FLEGT in the Central African Republic
In October 2009, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the EU launched VPA negotiations with the aim of signing an agreement within 12 months. As improvements in forest governance largely depend on how local civil society is engaged in the process, negotiations aim to provide the space for participation. Unfortunately, the ambitious speed of the negotiations has made local civil society worry about the quality of their inputs and so of the agreement. Allowing time and resources for capacity building and sufficient exchange of information between civil society groups in Bangui and people in the field will be decisive in ensuring national ownership of the VPA and a successful outcome of the process. The process is very important in every VPA country, but particularly so in those suffering from serious political instability and lawlessness.
Overview of the process so far
The initial request from the CAR government to start formal discussions with the European Union to develop a VPA was raised in mid-2007. Preparatory work started
with the appointment in May 2008, of Ambroise ZANGA, official of the Ministere des Eaux et Forets, as national focal point for FLEGT. A FLEGT working group - which includes representatives of civil society, was then set up. Formal negotiations started in October 2009 with the aimof signing an agreement within 12 months
A major challenge for a VPA in CAR is the almost non exiting political activity of local civil society. Most NGOs in the country have close links with the administration, and the political space for actions is meager. Examples are numerous: In August 2008, the Central African Republic took over the presidency of the COMIFAC (Conference of Ministers for Forests in Central Africa) – main decision makingauthority coordinating sub-regional actions as regards conservation and management of forests. The participation of civil society in their September 2008 meeting was scarce. The new Central African Forest Code, which passed on 17 October 2008, was developed without any public consultation with local civil society and/or local communities.
To support local groups in addressing these challenges Forest Monitor, FERN and CED (Centre pour l'Environnment et le Développement de Cameroun) organised a 3-days workshop on FLEGT in September 2009. A follow up meeting to discuss the NGO roadmap for the negotitations was hosted by the Rainforest Foundation UK in November 2008, with the participation of the OCDH (Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l'Homme) - a Congolese NGO engaged in the Republic of Congo-EU VPA. Following to those meetings, Central African NGOs set up a platform to participate in the FLEGT process joining environmental, social and human rights groups. Formalisation of this open network took place in 28 November 2008.
NGOs have actively in FLEGT work during pre-negotiations first and now negotiations. Their work covered a variety of issues, from getting acquaintance with the new forest code (which passed on 17 October 2008), to preparing their positions on the various aspects covered by the VPA. Among the meetings that took place, the following are a good example of the work undertaken by civil society in this process:
12/2008 - Participation on the National seminar on FLEGT, with civil society taking strong position on the need to modify the roadmap of negotiations to include longer time for preparation.
03/2009 - Civil society designs the representatives for the negotiations team
10-11/10/2010 – National seminar to develop the legality grid for the ‘Exploitation and Management Permits’ (In French PEA or ‘Permis d’Exploitation et Aménagement’)
13-14/10/2009 – 1st VPA negotiation session (Bangui), with participation of civil society
10/2009 – Civil society pushes the FLEGT multi-stakeholder facilitator, WWF, to broaden the number of NGOs invited to formal NGO consultations. From then onwards the participation increases from 10 to 30 NGOs.
11/2009-07/2010 – 8 Technical sessions through videoconference (in preparation to official negotiations)
01/2010 – The ‘National Consultation Committee’ (in French CNC or ‘Comité National de Consultation’) agrees to include other 4 civil society representatives in the technical commissions.
02/2010 – The national traceability system is assessed
15-19/03/2010 – Civil society seminar on artisanal permits and community forests
04/2010 – The Legal Assurance System is assessed with participation of civil society
For more information you can contact Jeroen WITKAMP or Karla Krieger at the EC delegation or Alain Pénelon, French official supporting the FLEGT processes in the Congo Basin region. He is based in Brazzaville at the Forest Ministry. The CAR Focal Point for FLEGT is Ambroise ZANGA. The European Commission official following this agreement from Brussels is John Bruneval . Melissa Othman, from the EFI FLEGT Facility, supports the European Commission headquarters during the development of this agreement.