Gabon: High Official gets 7 months jail for wildlife crime and corruption

A high local authority, the Prefect (Senior Divisional Officer) of Mitzic has been finally convicted and sentenced to 12 months in prison, 5 of which are a pending sentence, and 7 of applied prison term. He was also ordered to pay 300,000CFA (450Euros) in fines and 500,000 CFA (750Euros) as damages.

The two poachers the Prefect employed were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, 8 of which of applied prison term. The two poachers were arrested red handed by a wildlife officer as they carried inside the Prefect’s vehicle three mandrills, a protected duiker, a toucan and other unprotected species. The poachers carried a mission order signed by the high official that was supposed to cover their illegal activities but in fact incriminated the Prefect. The Prefect was sure of his impunity not only in trying to release the poachers after the arrest but also in beating the wildlife officer challenging his impunity.

The high official had surely never imagined that one day, he could be arrested and treated as a normal prisoner for the many months he spent behind bars. Impunity of local authorities has been for long the order of the day and in this context his conviction marks a landmark step in the fight for good governance and against corruption. Who could have thought that such an infraction can get a high authority in jail? The Gabonese authorities demonstrated in this case their determination and showed an exemplary stance on environmental protection and the fight against authority abuse and corruption.

Gabon has just been ranked as number 102 from 176 countries in the transparency International Corruption Perception Index, while being ranked as 100 last year. It stays in the red zone of countries where corruption constitutes a major obstacle for sustainable development. In the same line, Gabon’s National Commission Against Illegal Enrichment has declared in March this year that the country loses every year 250 billion CFA (350 million Euros) to embezzlement and illicit financial flows. Elsewhere in the Central African sub-region, Gabon is in a better position than Chad (165 of 176 countries, score of 19), and Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Congo – all sharing the 144th place, with a score of 26. Sao-Tomé & Principe, remarkably, is considered as the least corrupt in Central Africa.

The fight for the application of wildlife law, brought forth by Conservation Justice and the LAGA network, inevitably becomes a fight against corruption, in government institutions but even in NGOs themselves. Conservation Justice, as its network, has uncovered numerous acts of corruption and complicity in certain state structures and NGOs. Indeed numerous authorities use their power to develop networks of wildlife traffic, particularly concerning with regard to ivory. The battle is indeed one that needs to be intensified.

The Divisional officer of Bolossoville, in the Woleu-Ntem Province, has been arrested by the wildlife authorities with illegal wildlife products on 4th December, coinciding in the same week as the prosecution of his colleague the PREFECT of Mitzic!
Unfortunately, it seems the case was not transferred to justice in this case! Hence the need to use our successes to push for the Mitzic precedence to become the norm and the fight against corruption to become the fight of all of us.