- The first ever region-wide conservation treaty in Africa has been signed in Brazzaville, giving ample powers regarding forest management to a new regional decision-making body for the Congo Basin. The ten countries to sign the landmark treaty include Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda and São Tomé.
The treaty was signed by most of the Presidents from these Central African countries during the Second Heads of State Forest Summit, held from 4–5 February 2005 in Brazzaville, Congo. It legally recognizes the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) as the only decision-making body on forests for the Central African Region.
The establishment of a powerful forest commission was today celebrated by environmentalist groups as a "historic milestone" for Africa. According to WWF, the treaty will be very important for the future of the Congo Basin, which is the world's second largest rainforest after the Amazon.
In addition, a trilateral agreement between Cameroon, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville (TRIDOM) - which also was signed at the summit - will protect 14.6 million hectares of forests including Dja, Odzala and Minkebe National Parks. This equals some 7.5 percent of the entire Congo Basin.
- The treaty and the TRIDOM agreement will help Central African countries cooperate across borders in protected areas management, to tackle poaching and the illicit bushmeat trade, as well as illegal logging, said WWF Director-General Claude Martin. "These activities are particularly detrimental for the livelihood and culture of the local 'pygmy' [Batwa] communities," he added.
Also signed at the summit was an accord allowing free movement of park staff between Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville in the Sangha Tri-National Conservation Area. This means that park staff can work across international borders to fight poaching and illegal logging.
- These agreements mean that park staff no longer have to watch helplessly as poachers in one country escape across the river into another, Mr Martin added. "Central Africa is a model for the entire world on how to reach across borders to tackle the tough issues that are threatening wildlife, forests, and the livelihoods of local communities."
Fresh funds were now needed to finance the bold conservation plans. However, with the exception of the euro 40 million pledged by the European Union (EU), no new commitments on additional funding for conservation in the Congo Basin have been made so far. "WWF hopes that the international community will be able to mobilize the necessary funds to implement the Treaty," said Laurent Some of WWF's office in Central Africa.
The Brazzaville summit was the follow-up to the 1999 Yaoundé summit, hosted by President Paul Biya of Cameroon. At the Yaoundé summit, most of the Central African countries now signing the Brazzaville treaty launched an ample initiative to protect the forests of the Congo Basin. Since 1999, in particular Gabon has gone far in increasing its protected area.
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