Eco-activist warns on resources deals

African countries must stop signing away their natural resources in deals with Chinese and other foreign companies, the Gabonese rain-forest activist Marc Ona Essangui said in an interview with Reuters. Ona has just been awarded the African 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize for a decade of grass-roots activism to protect the Congo Basin rain forest, the second-largest in the world.


Ona exposed a US$3.5 billion deal between the Gabonese government and the Chinese company CMEC in 2006 to develop the Belinga mine, in and around Gabon’s Ivindo National Park. The project included construction of a railway, roads and – to power the mine — a dam in the middle of central Africa’s most beautiful waterfalls. The ensuing outcry forced Gabon to reduce the mining concession by 90%, scrap a tax break offered to CMEC, and halt the project pending an environmental impact assessment.

“Africa can no longer sign contracts with economic partners to exploit their natural resources like they did in the 1930s,” Ona told Reuters. “Africa doesn’t have to be subservient to do business. We have resources and economic partners have money — it’s 50-50. Those who don’t want to do business by the terms that we fix should go elsewhere.”

Gabon is part of the Congo Basin, and about 75% of the country is covered in dense tropical rain forest. It is losing more than 10,000 hectares of wooded land a year to logging, according to Mongabay, an environmental website. Chinese investment in Africa has grown in recent years, but many of the deals are shrouded in secrecy.

Ona is one of six winners of this year’s Goldman awards, considered the Nobel prizes of environmentalism. The other winners are from Bangladesh, Russia, Indonesia, the United States and Suriname.

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