Hardly two weeks after reporting on illegal logging in Ngumburuni Forest Reserve in Rufiji District, Coast Region implicating district officials and police officers, The Guardian has learnt of at least six routes used to ferry the logs.
The forest is endowed with indigenous tree species such as mkuruti (Baphia Kirkii), which is marketable in Asian countries like China for furniture and construction purposes.
Speaking during interviews with this paper in Rufiji at the weekend, Muyuyu, Ruaruke, Mangwi, Mkupuka, Umwe Kasikazini, Umwe Kati, and Umwe Kusini leaders and villagers said there were illegal routes from the forest through Mkupuka village near Luhoi River and through Mpalange village. They said traffic police pretended to inspect vehicles, while they facilitated illegal loggers to pass through undisturbed.
Other routes passed through Mangwi, Misimbo and Mchukwi villages to Ikwiriri through Mwembe Mmoja and through Muyuyu village to Njogoro and Umwe kusini village.
After being harvested, the logs are processed in Ikwiriri township before being transported to Dar es Salaam and exported to Asian countries.
One of the village leaders, who preferred anonymity said there was an intricate network, which involved district officials and the police. He explained that they were being paid up to 70,000/- per vehicle to cover up the scam and allow the vehicle to ferry the illegal logs to market points.
Juma Salum Makumbusho from Umwe Kusini village said on May 16 he saw a lorry loaded with over 100 logs from the forest travelling to Ikwiriri at about 22:00 hours but following a recent fracas in Ikwiriri between farmers and livestock keepers, the logs were unloaded and hidden in Mgomba area near Ikwiriri-Dar es Salaam Road.
According to the villagers and leaders, there are at least three log and timber processing factories in different places in Ikwiriri Division. The processing is done in Ikwriri before the illegal logs are transported to Dar es Salaam or exported abroad.
Umwe Kaskazini Village Chairman Shamte Mmipi said unless current district leaders were removed, illegal logging would continue because they had formed a strong network that involved business tycoons and senior officials.
“We know them by name, they come poor but now they are very rich. So, if the government will not remove them, curbing illegal logging will remain a dream,” he said.
Rufiji District Executive Director (DED) Nassoro Mwingira was not in his office to respond to comment on the reports. His secretary said he was at a meeting with councillors. He would not pick up his phone either, when this reporter rang three days ago. However, The Guardian sought views from one of the accused officials with Rufiji District Forest Department, Joseph Nambua, who refuted the allegations, saying those, who accused him and his department were doing so without evidence. Another suspect, who was a forest officer (name withheld) could not be reached for comments as he was also at the same meeting.
“It is not true. If they have evidence let them go and report to the appropriate authorities. What I know is that all procedures and processes are adhered to,” said Nambua.
He, however, admitted that lack of transport to and from the forest and a shortage of forest experts paralysed regular patrols.
“Rufiji District has only three forest officers. There is a shortage of vehicles as some of them are defective,” he said.
When this paper contacted Coastal Regional Commissioner Mwantum Mahiza about two weeks ago on the same matter, she asked the villagers and their leaders to put their claims in writing and give her for further action. She also directed the newly appointed district commissioner to give the matter a priority in her first days in office.