lines, one sees a clear distrust of both West African governments and markets. At the same time, traditional use of land by communities is heralded as a socially valuable and ecologically responsible means of preserving forest environments.

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Center for Democracy and Development, July 2010 pg. 2: