Africa’s Eden is forced to suspend its operations in Loango Lodge for international tourists until at least September 20th, 2009 following dispute between Gabonese government and regional aviation company SCD Aviation
Gabon, August 2009 – In 2002, late President Omar Bongo Ondimba put Gabon firmly on the map as an important future eco-tourism destination by nominating more than 11% of the nation’s territory as National Park to protect its vital rainforest and wildlife like the gorilla, chimpanzee and forest elephant. Seven years later, following the death of the President, a disagreement between the current interim government of Gabon and Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD SA) now prevents the country’s main eco-tourism partner Africa’s Eden from continuing its conservation-enabling activities in Loango National Park.
“Sadly, due to the dispute between the current Gabonese government and SCD SA, we can no longer guarantee our guests a safe and convenient journey to Loango National Park,” said Catherine Eviter, spokesperson for SCD SA. Consequently, Africa’s Eden is forced to suspend its operations in Loango Lodge for international tourists until at least September 20th, 2009. She added: “Although our tourism operations will be suspended, we will continue making every effort to ensure there is no negative impact on our conservation projects in and around Loango National Park.”
Société de Conservation et Développement started operations in Gabon in 2001, with the aim of developing low-impact tourism and conservation in Gabon based around the concept of ‘tourism pays for conservation’. Africa’s Eden is the division that operates Loango Lodge and several eco-camps for tourists to have a unique experience in Gabon, while at the same time contributing to its nature conservation. As 70 percent of Gabon’s country is covered by rainforest, an aviation company was started up around the same time to transport guests as well as supplies from the major capitals of West and Central Africa to the national parks in Gabon. Since 2001, SCD SA has invested over 15 million euro in the country’s economy and created more than 300 jobs. It has also contributed almost 3 million euro towards conservation and wildlife research, independently and through renowned conservation organisations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Max Planck Institute.
At the end of 2008, SCD SA had developed an arrangement with the Gabonese government to restructure its aviation business, which had also grown into a reputable carrier for Gabonese residents and employees of oil companies. However, following the death of His Excellency the late President El Haj Omar Bongo Ondimba on June 8, the interim Gabonese government decided earlier agreements would no longer be honoured, making it impossible for SCD SA to continue operating its aircraft. As a result, passengers as well as supplies can no longer conveniently reach Loango Lodge and the eco-camps. Africa’s Eden is considering various possibilities to resolve the situation and will keep clients fully informed of developments. Until that time, tourists cannot be accommodated in Loango Lodge.
The day that the late President’s death was confirmed, Hannah Koep, analyst at the Control Risks Group, explained: “Bongo’s unexpected departure from office leaves a potentially dangerous power vacuum. Given his highly personalized style of rule, the as-yet unresolved succession question could lead to elite in-fighting and a political crisis.” (Source: Reuters, June 8, 2009.) A mere two months later, SCD SA have run into difficulties with the Gabonese government. Did SCD SA get trapped in Hanna’s feared power vacuum?
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