Philip Buda Ladu
An investigation by No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper into the persistent illegal logging activities in Kajo-Keji County of Central Equatoria State has shown a ring of cartels manning the logging.
The South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) have been involved in the illegal logging as the forces have been seen deployed to provide security to illegal loggers.
Kajo-Keji County is suffering from a record massive destruction of its forest cover with impunity and shield from the army.
Community leaders, Chiefs and Youth from Kajo-Keji have often raised concerns over the illegal logging in the county as various groups met the Central Equatoria State Governor Emmanuel Adil Anthony over the matter but no tangible results have been realized from the State interventions since then.
Governor Adil only responded with the issuance of several Gubernatorial orders banning the logging activity in Kajo-Keji and across Central Equatoria but their implementation have been at zero attempt.
Unfortunately, the opposite is being seen by the communities affected as far as the implementations of the orders are concerned.
The communities said the state’s local law enforcement agencies have done nothing to enforce the orders especially the SSPDF; some instead are seen as impeders.
James Madual Thong, the Manager of Aguet Trading Company-the company involved in the chaotic logging saga in Kajo-Keji County who issued threats to the county authorities last year over logging ban, first denied his company was involved in the illegal logging business.
However, when asked of how the SSPDF soldiers got to guard his machine operators in the bushes while cutting the trees, the Aguet Company Manager said he hired the soldier to provide security to his workers due to insecurity.
Madual said he pays each soldier 20,000 Ugandan Shillings daily.
The prominent companies involved in the illegal logging in Kajo-Keji County are; Aguet Trading Company managed by James Madual Thong, Santos Petroleum and Timber Company managed by Dominic Wani and then Oscar Investment Company of Jimmy Nigo, according to local authorities.
Madual said they were invited to Kajo-Keji by the then Defunct Yei River State to buy logs confiscated from SPLM-IO and auctioned to the three companies which they paid about 16,000 US dollars to the State authorities.
He said they were also licensed by Kajo-Keji County authority in which they paid 1,500 US dollars in order to carry their logs. but later local authorities in Nyepo Payam arrested his workers and machineries for illegal entry to their area and his company was fined 35 million Ugandan Shillings.
No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper obtained copies of some documents from some of the logging companies’ managers indicating that some State and local government authorities both from the Defunct Yei River State and current Central Equatoria gov’t including the office of the Governor issued letters permitting the loggers to operate in Kajo-Keji in the name of auctioning logs felled during the war to feed forces.
This has eventually made the loggers who claimed they have paid huge sums of money to the State, County and some local proclaimed land lords who according to local chiefs have been compellingly bribed by the loggers to extend their operation on no valid grounds.
The loggers are amassing individual wealth with neither economic benefits nor corporate social responsibility being rendered to the local communities.
Last year the Community of Nyepo Payam in Kajo-Keji County where the lucrative logging is currently at its peak met Governor Adil and pleaded with him to intervene to stop the rampant logging in Kajo-Keji or else there will be no trees in the area resulting to climate change.
The Nyepo Community accused the SSPDF command in Kajo-Keji County of involvement in the logging saga in the County saying the army there deployed 29 SSPDF soldiers to guard machines operators cutting down the trees.
The Community stressed that their members have also been threatened and intimidated with dangerous accusations of being branded as National Salvation Front (NAS) rebels whenever they complaint about the illegal logging.
The Community said after extensive investigations, they found out some army officers involved in the logging business in Nyepo Payam, Kajo-Keji County as mentioned below.
Col. John Kamilo is the commander of the SSPDF in Kajo-Keji County who is in charge of deployment of the forces in Kajo-Keji.
The Community said the deployment of 29 SSPDF forces to guard operators of logging machines cannot be done by any other person other than him.
So, he is deeply involved as he was quoted saying “the people of Nyepo are protecting trees while his forces are hungry”.
When reached by No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper for comment on his involvement on the logging in Kajo-Keji County, Col. John Kamilo neither denied nor accepted the claims that he deployed the SSPDF soldiers to protect the loggers saying he was not allowed to respond to any media inquiry, instead referring this reporter to speak to the military spokesperson.
The Community memo identified Maj. General Lokujo, who defected from the SPLA-IO to the SSPDF and is currently stationed in Kajo-Keji to be one of those army officers involved in the illegal logging activities.
The community said his previous logging company called Production when he was in IO, is still active and being protected by this general.
Other personnel deployed include, Nelson Momo Abriga, Moses Duku ‘Bungit.
“Maj. Longar based in Liwolo, Capt. Galuak based in Kerwa, 1st. Lt. Abraham based in Kansuk. These are soldiers of SSPF and IO who are directly facilitating the cutting and selling of the logs the community outlined the suspected players behind the illegal logging in Kajo-Keji,” it claimed.
“We have come before you (Governor Adil) as representatives of Nyepo Community to plead with you for intervention, otherwise sooner there will be no trees in Nyepo Payam and will result to no rains, no agricultural produce and thus food insecurity” the Community memo presented to the Governor partly read.
The Commissioner of Kajo-Keji County, Kenyi Erasto had last year conceded that his County local security apparatus have seemingly been compromised by the illegal loggers.
Ernesto told No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper in an exclusive interview that the loggers were resisting arrest as they are well armed making it difficult for the security apparatus in his county to arrest them.
James Modi, the Paramount Chief of Nyepo Payam in Kajo-Keji county said the loggers are immune to the orders banning logging in his payam as the activity is still ongoing.
Modi said the loggers engaging in the lucrative illicit logs business first entered his Payam in 2019 before the formation of the unity government.
“The traders entered Nyepo since 2018, when it was Gen. Moses Lokujo that was working there with his forces when he was still with the SPLM/A-IO but in 2019 those people entered Mondi in Gaderu Boma of Nyepo Payam where they felled down 460 logs” Modi explained.
“After the loggers cut down the logs, they came to my Payam here asking me (Paramount Chief), that chief, we have our logs there we want to collect can you allow us? Then I questioned them why they entered the forest without permission and now that they have cut logs they come for permission because of that you must pay something I will fine you 32 million Ugandan shillings” Modi narrated their encounter with the loggers.
He said they agreed with the loggers to pay the 32 million Ugandan shillings and collect their logs and they shouldn’t return to cut new logs but unfortunately, the illegal loggers later went on rampage in the forest clearing all matured Afezilia Africana trees in Nyepo.
“They took the 460 logs and after that since May 2019 they entered the bushes at once by force. They entered many in the forest from Gaderu side cut all logs proceeded to Lori, Kansuk and Rodo Bomas respectively. They don’t accept civilians to ask them in the bush as they move along with soldiers that they claim are protecting them from the NAS rebel” Modi asserted.
“An order came from the Governor that the logging should stop but it’s not stopping because those people (loggers) move with arms and soldiers in the bush nobody will talk even me as the paramount chief I just watch them with my eyes” the Paramount Chief exclaimed.
The paramount chief questioned as to who gave the command for the soldiers to provide security to the loggers, saying the trucks ferrying logs are moving at night but he wonders how they exit the border which has custom officials.
This has left the citizens to question whether some State officials are not indirectly involved in the illegal activity being carried with impunity in Kajo-Keji County and across the State.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Moga the Coordinator of Kajo-Keji Youth Association in Juba stated that there is a serious logging ongoing in Kajo-Keji and the most unfortunate thing is that the logging is an illegal activity but it’s been protected by the country’s defense forces.
“I want to really say without fear that the SSPDF are defending or they are the ones protecting the loggers in Kajo-Keji and this to us is very unfortunate. We thought the security personnel are supposed to be protecting the properties of the country but if they are also working to facilitate illegal activities this one put as into worry” Moga echoed.
The Kajo-Keji youth leader in Juba who spoke in an occasion on Saturday to celebrate the appointment of the First Undersecretary in the Ministry of Finance appealed to the Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs Angelina Teny who was present at the event to intervene on the army’s involvement in the illegal logging.
“I really say in your presence that we need your intervention in this particular matter. We have tried all avenues but our appeals have fallen on deaf ears, I hope this time since I am speaking directly to you there will be opportunities that the SSPDF will be withdrawn from protecting illegal activities in Kajo-Keji County” Moga appealed to the Defense Minister Anglina Teny.
Amos Mila, a Member of Parliament representing Kajo-Keji County at Central Equatoria State Transitional Assembly also stressed that it is depressing to see that issue of destruction of the forest in his County is persisting despite efforts being taken by the communities to stop it.
Governor Emmanuel Adil went to Kajo-Keji last month and ordered a stoppage to the illegal logging there but the members Kajo-Keji said nothing has changed and the loggers are operating normally.
“It is disheartening when H.E. the Governor of Central Equatoria State went to Kajo-Keji and to the border to meet the authorities in the boundaries areas in order to promote good co-existence he did order in his speech that the logging must stop unfortunately when he left for Juba the opposite was done that very night a fleet of trucks left Kajo-Keji via the Uganda’s border District of Moyo with logs” Mila reiterated the persisting illegal activity ongoing in Kajo-Keji.
Reacting to the concerns of the Community, Angelina Teny, the Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs promised that the people of Kajo-Keji will see difference once the unified forces are graduated.
“Army engaging in illegal activities has also a lot to do not only with war and peace but also the status of our economy in the country, you all know they receive very little salaries and you expect them to manned our border so we as a State we also need to look after that, we have started but with a little bit of patience” Angelina submitted.