Unregulated teak trade fuelling South Sudan conflict


Consumers purchasing teak may be fuelling conflict in South Sudan, a research group said warning armed groups are benefiting from an unregulated logging trade worth millions of dollars.

Washington-based research group C4ADS, which uses publicly available data to analyse illicit transnational networks, examined trade data to document the export of 100000 tons of South Sudanese teak from January 2018 to March 2019.

The report found corruption and a poorly regulated logging trade meant government, the military and armed groups are skimming profits off South Sudan’s portion of the global teak trade, worth more than $500 million dollars annually.

“This vastly under-regulated trade is entering global supply chains with little consideration of its relationship to conflict finance,” said report co-author Stella Cooper.

Oil-rich South Sudan became Africa’s youngest nation in 2011, but slid into a civil war two years later that killed an estimated 400 000 and caused Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide. A shaky peace deal signed a year ago is largely holding but formation of a unity government has been repeatedly delayed.

British colonialists planted South Sudan’s teak in the first half of the 20th century. The tropical hardwood is sought after by furniture makers.

Decades of war with its erstwhile ruler, Sudan, degraded South Sudan plantations, the teak plantations could generate up to $100 million per year in export revenue if properly managed, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

The South Sudanese Environment and Forestry Ministry’s Under-secretary of Forestry Jaden Tongun did not answer phone calls requesting comment.

Another undersecretary in the ministry, Joseph Bartel, could not answer questions on forestry. A government spokesman did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Logging and plantation concessions are not properly regulated, the report said, adding contradictory laws make it difficult to define when teak is logged illegally.

Teak traders pay bribes to county governments, the military and rebel groups for protection, the report found. Much of the teak illegally crosses South Sudan’s porous southern border with Uganda, the report found.

South Sudanese teak worth more than $30.5 million went to India, the world’s biggest teak importer, according to Indian trade data. That is about half the South Sudanese teak trucked through Uganda in 2018, the report said.

South Sudanese teak also goes to Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and China, the report found. It was impossible to state the total amount of South Sudanese teak exported last year, the report said, because of gaps in import-export data.