Gabon to get $150m for preserving its rainforests

A forest guard uses a chainsaw in Ivindo National Park near Makokou - April 2019
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Gabon, which is mostly covered by forest, has managed logging responsibly

Gabon will become the first African country to be rewarded with international funds for preserving its rainforests in an effort to fight climate change, the UN says.

Norway will pay Gabon $150m (£120m) over a 10-year period for both reducing deforestation and preserving its natural forests so they can absorb carbon dioxide.

"The agreement we're signing with Norway is a, sort of, a confirmation of the efforts that Gabon has made over the last 10 to 15 years of getting deforestation under control and of using sound, sustainable forestry both to preserve the Congo Basin forest, but also to reduce carbon emissions," Gabon's Environment Minister Lee White told the BBC.

This was down to logging responsibly, he said.

According to details of the contract signed on Sunday, Norway will pay Gabon $10 for every tonne of carbon not emitted, relative to the central African nation's annual average between 2005 and 2014, and up to a maximum payout of $150m over 10 years, the AFP news agency reports.

Almost 90% of Gabon is covered with rainforest and the country has been leading environmental efforts in the region to preserve forests, creating 13 national parks since the year 2000.

These forests are among the most important in the world as by soaking up large amounts of carbon dioxide produced by human activities they slow down the pace of global warming.

But Gabon was recently involved in a major scandal involving illegally logged tropical hardwood.

Gabon's president 'not in London hospital'

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo in 2017
Mr Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo as president in 2009

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo has not been admitted to hospital in London, but is on a private visit to the UK capital where he will undergo routine medical checks, a statement from the presidency says.

The 60-year-old is recovering from a stroke that he had while on a trip to Saudi Arabia last October.

“At no time has the president's health deteriorated. On the contrary…he is on his way to the full recovery of his physical abilities,” said the statement issued after a Bloomberg news agency report quoted sources saying he was unwell and in a London hospital.

“The president is not hospitalised… but is in his private residence in London, where he took a few days off with his family," the statement added.

Last week, Lee White, Gabon’s newly appointed environment minister, dismissed concerns about Mr Bongo's health.

He told BBC HardTalk that the president was recovering well.

“He’s weakened by his stroke. He’s walking like an old man.

“He’s totally fluent and with it in French, but his English has suffered slightly.

“He’s definitely in charge. He is fit to govern."

British conservationist made Gabon forestry minister

A British-born man has been made Gabon's forestry minister after the last one was sacked following a timber smuggling scandal.

Lee White, who holds dual British-Gabonese citizenship, has been a prominent conservationist in the oil-rich African state, and the head of Gabon's National Parks Agency.

He tweeted the news of his appointment:

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Some 300 containers of kevazingo wood - which is illegal to export - were discovered at a port near the capital, Libreville, earlier this year.

The authorities vowed to pursue those responsible in an investigation known as "kevazingogate".

The dismissal of Vice-President Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and Forestry Minister Guy Bertrand Mapangou is believed to be linked to the scandal, although no official reason has been given for their sackings.

Gabon inquiry into women's football rape allegations

Louise Dewast

BBC Africa

Gabonese woman playing football
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Gabon's sports minister asked the country's prosecutor to investigate

A judicial investigation is under way in Gabon about allegations that members of the women's under-20 football team were raped and mistreated by football federation staff during a recent trip to France.

Some of the allegations were first mentioned by a journalist who said some of the footballers were sexually assaulted by the Gabonese football officials after their passports and mobile phones were confiscated.

He also posted photos of the team in a cramped hotel room in Gabon and said they were still waiting to be paid.

Gabon's sports minister said the gravity of the allegations prompted him to request the country's prosecutor to investigate.

The football federation condemned what it described as alleged sexual practices between players and members of staff but avoided using the term sexual harassment.

Gabon finds missing timber haul worth millions

Millions of dollars' worth of a protected kind of wood that went missing earlier this year after being confiscated by authorities has now been recovered, a senior Gabonese prosecutor says.

Kevazingo wood is native to Gabon's Congo Basin. The rare tree, which can take 500 years to grow to its full height of 40m (130ft), is highly valued in Asia but is illegal to fell in Gabon.

A total of 353 transport containers of the timber - worth nearly $250m (£193m) - had been stolen in April from an overall quantity of 392 containers. Those 392 containers had been seized by authorities at the port of Owendo a month earlier.

But with 200 containers now recovered, there are still 153 unaccounted for.

The Reuters news agency quotes Gabonese authorities as saying that the shipping containers recovered so far were found on the port premises of Cameroon-registered transport company SOTRASGAB, and on the property of company Owendo Container Terminal (OCT).

Neither company has responded to requests for comment.

Reuters reports that two Chinese nationals are being held in relation to the case. Gabonese authorities are also involved, the news agency quotes Gabon’s prosecutor general Olivier N’zahou as saying.

People visit the Societe Nationale des Bois du Gabon (National Wood Company of Gabon) (SNBG) in Owendo in 2012.
Timber is one of Gabon's biggest exports (library photo)

Gabon court dismisses Bongo fitness-to-serve case

BBC Monitoring

The world through its media

Ali Bongo

A court in Gabon has rejected a case filed by a group of activists seeking to compel President Ali Bongo to undergo a medical evaluation to determine his fitness for office.

In the ruling dated 2 May the court said that there was no basis to bring the matter to court.

It, however, ruled that only the two houses of parliament can apply to the constitutional court to declare the office of the president vacant.

Questions about Mr Bongo's health have been raised since after he suffered a stroke in October last year while visiting Saudi Arabia and subsequently convalescing in Morocco.

"This decision by the court only increases our doubts about [President] Bongo's ability to continue to perform his duties," said Marc Ona Essangui, a civil society representative and a member of the Call to Action group, which is close to the opposition.

Read more: Who is Ali Bongo, president of Gabon?

Chinese logging in African forests 'brazen and criminal'

BBC World Service

A lorry transports timber from the forest.
Avalon/Getty Images
Experts say the forests of the Congo Basin are critical to the planet

A US environmental campaign group has accused Chinese logging companies of devastating key forests in the Congo Basin, and so damaging the climate, protected tree species and the habitat of endangered animals.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says its report is the result of four years of research, much of it undercover.

It accused the Chinese companies of paying huge bribes to win logging rights in Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon, of evading taxes and of violating export quotas.

One of the main companies concerned, SICOFOR, has denied the allegations.

The EIA says the Congo Basin forests are critical to the planet because they are thought to generate more than three-quarters of the region's rainfall - and about 75 million people live in or depend on the forests.