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How Congo’s timber is smuggled through Uganda

Tree cutting in the Congo rain forest

Tree cutting in the Congo rain forest

The Pulitzer Center Rainforest Investigations Network, in collaboration with The Africa Report, has launched an exclusive four-part investigation into timber trafficking in East Africa, spot-lighting Uganda’s role in this regional crisis.

This comprehensive probe unveils the exploitation of conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) north-east, facilitating the illegal trade of its protected hardwoods. Key East African Community economies, including Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania are found to benefit from this illicit trade, contradicting their environmental commitments.

At the heart of this shadowy network are influential figures linked to security services and politicians across East Africa, including Uganda. They play a pivotal role in ensuring the failure of border controls, allowing this illegal trade to flourish, according to the investigation. Corruption is rampant, with loggers and truckers greasing the wheels at border checkpoints and acquiring falsified certificates of origin for substantial fees.

This timber smuggling operation poses a significant threat to the Congo basin’s ecology and its role in the global fight against uncontrolled climate change. In interviews conducted for this story, Uganda government officials unanimously denied any involvement in the smuggling of timber from Congo.

“We have not received any such information about the smuggling of timber,” said Police spokesman Fred Enanga. “For more details, please contact the customs department; they will provide thorough information.”

“UPDF is not aware of any such smuggling activities unless there is concrete evidence to support these claims,” stated Felix Kulayigye, the UPDF spokesman, in an interview on Monday.

Tom Okello, the executive director of the National forestry Authority (NFA), also refuted these allegations.

“As the NFA, we are unaware of any timber smuggling activities from Congo. The only recognized market for Congolese timber that we know of is in Mpondwe. There, timber is legally sold, with revenue paid to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) for its importation into Uganda. We haven’t heard of any other markets, legal or illegal, for timber besides Mpondwe,” he explained.

However, research by the Center for International Forestry Research reveals that over 90 per cent of the timber traded through Congo Park in DRC lacks legal logging permits.

The extent of the exploitation is vast, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of protected African hardwoods being looted from the DRC and smuggled into Uganda and its neighbouring countries over the past two decades. The primary species of trees harvested in Congo include Okoume and Sapelli:

• Okoume (Aucoumea klaineana) occupies an area of less than one million hectares.
• The Chaillu forest, renowned for its richness in tree species, hosts Okoume (Aucoumea klaineana), Limba (Terminalia superba), Ilomba (Pycnanthus angolensis), and Sipo (Entandrophragma utile).

In particular, Uganda’s border point of Lia is a focal scene of this illicit trade as night falls, according to Pulitzer Center Rainforest Investigations Network investigation. The bustling activity here paints a vivid picture of a prosperous business that extends across East Africa.

Yet, this economic boon masks a darker reality of exploitation, environmental degradation, and the perilous journey of Congolese timber.
Despite the international protection of species like African mahogany, the lack of rigorous border checks at points like Lia has enabled the unobstructed movement of these valuable woods.

This lax enforcement results in significant environmental and community harm. The investigation employed interviews, satellite imagery, and on-the-ground reporting to dissect the illegal logging supply chain, from Lia’s transformation to the broader network of buyers and sellers across Africa.

It brings to light not just the mechanics of the trade but also the human impact — stories of hope, despair, and a relentless quest for prosperity. Central to this series is a critical analysis of the legal and regulatory frameworks, or their absence, governing the timber trade in East Africa. Insights from local politicians, timber dealers, and conservation experts in Uganda and beyond reveal the depth of corruption, weak governance and ineffective environmental policies.

This series underscores that timber trafficking isn’t just an ecological issue; it’s a complex socio-economic challenge demanding a unified, cross border approach.

The illegal plunder and sale of Congolese timber in Uganda has been a contentious issue for many years. On February 9, 2022, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Uganda must pay $325 million in reparations to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

This compensation is for damages to individuals, property, and natural resources that occurred as a result of Uganda’s military intervention in the DRC’s conflicts between 1998 and 2003. The ordered reparations cover a range of transgressions, including the loss of lives and the plunder, looting and exploitation of resources such as gold, diamonds and timber during the period of military occupation.

Comments

+6 #1 PaulM 2024-04-11 06:17
This is not surprising. The main question is why has it taken decades for this to be publicized?

Our fake Pan-African presidents, US puppets Mu7 and Kagame are helping the West destabilize DRC in order to exploit its natural resources.
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+3 #2 Musa Apuuli 2024-04-11 11:11
what African leaders have failed to understand completely is that HISTORY is very unforgiving to any one who FAILS TO LEARN FROM IT (HISTORY). In fact any one who never learns from history is regarded as a rank fool!

Uganda is currently having to pay reparations slapped on her by the ICJ to the tune of 325 million dollars to the DRC for having plundered timber from that country .

The same thieves are back there plundering the same resources and 'mortgaging' the impoverished Ugandan tax payer who already is paying the USD 325m for the thieves !

The Pulitzer Center Rainforest Investigation Network must identify the thieves by name so that they pay for their own sins.

Sadly, for unknown reasons, the Uganda Police Spokesman , the UPDF, the National Forest Authority are not aware of the 100's of millions of dollars worth of stolen timber coming into the country!
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-1 #3 Akot 2024-04-11 17:40
PaulM,
Musa Apuuli, thanks.

Developed well governed countries are helping destruction of forests, seas, lands...for natural resources, thus worsening climate!

The more trees, minerals obstructed, wetlands turned into agriculutral lands..., the less there will be rain & this has no borders!

USA/UK/EU/UN are ensuring Hamas sparked war goes on by ensure terrorist Hamas & Palestinians get free food!

They helped Rwandese Museveni make Uganda paradise for refugees/migrants running away from their war lands, but have they helped powerless tribally divided ruled Ugandans, slaves of Rwandese Museveni?

Tribalists Rwandese Kagame & Museveni are demon life time rulers, each owns a country!

Wars are money earners for USA/UK/EU/UN, reason they spend billions to ensure fighting out is shitholes go on!
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+2 #4 Bosara 2024-04-12 07:50
Museveni recently stopped exporting Uganda timber to other countries, and this has led to decline in revenues to mainly farmers, local business people that traded in timber and people who exported timber.

Why he did such a bad economic move? Greed, primitive accumulation of wealth and to make people poor and control them.

His Chinese business partners who he brought to exploit Ugandans were paying less for timber and Ugandans would not sell to them. All those Chinese factories on Hoima road had very limited supply of timber. Museveni to ensure Ugandan timber farmers get less value, he declared the removal any taxes on timber from Congo last year. This has accelerated smuggling, looting of Congo timber involving ugandan security officials to an extent that has never been seen before.

The best that can happen to Uganda is for the Man to go-whichever way it happens. He has ruined the country so much.
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0 #5 Zaitun John 2024-04-13 14:44
What surprises me is the fact that, the question of Congo invasion and looting of her gold, diamond... resources by the Museveni families has never been brought to book.

Thes hard-core thieves have never been punished but instead, Ugandans who have never invaded Congo, have always been designated the rightful wrongdoers/looters of Congo's resources. These thugs have stuck to their ideology coined around murder and theft.

Not only are they stealing wood and rare minerals from Congo, but have caused havoc to Ugandans. But the question is: Why should these International groups point fingers to innocent Ugandans whereas they know the culprits causing problrms in the region?

Or, is it that they steal for and/or share the benefits together?
No wonder, whenn they were killing Ugandans to get power, you were so supportive to them.
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