Who’s Illegal Load Busted Congo’s Bridge?

A bridge over the Epulu River crumpled earlier this week under the weight of a container truck of planks headed for Kenya that was about three times the permissible tonnage. The bridge over the Ituri River, along the same road, collapsed two years ago under similar conditions. Both overweight container trucks were filled with wood from the Ituri Forest. Was this wood legal?

planks stacked by the side of the road
Wastefully rough cut with chain saws, stacked by the side of the road in the Ituri Forest, and waiting to be loaded and trucked east.

I asked John Sidle. He is from the U.S. Forest Service, but working in Kinshasa for six months to help operationalize Congo’s Forest Code. “It is illegal, blatantly illegal”, he said. He sent the map and explanation below.

But how can that be? These trucks have to go through two major cities with military and police outposts, as well as cross a well-patrolled border between two provinces, and finally cross the international border into Uganda. Certainly the politico-military administrations have plenty of opportunity to stop them.

Unfortunately the explanation is simple. A local conservation NGO did a study of timber exploitation in this part of the Ituri Forest. The owners of the logging operations are all familiar names in the villages and towns: top political authorities of the District, top ranked military, the Police and the ANR (equivalent responsibilities to the FBI).

The little write-up from this NGO ended: “How can we hope to clean up this sector if our authorities who are supposed to enforce the laws are the very ones who are breaking them?”

The forests, protected areas and timber concessions
The legal forestry concessions are in brown. In the east part of the country the only legal concession is number 28 or Enra based in BENI. No truck carrying wood east along the RN4 is carrying wood from a legal concession. This map also shows the Okapi Reserve (Réserve de Faune à Okapi) in the northeastern forest.

This is what John Sidle sent me:

Terese – The extraction of timber and the export of logs and wood products for commercial purposes are legal if the logs and timber products are coming from timber concessions and the 2002 Forest Code and promulgated regulations are being followed. An examination of a map of the logging concessions of DRC reveal that almost all concessions are in western DRC. So, logs and wood products are likely all exiting to the west down the Congo River. A small concession exists in eastern DRC and its wood likely exits legally to eastern Africa. The government sometimes issues permis-de-coup for small areas of forest (< 50 ha) but few are issued each year. Therefore, it seems likely that most all of the timber and wood products exiting DRC from its eastern boundary are illegal.
Local villages can cut down trees for local “artisanal” use such as habitations, art work, canoes and other personal use but they cannot extract for commercial purposes. Most of what people label as “artisanal logging” in DRC is simply illegal commercial logging no matter how small the operation. The word, artisanal, has been misused for some years now in DRC. Artisanal evokes something traditional and small and without the use of machinery. Today, a great deal of machinery is used in logging in eastern DRC. The introduction of machines and commercialization eliminates anything “artisanal.”

Definitions of Artisanal on the Web:


  1. john
    Posted 2009-12-01 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    THis is not artisanal logging….this is the informal sector, and the operators are rapidly gaining capacity….One chain saw becomes two, even three…expect tractors, skidders and portable saw mills next…All likely to be in place without formal mapping and allocation of concessions….or transparent collection of taxes ….THe taxation process itself in this area is informal sector.

  2. Posted 2011-04-12 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
    I would like to ask your permission to use the image of the congo published on your homepage (https://www.bonoboincongo.com/2009/11/28/who%E2%80%99s-illegal-load-busted-congo%E2%80%99s-bridge/) for educational, non-profit purposes. The image would become part of an online learning platfrom for German students (available at http://www.glokalchange.de) about deforestation in the democratic republic of congo. The data source will be acknowledged of course.
    May I get the permission to publish the image? Moreover, it would be very helpful to have it in high resolution.
    Thank you in advance.
    Best regards from Heidelberg, Germany
    Markus Jahn
    Dipl.-Geogr. Markus Jahn
    University of Education Heidelberg
    Department of Geography – rgeo
    Czernyring 22/11-12
    69115 Heidelberg, Germany
    Tel.: +49 6221 / 477 – 778
    E-Mail: jahn@ph-heidelberg.de

  3. Terese Hart
    Posted 2011-04-13 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Sure you can use the photo. The map can be gotten high resolution from WRI or probably OSFAC. The photo…hmmm, I will be able to go back into my photo files this weekend. Send another little reminder.

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