The campaign by the Mbuti and the other indigenous societies of the D.R. Congo against destructive logging that is supported by the World Bank is again gaining attention in the news.

The Financial Times reported last Friday it had obtained a copy of a new World Bank document, which is defensive of the Bank’s record in the Congo. However, this latest document appears, from the news story in FT, to support at least some of the findings of the Bank’s own Inspection Panel report, which was leaked to the press at the beginning of October. That report had condemned many of the practices of the Bank that support industrial logging of rainforests in the Congo River basin. The complaint to the Bank that prompted the work of the Inspection Panel had been made by a coalition of indigenous groups, including the Mbuti.

The current document apparently states that the Bank should have prepared an environmental impact statement, and it admits that the needs of the half-million indigenous peoples who live in the forest were not sufficiently recognized. It also says that the Bank never investigated possibilities for alternative uses of the forest—such as the sustainable products taken by indigenous peoples.

But according to the FT story, “the bank defends an overall policy against the claim of environmental activists that it is encouraging uncontrolled logging …” The paper contacted the World Bank for its comments on the issue. A Bank official admitted that “the situation on the ground is far from satisfactory and that the reform agenda has been unevenly implemented.” But, he added defensively, if the Bank had not become engaged in the Congo, the forest would have been in much worse shape.

These matters will be discussed at a meeting of the Bank board of directors on December 20. Meanwhile, people living in the London area who are interested in this controversy might wish to attend a public meeting announced for this evening, December 13th. It will explore issues relating to the Congo rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants.

The Rainforest Foundation UK has issued an invitation to the public to attend the program tonight at the University College of London to hear presentations by leaders of organizations from the D.R. Congo about how the forest peoples are working to save their homes and lives.

The two guests flying to London for the discussion include Willy Loyombo from OSAPY and Theo Gato from CENADEP, Congolese organizations that are intimately involved with trying to preserve the forest and its people. The mission of OSAPY is to support the indigenous peoples of Congo and their natural environment. It has been intimately involved in the controversy surrounding the ineffective leadership provided by the Bank and the threats that logging poses. The objectives of CENADEP include promoting both the rural and urban peoples of Congo through alternative development possibilities.

Professor Phil Burnham, Head of the Social Anthropology Section at the College, will chair the discussion tonight. He has done extensive field work in Central and West Africa, with a special focus on the impact of logging on forest peoples.

The meeting will last from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m., and will be held in the Department of Anthropology Common Room, University College of London, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. According to the Rainforest Foundation announcement, the closest tube stations are Euston, Goodge Street, or Russell Square. It is necessary to e-mail Kate Tomlinson at [email protected] in order to reserve a place in the auditorium. Light refreshments will be served.