Gabon: Lee White, the new Minister of Forests, the Sea and the Environment, in charge of the Climate Plan
Libreville, Gabon 13 June 2019_ the Environment enthusiast Lee White, a British-born Gabonese national, told the media at the close of the first Ministers’ Council that his appointment was a call for better governance and sustainable management of Gabon’s forests which are under threat.
“I think my appointment was motivated more by my technical expertise than my political abilities”, said Mr. White, and added that he is well acquainted with Gabon’s forests thanks to 30 years’ experience working in the sector.
Lee White’s chief concern will be to restructure the Ministry of Forests to bring it up to speed with current challenges. He also plans to scale up the value of Kevazingo precious wood, a millennial species whose exploitation is banned.
“There has been much talk of banning the exploitation of Kevazingo. This is not however the best way to develop Gabon. The focus should rather be on sustainable exploitation hence the need to work alongside experts of the Ministry in order to make things right” he continued.
The environmental enthusiast has worked in other African countries like Nigeria and Sierra Leone. But it was at the helm of the Gabonese branch of the American non-governmental organization, WCS, that Lee White caught the attention of the Gabonese authorities. He was then appointed by former Gabonese President Omar Bongo, starting in 2002, to serve as Adviser to Presidency of the Republic on issues relating to climate change, national parks and ecotourism. His promotion came on the heels of the creation of the National Agency of National Parks (ANPN).
Prior to the government appointment, Lee White had headed the National Agency of National Parks (ANPN) for ten years. The agency managed the country’s 13 parks which span 10% of the national territory.
However his appointment comes in the midst of the “Kevazingogate scandal”.
A State Scandal!
« Kevazingogate » is a State scandal that has been rocking Gabon for several weeks. The case is centered around the guibourtia tessmanni species, locally known as Kevazingo. It is a tree found in Nigeria but more commonly in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The sale of this precious wood is strictly prohibited under Gabonese law. However, a few weeks ago, more than 350 containers loaded with Kevazingo wood were found at Owendo port, 12 km from Libreville, the capital of Gabon, following an Interpol-aided investigation. After they were seized by the Gabonese courts pending investigations, the containers mysteriously disappeared. The case has been making headlines ever since.
Epilogue of the case: Pierre Calvier Maganga Moussavou, Vice-President of the Republic of Gabon is fired. The President also sacks the Minister of Water and Forests, Guy-Bertrand Mapangou. who is now being replaced by environmental activist Lee White.
Excerpts from Gabon actu (Sydney IVEMBI) and Afrik 21 (Jean Marie Takouleu)