Activist Fights to Save Africa’s Rainforests


The majestic Kongou Falls, has some of the most spectacular cataracts in Africa, which are located in the heart of Gabon’s Ivindo National Park. The 3,000-square-kilometer park is one of the most significant African sites for biodiversity conservation, sheltering a rich variety of wildlife and vegetation species.

It is this scenic beauty and environmental importance of Gabon’s vast rainforests that first prompted Gabonese activist and renowned environmentalist Marc Ona Essangui to campaign for the protection and preservation of the Congo Basin rainforest.
“It’s fantastic the forest, fantastic,” says Ona, a winner of the coveted environmental award Goldman Prize for his efforts to save Ivindo from a mining project. “There is peace, tranquility, one breathes in the freshness — no pollution and it’s magnificent,” he adds.
“If we destroy this forest, we will have aggression from everywhere that will reach the wider population.”
The world’s second largest rainforest after the Amazon, the Congo Basin rainforest in Central Africa is under constant threat of destruction and exploitation.
A large swath of this dense rainforest is located in Gabon — about 80 per cent of the equatorial country is covered by pristine forests, home to numerous gorillas, elephants, antelopes and tropical birds.
In 1998, Ona, a survivor of childhood polio, co-founded Brainforest, a non-governmental organization working to preserve Gabon’s natural resources.
The wheelchair-bound activist says he is fighting for the rights of his people, the indigenous tribes who call the forest home but have no legal rights over their lands.
“In the beginning, one of the objectives of the Brainforest was about conserving and protecting the Ivindo forest,” he says. “But today we have seen that it is also necessary to talk about the laws that govern forestry rights, looking at illegal activities in the forest, such as corruption and all that is related to forestry. We are looking at the rights of those living in the forest and defending and protecting their rights.”
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Diane McCarthy