Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Winners and Losers in the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Cameroon, Africa
- 1 The Belt and Road Initiative in Cameroon
- 2 Social actors and my assessment of their relative power
- 3 Discussion of relative successes and failures of the BRI in Cameroon and recommendations
- 4 References
The Belt and Road Initiative in Cameroon
Considering as "an ambitious foreign policy”, in 2013, China launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that influences the future of global trade. Trade roads are referencing the historical Silk Road from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century, but on a much broader scale that involves roughly two-thirds of global population and one-third of the global economy. The big goal of the BRI is to promote peaceful cooperation and common development around the world, making all countries participate equally. BRI largely expands land transportation infrastructure, and couples with the development of new ports in the Pacific and Indian oceans. It also increases the oil and gas supply. For example, oil and gas pipelines to Russia, Kazakhstan and Myanmar, a rail network to the Netherlands, and a high-speed railway to Singapore. There are diverse funding entities of the BRI. Some of them are directly controlled by the Chinese government, such as the China Development Bank, the Chinese Import-Export Bank, and the Bank of China, as well as multilateral and private banks, and private institutional and corporate investors. Since 2014, great Chinese investment from the grand-scale Belt and Road Initiative involves in agro-industries, mining and infrastructure projects in Cameroon and creates major implications on Cameroon’s forests and community livelihoods.
Cameroon is a country located in the central West Africa, sharing its borders with Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria. Based on 2019 estimate, the country has a population of about 25.88 million. In recent decades, more and more foreign direct investment (FDI) have flowed into this lower-middle-income country to explore its rich natural resources. Political power of Cameroon is in the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM)’s hand. President Paul Biya has been in power for 37 years, and now it’s his seventh term as the country’s president. Like many Sub-Saharan African countries, Cameroon is faced with many political and economic problems such as corruption, lagging technological development, high unemployment, and poverty.
There are around 19 million hectares of forests in Cameroon, covering 40% of the country’s territory. This makes the forest a significant employer for people in rural areas. There were about 23,000 people directly employed in the formal forest sector in 2011, while an estimated 50,000 people directly employed in informal small-scale logging and processing in 2010. Timber is an important export for Cameroon, which is the fourth largest exporter of tropical timber by volume internationally. China now is its biggest timber buyer. The government of Cameroon is very excited to derive more and more economic value from its forests and other natural resources. However, the forest itself continues to be degraded in recent years, and local communities get little return from the forest exploitation.
Cameroonian administrative, tenure arrangements and its modern customary system of rights to forests
Cameroon is practicing a framework of unitary presidential republic. President Paul Biya is the head of the State and the Cameroonian government. The country has three arms of government: the executive branch is exercised by the government; the legislative branch consists of the Senate and the National Assembly; the judiciary branch is subordinate to the executive branch’s Ministry of Justice vesting in the Courts and Tribunals. All provincial, local government officials and councils are employees of the central government. The management authority in the forest sector in Cameroon is the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF), which is a national level arm of government in charge of the management of all forest and fauna resources, and people’s access and sharing benefits from these resources. It also liaises with profit and non-profit organizations to carry out activities relating to forest management and monitoring. MINFOF receives both technical and financial supports from big international NGOs and is currently implementing the Forest, Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade (FLEGT) and VPA requirements for export to Europe and work on forest certification.
In recent decades, decentralization in developing countries is a hot topic. There is a deep and resilient conflict about land ownership since the colonial period in Cameroon and many countries in Africa. The unstable political system and institutional change drastically affect the structure of rights to forests. Therefore, like forests in Himachal pradesh and Zanzibar, Cameroonian forests are anthropogenic as well, which are enriched by deliberate local people's farming practices in a long history. Cameroon’s forests are divided into two categories: permanent forest estate and non-permanent forest estate. Both of them are state-owned. The permanent forest with a total area of 18,024,536 ha, owned by the state and local government, is constituted of national parks, faunal reserves, game ranches, botanical gardens, zoological gardens, production forests, protection forests, research forests, etc. The non-permanent forest estate with a total area of 4,475,437 ha, is used for individual and family cocoa, palm oil and coffee farms, crop farms, and community forests. In order to get a community forest title, local villages need to come up with a simple plan including forest management, conservation and small-scale logging over this area, and then waiting for an approval signed by the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife. Villages have pre-existing rights over their forest lands, which include access rights, management rights and market rights. After the tenure reform in 1994, forest management power and responsibilities have decentralized from national and regional government to local councils, which are the lowest level of administrative decentralization composing of traditional rulers and leaders. Community forest is not a level in this legal division of this decentralization. The 1994 forest legislation adds legal withdrawal rights, access rights, management rights, and exclusion rights to nowadays community forests in Cameroon. Like how Indigenous people in Canada and the Sami in Sweden have sued their governments, local villagers can also take their cases to the court, which is in judiciary arm of the government of Cameroon. However, these new bundles of rights are only implemented in the non-permanent forest estate but not the state-owned permanent production forests. One thing worth to notice is that ownership or alienation rights are not included in the community forest rights, which are considered as the strongest rights that could be claimed by local people. In addition, barriers to market rights are nourished by corruption of local-level officials. Exclusion rights are also fragile and only limited to neighboring villages. Overall, the contemporary customary tenure of forests in Cameroon is vague. Although tenure reforms have both political and economic advantages to local people, the legislative institution of Cameroon is still in question.
|Use/withdrawal right||for individual and community consumption and subsistence: gathering of non-timber forest products; hunting; fishing; collection of minor timber products for housing; agriculture; etc.|
|Access rights||access to community forests and the non-permanent forest estate.|
|Management rights||exploitation of plots in community forests, according to simple management plans; monitoring of exploitation activities; regeneration activities planned.|
|Exclusive rights||exclusion of members of other village communities from community forests.|
|Market rights||marketing of timber and non-timber forest products derived from the exploitation of community forests; promotion of eco-tourism; community management of financial revenue accruing from the marketing of products eco-tourism.|
Social actors and my assessment of their relative power
Affected stakeholders of BRI in Cameroon and assessment of their relative power
Affected stakeholders are defined as “any person, groups of persons, or entity whose long-term welfare is likely to be dependent or subject to the effects of the activities or has an emotional/lived connection in a locally important or customarily-claimed forest area”. Based on this definition, I identified two groups of affected stakeholders in the BRI of Cameroon: local communities and Indigenous people. For many small-scale infrastructure and mining operations in the BRI, there is no need for technically sophisticated workforces. Therefore, job opportunities are usually provided to local people who live in remote rural areas. More employment in communities contributes to the local economies. Also, the building of infrastructure not only improves the local livelihood such as upgrading a road or building of power grid, but also increases the access to market for agricultural products. In other words, infrastructure constructions encourage agricultural development in local communities and satisfy more local people’s needs. What’s more, as stated in the national law, the increase of logging tax and the tax redistribution system are aimed to benefit rural people around logging concessions. When Chinese companies get profits from their investment, they have to pay taxes to the Cameroonian government. Local people in theory, if not in practice, share this revenue from forest taxes.
However, the reverse side of the medal for affected stakeholders is that communities get little return from forest exploitation, which usually involves the large-scale displacement of local communities and Indigenous people. Consent and consultation with local communities are supposed to happen before logging or other forest-related activities on communal lands in Cameroonian law. Chiefs of the affected communities are in charge of allocating suitable places for forest concessions. However, genuine consultation has been rare in practice. Relevant chiefs are not always invited; notification of visit usually not giving to them either. Representatives of communities receive little or no information about the future land uses. Some logging companies need to negotiate with local communities for land conversions. However, local communities do not have enough negotiating power in the discussion over the contents due to lack of information, technical expertise and land ownership, because as mentioned in the tenure arrangement, local communities’ lands have historically been controlled by the state. Limited negotiating power usually result in inequitable benefit-sharing. Local communities often have to negotiate for the benefits that companies are supposed to give them.
Indigenous people have even worse situation with these associated land use changes from the BRI than local communities. Rural activities in Cameroon provide people with food, shelter and income from agriculture, including rearing livestock, fishing, gathering wood and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), producing charcoal and hunting. Therefore, we can see that land uses are not only for subsistence purposes, but also involved with a cultural value and shaping people’s identity. However, forest conversions destroy Indigenous territories in Cameroon. For example, the Baka are particularly hard hit from the imbalance in power. They have no power to negotiate with loggers and conservationists to map their forests habitats at all. The Batanga communities were forced to move to another site with no consideration of their graves of ancestors and other cultural significance.
Conclusively, due to poor implementation of formal community forest governance, local communities and Indigenous people receive very little return from the China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Although agro-industry, mining, and building of infrastructure have provided communities some revenue, jobs, and local livelihood improvements. I believe that the net effect of the BRI for these two groups of affected stakeholders is still ineffective, because huge amount of benefits from these developments have not actually reached to local people yet, and finally making local communities and Indigenous people become losers in the BRI.
Interested stakeholders of BRI in Cameroon and assessment of their relative power
Interested stakeholders are defined as “any person, groups of persons, or entity that is linked in a transaction or an activity relating to a forest area, but who does/do not have a long-term dependency on that forest area”. Here, I am going to discuss three groups of interested stakeholders in the BRI of Cameroon: forest companies with mostly Chinese capital, non-government organizations (NGOs), and government agencies of China and Cameroon.
The first interested stakeholder is the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF), who is in charge of approving companies’ management plans, implementing national laws and regulations over natural resources, shaping Chinese investments on land tenure, labor, forestry, and mining in Cameroon. Before the discussion, I want to state that the future general trend in Cameroon is to promote more wood processing. The government of Cameroon wants to earn as much income from the country’s rich natural resources by linking various investment projects to its national and international instruments. Unfortunately, the long and resistant inadequate implementation of specific sectoral laws becomes an impediment to BRI in Cameroon. For example, Cameroon’s 1994 Forest Code stated that the total area allocated to a single company cannot exceed 200,000ha, but some logging areas are clearly much larger than this limit.
The second interested stakeholder group is forest companies with Chinese ownership or partnership operating in Cameroon’s logging sector. There are 159 companies in total involved in the timber industry in Cameroon. 67 timber trading companies sell timber to China. 19 logging and timber trading companies have mostly Chinese capital, 14 logging and timber trading companies have some Chinese capital, while 59 timber exporters sell timber to China but with no Chinese partnership. These companies are key drivers of forest land conversions in Cameroon. 12,000 jobs have been created by huge Chinese investments, with more than half in forest areas. Chinese forest companies provide management plans and huge technology in wood products processing. However, there are very few opportunities to transfer timber processing technology from Chinese companies to Cameroonian technology, because 85% of the total volume of timber exported to China is raw logs. Moreover, management plans from Chinese forest businesses only need approval from MINFOF to implement. Forest management plans are not transparent to the public or local communities. Forest companies pay low salaries and a small proportion of social insurance for local workers. I think all these actions contradict the community rights stated in the 1994 Forest Code. In Cameroon, companies do not recognize and implement social obligations and environmental regulations and standards. Chinese capital forest companies usually have difficulties to understand local culture and laws, compared to those longer-established European companies. Forest concession owners with Chinese ownership or partnership is only linked in a commercial transaction to the forest land in Cameroon. Many of them still live in China and far away from forests in Cameroon. Although their profits are earned from harvesting and logging in Cameroon, companies owners from China do not have long-term dependency over the Cameroonian forest. I think Chinese firms are definitely a winner. By providing a lower price than European firms, Chinese companies, either state-owned or private, are able to export their surplus capitals in building infrastructure in Africa.
Besides the negative impacts of Chinese forest companies, I think the establishment of industrial parks provide hopes to local livelihoods and sustainable use of forest resources. China-Africa joint industrial parks emerged since 2000 with China’s implementation of the “Go Global” strategy. After the 2006 Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), large-scale enterprises started to join the construction. Africa is suitable for developing industrial parks for four reasons: 1) rich in natural resources; 2) labor-intensive due to huge young population; 3) huge market for textile, food, and electronics; 4) easy to export due to tariff exemption and deductibles. One type of parks forms by trade promotions. Companies in the same province expand, go out and build factories near each other, making an industrial park. Industrial parks in Cameroon fall in this type.
Joint industrial parks in Cameroon are mainly invested by commercial associations, for example, China State Construction Engineering Group (CSCEC). To provide benefits for local communities and sustainable forest management, joint industrial parks are building factories and promoting local employment. The Chinese government has promised to expand the use of local currencies in investment, funding and trade to boost the economy and to provide funding for sustainable research in Cameroon. The needs of new technologies raise local industrial innovation capabilities and production. Then, as the tax income increased from the development of these local industries, the local fiscal situation is improved, and communities gained more shared revenue from forest tax. For Chinese firms, joint industrial parks promote management and employee localization, resulting in lower operating costs. For all these reasons, joint industrial parks provide a bridge to connect park operators, local governments and enterprises. Synergies are generated from closer relations with the host government, local people, business partners and employees. Although the poor implementation of forest laws by the national government strengthened the imbalanced power between Chinese forest businesses and local communities, joint industrial parks provide a promising future for the sustainable forest management of BRI.
The third stakeholder group is international environmental NGOs (ENGOs), including World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Network for Environment and Sustainable Development in Central Africa (NESDA), and Center for Environment and Development (CED). Although these international ENGOs have different funders and evaluating scheme of company performances, their target to improve the sustainable management of BRI is the same. Therefore, I am going to generalize all these ENGOs into one to discuss. ENGOs in Cameroon connect timber companies with sustainably logging agenda—the Responsible Timber Exchange and Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). They also support with the information dissemination and training in mechanisms for engaging with the Chinese timber industry. ENGOs in Cameroon promote engagement of local communities from a responsible timber trade with Chinese companies. For example, IIED provides connections to partners. It employs Chinese language experts to work with Chinese companies. IIED also designs various communication platforms to promote dialogue between Chinese timber traders, Cameroonian government through WeChat social media, face-to-face and small group meetings with discussion on legality and sustainability issues. CED and NESDA have helped local communities form 20 civil society organizations (CSOs) to develop experience sharing, and build workshops to promote their understanding of Chinese legal frameworks related to Chinese investments in forestry, infrastructure, mining, and agroforestry. At the same time, these workshops also promoting Chinese companies to fulfill their commitments to local communities through discussions and communications. Like the community forest case in Clayoquot Sound, I think the Belt and Road Initiative has given ENOGs many chances to build alliance and networking with Chinese forest companies, local villagers and Indigenous people. With the help from ENGOs, local community in Cameroon forms alliance (CSOs as mentioned above) like what the Sami do in Sweden to request their land use rights.
With the decentralization of power and vast infrastructure construction from the BRI in Cameroon, ENGOs have grown rapidly. Based on the research of different interested stakeholders, I find that ENGOs in Cameroon are more cost-effective than the Cameroonian government to reach the local level. Because of ENGOs’ tactics including reporting, assessing companies’ performance and social audits, I am convinced that ENGOs have the biggest power to communicate effectively with different stakeholders compared to other interested stakeholders. With rich previous experiences on maintaining sustainability, international ENGOs are standing on a high level to see the whole map of issues and progress for improving livelihoods and sustainability in the BRI in Cameroon. Their projects have shown increased local communities’ capacity to secure the benefits from a responsible timber trade with Chinese companies. ENGOs have the power to influence government agencies and companies, as well as for deciding the conservation and development plan over forest lands. I am confident to say that better community engagement will be achieved in Cameroon with the help of ENGOs in the future.
Discussion of relative successes and failures of the BRI in Cameroon and recommendations
“Inspired by the ancient Silk Route, the Chinese government launched the BRI with the intention to improve regional connectivity and prompt economic cooperation by investing in infrastructure along the two routes of the initiative: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”. By prioritizing a mutual benefit between China and its partner countries, BRI always puts investments in low-carbon, sustainable and quality infrastructure. With large-scale investments from China, in future, the big trend of Cameroon is continuing to develop infrastructure and exploit natural resources.
Successes: “Nearly 2.6 billion, mostly located in developing Asia and Africa, lack access to 24/7 electricity. Almost 800 million people worldwide lack access to water, and about 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Roughly 1–1.5 billion people have no reliable phone service. Just over 20% of people in developing countries have access to the internet”. China’s BRI is like a breath of fresh air to address these infrastructure gaps, alleviate poverty and boost economic exchange in Africa. Infrastructure brings connectivity of regions, and connectivity brings economic growth for countries. New constructions of public infrastructure have provided development opportunities for Cameroon and promoted its economic growth. A surge of Chinese investment largely increases the country’s tax revenue and employment. In the forest sector, Chinese companies, as Cameroon’s biggest timber buyer, directly benefit from timber in forests and become a noticeable winner among social actors involved in the BRI.
Failures: The most prevalent concern of the BRI is environmental degradation. There are significant negative impacts on biodiversity in tropical Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. Chemicals, noise, and light from infrastructure constructions increase wildlife mortality and the spread of invasive species. New roads expand illegal logging, poaching and fires in tropical forests of Africa. Transportation networks give rise to habitat losses and the degradation of surrounding landscapes. Large-scale investments in the pipeline from China also encourage a faster rate of oil and gas exploitation in Cameroon.
The timber industry and infrastructure development in Cameroon have generated a range of problems for forests and people, including forest loss and social conflicts. The most common problems are minimal interaction between Chinese and Cameroonian workers or between companies and citizens. Communities get little return from their forest exploitation. Since community forest in Cameroon is very small, affected stakeholders in rural areas cannot increase their political voices on the management of forest resources. BRI corridors even reduce the easiness for local people to access and use natural resources. What’s more, despite infrastructure development, most local people do not have access to these new infrastructures. For example, they cannot afford the ticket to take a high-speed rail. Solutions to these social conflicts can be working collaboratively with international ENGOs to respect community tenure rights and increase local engagement. Also, by linking with research institutes, Chinese companies have shown the potential to be sustainable innovators in land uses. In addition, as mentioned above, the founding of industrial parks can provide benefits to local livelihoods and sustainable use of forest resources.
The nature of this initiative is to create shared prosperity, where nations can share mutual benefits along the BRI trade routes. However, like many African countries, Cameroonian policymakers have many difficulties to transform their gained benefits to a local level due to ineffective decentralization of power, bureaucracy, and corruption. Internal fighting in the president’s own party dysfunctions the government of Cameroon. Lower-level government officials and the public are already frustrated with the widespread and uncontrolled bribery and corruption within the society, resulting in little local engagement and participation. Also, the weak governance system in many African countries increases the operating risks and uncertainties along the trade route, and finally impacts the financial returns to China investors.
It is clear that if China and Cameroon wanted to deepen their cooperation in the future, both countries need to take efforts to improve local livelihoods and manage natural resources sustainably. Here, I am going to write some recommendations for three discussed groups of interested stakeholders. If issues from interested stakeholders can be solved, local communities and Indigenous people would have a more equal benefit-sharing and engagement automatically. Firstly, for the Cameroonian government, land tenure and rights need to be clarified as soon as possible to avoid further social conflicts on lands. The government should also devolve some of their power to give local communities more control on forest and non-timber forest products (NTFPs). James Mayers and collaborators also indicate that the Cameroonian government should enter into further bilateral negotiations between Cameroonian and Chinese forestry, agricultural and mining authorities, so that both parties can use their leverage to deter illegal operations and adopt sustainable management. Like the community forest case study in Zanzibar, different Ministries in Cameroon compete for authority on resource management. I hope the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) in Cameroon can use the BRI as an opportunity for decentralization of power to move from exclusionary natural resources management to collaborative forest management.
Secondly, for Chinese forest businesses, they need to get enough information ready and promote communications and understanding with local communities, such as hiring bilingual employees who can speak Chinese and French or English. Companies should also strictly follow the national forest law in Cameroon and produce greenly. Getting environmental stewardship, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), is a responsible way to the resources in local communities. What’s more, linking logging projects with forest research is always to good choice to manage sustainably, because research tells you which trees are the right ones to be cut, and how they can be used better. For all these reasons, I believe that environmental challenges in Cameroon mentioned in the “failure” part can be turned into opportunities in the near future.
Finally, in terms of ENGOs, monitoring the implementation of companies’ environmental and social plans are keys to reducing environmental degradation. Ascensao et al. suggest to use new environmental standards or paradigm to evaluate the environmental consequences from BRI by using Environmental and Social Assessments (SESAs), which provide a systematic evaluation of the environmental consequences of proposed policies, plans and programs. When working with the government, NGOs should also influence the government to set the right plan on infrastructure, agroforestry, and mining. Governments of Cameroon and China should fully consider environmental impacts before projects begin, rather than ignoring and facing them later on, because repairing for some damages are either irreversible or extremely costly. Equally important, ENGOs should also regularly monitor the implementation of social, environmental and technical plans for investment projects.
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