One of Africa’s most respected campaigners has won the 2009 Goldman environmental prize – known informally as the “Green Nobel”.
Marc Ona Essangui became a household name in Gabon in 2006 when he exposed a secret 2.7 billion euro deal with a Chinese company to build a mine and dam in the Ivindo national park. Ona is the head of Brainforest, an environmmental NGO based in Libreville. The 45-year-old said his exposé forced the government to re-evaluate the terms of the deal in Gabon’s favour. He said: “Africa can no longer sign contracts to exploit its natural resources with economic partners like back in the 1930s, where external partners just told Africans what to do. We have a lot of very competent legal experts now and we must have faith in their abilities.” Ona, an outspoken critic of corruption, was denied permission to leave Gabon three times last year. He was arrested by armed guards at the airport as he left for the US to receive his award earlier this week, but later was allowed to leave. Part of the Congo Basin rainforest, Gabon is the second largest forest ecosystem in the world. But research suggests it is losing over 10,000 hectares of wooded land a year to logging, the majority of it illegal. Ona will share his 682,000 euro award, the richest for grassroots environmentalists, with winners from six other continental regions.