The rape of rosewood in Ghana

With a journalism career that spans over three decades, Emmanuel K Dogbevi  from Ghana has cemented his name in West Africa’s journalism hall of fame. He is the managing editor of the website, which he started in 2008. He trains journalists through NewsBridge Africa, the non-profit he established in 2014, the same year he graduated with a Master of Science in Journalism, as a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economic Journalism, from Columbia University in New York.

Dogbevi has investigated illegal rosewood logging in Ghana in two pieces, both  published in The first, published on January 16 2019, outlines how the Chinese discovered Ghana’s rosewood trees when they came to build a hydropower dam in 2017, the extent of the trade, and the impact on the environment, which led to the government banning the trade five times.

Emmanuel K Dogbevi. Image: Supplied

The second piece, titled “Ghana and the rosewood curse” and published on January 6 2020, involved two weeks of travelling 700km in search of the truth.

Dogbevi saw how the forests have been ravaged and heard how unscrupulous state officials and political appointees had interfered to stop communities intervening. He found that communities do not earn much from the rosewood even though the country seems to be profiting from it, and noted that Ghana’s rosewood export figures are lower than the import figures reported in China.

Rosewood is prized in China where it is used for traditional furniture but has more than aesthetic value: it fixes nitrogen in the soil and has medicinal properties. The plunder of the rosewood reserves has not only had a devastating environmental impact, but has also led to social ills. Dogbevi described the effect on communities as ‘’the vicious rape of their natural resources”.

Dogbevi faced a number of challenges because people were fearful and unwilling to speak, let alone name and shame those involved in this illegal act. The report was nearly thwarted when funds ran dry, a reality for many self-funded journalists on the continent. “My website doesn’t generate revenue so I always have to look for some reporting grant to be able to carry out investigations. Two organisations that had shown interest and indicated would give me funds, eventually didn’t,” said Dogbevi. When he was at the verge of giving up, the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa, known as CENOZO, and based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, offered him a grant with a tight deadline.

Exactly one week after the second part of the investigation was published,  the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh, called a press briefing in Accra. He stated that his ministry’s committee, set up to investigate the US-based Environmental Investigation Agency’s allegations of government collusion and corruption in aiding illegal rosewood cutting and exports, had found none of the officials to be culpable. However, the ministry had asked state intelligence agencies to conduct a forensic audit to test the allegations.

The ministry also stated that the discrepancy between the import and export figures was the fault of the freight company.

In March 2021 Asomah-Cheremeh was appointed Ghana’s ambassador to China.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Emmanuel K Dogbevi

The two Rosewood Articles