Forest in Guinean capital disappearing due to uncontrolled urbanization

A forest within Guinea’s capital city, Conakry, is disappearing before our very eyes due to uncontrolled urbanization destroying its few remaining green spaces.

Kakimbo is one of Guinea’s reserve forests in the Ratoma commune of north-east Conakry. According to the General Population and Housing Census of 2014 (RGPH), Conakry had a population of 1.6 million inhabitants, which must now stand at over 2.3 million.

Although Guinea has a relatively low rate of urbanization at 3.81 percent, this forest has a vital role to play. Owing to its significant greenhouse gas storage capacity, Kakimbo serves as both a carbon sink and natural barrier against climate change. However, over the past four decades, anthropization has significantly reduced its overall surface area from 117 hectares to just 15.

Kantala Camara, the 40-year-old deputy district leader of Ratoma Centre and a Kakimbo native, fondly recalls stories about this forest that could fill several pages. In a Global Voices interview, he recalls a story from his childhood at the forefront of his mind:

Il y avait des fruits ici et là. Nous les récoltions et les mangions quand nous étions enfants. Mais aujourd'hui, Kakimbo n'inspire que craintes et incertitudes. Tout cela a été détruit maintenant. Ce n'est plus une forêt.

There was some fruit here and there. When we were kids, we used to collect it then eat it. However, Kakimbo only instills fear and uncertainty these days. Everything has been destroyed. It’s no longer a forest.

Thanks to its immense caves, 18m in height and 8m in depth, the Kakimbo Classified Forest was once a place of worship for the Baga, a minority community with a population of 60,000 inhabitants. Mariame Sylla, an inhabitant of Kakimbo’s neighboring district, Ratoma Centre, notes the value this forest holds for this community. She laments:
Des gens venaient prier le génie de Kakimbo pour exaucer leur vœux. Kakimbo a été un lieu sacré pour les chefs d’État qui sont passés en Guinée notamment Sékou Touré (premier président de la Guinée de 1958 à 1984) et Lansana Conté (président de 1984 à 2008). L’équipe de Football de Hafia ne sortait jamais en compétition sans passer par là. Mais aujourd’hui, on en parle seulement parce que nous avons assez interpellé l’État pour sauver notre Kakimbo. Regardez les alentours, ce lieu est pourri.
People would come to ask the Kakimbo spirit to grant their wishes. Kakimbo was a sacred place for Guinean heads of state, especially Sékou Touré [the first president of Guinea from 1958 to 1984] and Lansana Conté [president from 1984 to 2008]. The Hafia soccer team would also never compete without first going there. However, we are only discussing this today because we have called upon the state time and again to save our forest. But look around, the place is ruined.

The gradual loss of Conakry's carbon sinks

Kakimbo Twin Towers, built on an area of Kakimbo Forest Photo by Aïssata Sidibe, used with permission

Although “classified” in 1943 and declared an “area of public interest” in October 1983, Kakimbo Forest has decreased in surface area by 75 percent, thus falling from 117 hectares to just 15.

This being so, Camara blames unauthorized construction taking place near Kakimbo River, where the forest once was, as well as the current location of the government-run station Radio Télévision GuinéenneTwin towers have also taken the place of Kakimbo springs. He has subsequently condemned this breach of the law:

Pourtant, nous n'avons pas vu de décrets qui déclassent cette forêt pour construire ces infrastructures.

However, we haven’t seen any decrees declassifying this forest to build this infrastructure.

Today, the forest has lost everything. Its surroundings have come into complete disrepair and the forest itself appears sparse and bare. Due to unauthorized construction encroaching upon Kakimbo’s original surface area, its biodiversity is disappearing at a staggering pace. In a Global Voices interview, Mr. Mohamed Fofana, the National Director of Water and Forests at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD) said:

Nos forêts sont la proie privilégiée des citoyens, partout les constructions d’habitations sont faites même sur les berges de cours d’eau.

Our forests are the citizens’ preferential prey. Residential construction is taking place everywhere, even on riverbanks.

Residential blocks built right under the noses of Guinean authorities continue encroaching upon this forest, as Mohamed Lamaine Camara, a tenant in one of these Kakimbo residences, explains:

Ça fait 6 ans que j’habite ici. Nous avons de l’air tout le temps malgré que la forêt diminue.

I have lived here for 6 years now. Although we always have air, the forest is shrinking.
Rivers running through this forest also bear the heavy burden of the area's rapid uncontrolled urbanization, Kantala Camara explains:

Maintenant on a pratiquement plus d’eau ici après la saison des pluies. En plus il fait très chaud actuellement. Le cours d’eau est bloqué par les constructions et les sources tarissent.

Following the rainy season, there’s substantially more water here now. It’s also very warm. However, buildings block the river, and the springs are drying up.

What remain of Kakimbo Forest. Photo by ïssata Sidibe, used with permission

Deeply invested civil society actors and activists

In view of this alarming situation, environmental activists conduct ongoing initiatives, calling upon the authorities to protect this classified forest. For Oumou Hawa Diallo, a young climate activist, the reforestation and restoration of this classified forest has become a personal cause. A report by French newspaper, Le Monde, explores his commitment to raising awareness about environmental issues in Guinea.

However, Guinean climate activist, Vayanga Donzo, calls upon the state to take action alongside civil society. In an interview with Global Voices, he said:

Le constat sur la situation actuelle de la forêt de Kakimbo est alarmant et très écœurant. Au-delà des ONG et des collectivités locales, l’État n’est pas impliqué dans la gestion de cette forêt alors qu’on peut même considérer cette forêt comme le poumon de la ville de Conakry. Il y a tellement d’industries qui rejettent des carbones dans cette ville. Kakimbo stocke ces carbones rejetés et joue un rôle très important dans l’équilibre écologique à Conakry. Il faut que l’État mène vraiment des actions conséquentes pour la survie et la sauvegarde de cette forêt.

Observations on Kakimo Forest's current situation are extremely alarming and sickening. Although this forest could be considered the lungs of Conakry, the state plays no part in its management alongside NGOs and local communities. So many industries in this town emit carbon. Kakimbo thereby stores these carbon emissions, thus playing a vital role in Conakry’s environmental balance. The state really must take significant action for the conservation and survival of this forest.

Lack of ministerial collaboration

The lack of synergistic action between the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD) and the Ministry of Urbanism, Housing and Regional Planning (MUHAT) is not without blame for the gradual demise of Kakimbo Forest.

Mr. Mohamed Fofana, the National Director of Water and Forests at MEDD, criticizes this lack of collaboration between his department and that of MUHAT. He notes with regret:

La collaboration entre le ministère de l’habitat et de l’environnement est mince malgré la mise en place d’une commission mixte qui n’a jamais été opérationnelle. C’est le département de l’habitat qui délivre généralement les permis de constructions dans les forêts.

The collaboration between the Ministry of Housing and Environment is weak. Despite the introduction of a joint committee, it has never been in operation. It is usually the Department of Housing that issues forest construction permits.
According to Fofana, the remaining surface area of the fast-disappearing Kakimbo Classified Forest could be saved should appropriate measures be taken. This would mainly involve effective coordination between the Department of Housing and Environment. He stresses:

Il est impérieux qu’il ait une bonne collaboration comme la réactivation de la commission mixte créée entre les deux ministères.

An effective collaboration, such as the reinstatement of the joint committee established between both ministries, is essential.

This is essential as this forest is also a vital source of water: Seven boreholes belonging to the Water Company of Guinea (SEG) are found within Kakimbo.

However, the situation in Kakimbo isn't an isolated case. Although measures have been taken to clear settlers from this area since 2015, Mount Kakoulima, which is a protected natural site, is still hit by unauthorized construction and public farmlands. This video report by Guinean health and environment media outlet, Caducée TV, is a prime example of the country’s overall situation:

Unfortunately, Kakimbo, often called the capital’s green lung, is becoming increasingly segmented and congested with concrete and steel from unauthorized construction. If this so-called lung is to continue playing its part in Conakry’s wellbeing, it must undergo intense shock therapy to recover its initial elasticity and ventilatory function.

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