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Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI): A classic case of climate funding fraud in Africa

Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI) was established in 2015 to protect the huge rainforests of the Congo Basin, which span six Central African countries: DR Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The forest is reportedly the second largest after the Amazon, and it is significant for global emission reduction, as it sequesters over 600 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, and stores billions of tons of other greenhouse gases. The CAFI is funded by eight developed countries (Norway, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden and Belgium).

Undemocratic Governing Structure

Interestingly, the secretariat of the CAFI, which implement programmes in these African countries, has its headquarters in the Netherlands, and managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), without a direct role for any of the beneficiary countries or their regional organization. Furthermore, the executive board of the Initiative is composed of donor countries and their multilateral agencies, while Central African countries do not have a role, seat, or say in the executive board, except when invited as observers (CAFI, 2016).1 Yet the projects to be implemented are to be initiated by the African countries and submitted to the board. The conditionality for accepting project proposals is set by the executive board, which also approves such projects (CAFI, 2023).2 Worse still, the projects are implemented not by any of the central African countries who submitted a project proposal, but by selected bilateral organizations of developed countries, such as the Japan Development Agency (JICA), Belgian Development Agency (Enabel), and French Development Agency (AFD ), and multilateral institutions, including United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOP), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),  the World Bank and UNDP.

In summary, the Central African countries have no say in the decision-making, implementation structure, or project-review process. Yet the African countries involved must provide necessary support, including financial, political, and security support. CAFI is a project aimed at protecting a globally important forest resources that will help to not only absorb and store carbon, mostly from the developed economies, but also reduce emissions. The African countries involved are providing their resources for the global good, yet they are not considered important in decisions on how to fund the protection of these forests’ resources. Protecting these forests will mean that the citizens will have limited right to use the forest resources, which can provide sources of wealth for their countries (agricultural, mineral resources, and so on).

While the Western countries see their involvement in the CAFI as benevolence to Africa countries, they also count CAFI projects as part of their contribution to climate action and green development. This is then taken into account as part of their climate financing and carbon reductions. Yet, the projects are portrayed to Africans as assistance to them. It is the African countries that are providing the world with free resources to reduce emissions; yet this will not be counted as their contribution to climate financing and carbon emission reduction, but merely as support. The worst part of the fraud is that the Central African countries will still provide financial resources to facilitate smooth running of these projects.

More than this, approach to governance of the CAFI portrays Africans as lacking the wherewithal and credibility to undertake projects that will benefit them. This further underscore the neocolonialist character of developed countries, especially Western nations. It also shows how underdevelopment is deepened. This approach surely contributes to failure of this kind of initiative, yet the failure will be blamed on African countries, their lack of political accountability, cooperation, expertise, and the rest. Nonetheless, a review of the finances of the CAFI projects shows an attempt to defraud Africa—nay, the world.

CAFI Questionable Project Funding

According to the UNDP Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) office, which acts as administrative secretariat for CAFI projects, out of the $543.7 million in financial commitments by donor countries between 2016 and 2021, $501 million was deposited to the UNDP, while a sum of $194.1 million (38.7 percent of the deposit) was transferred from CAFI account to various implementing organizations. However, only $120.3 million, (representing 63 percent of transferred funds and 24 percent of the deposited funds) was actually spent in the six-year period by CAFI (UNDP, 2021).3 Yet when the story is told, it will be presented as if $543.7 million was spent on CAFI when, in reality, only a fraction of this amount actually was spent. In fact, the whole donation pales in comparison to the climate change funding needed by any of the Central African countries, not to mention the cost of emissions of the donor countries.

However, while the donors and multilateral partners paint African countries with the brush of corruption, the CAFI projects actually contained inherent corruption and mismanagement. For instance, out of the $158.5 million that could be accounted for in the expenditure, 48.6 percent went to administrative expenses, including $7.5 million (5.2 percent) for travel; indirect support cost of $12.3 million (8.44 percent), and personnel costS of $21.6 million (14.8 percent) of expenditures. This is aside the $6.4 million deducted at source from deposited funds as administrative agent fee. Out of the total expenditure accounted for, only $22.5 million (15.4 percent) was committed to grants and transfers, that is, the amount that went to beneficiaries. An undefined and opaque item called “contractual services expenses” gulped up $65 million (44.5 percent) of all expenses.

The category of “contractual services” was not defined by the report, but, given that there is already item for grants and transfers, and the fact that MPTF Office does not directly carry out the projects, but employs through agents, these items might refer to consultancy contracts. Even if the contracts are solely for direct impact projects, contractors will also collect their own contract fees and administrative charges, which can be up to between 10—20 percent of project sums, yet the implementing organizations spent $21.5 million on personnel, $7.5 million on travel, and $11.5 million on general operating costs! If these expenses were reported by African countries, the story would be spun as gargantuan corruption. From this analysis alone, it is clear that the CAFI programme is more or less like taking with the left hand most of what is given by the right hand.

Population Control: Neo-Colonial Ideology

Moving on from the expenses, the reality is that the CAFI has had limited impact on climate change or on the living conditions of the people of the African countries involved. In the first instance, reports of results and impacts are tainted with credibility deficiency, as it is the same group of organizations that funded and implemented the projects that are measuring the impacts: a form of self-assessment. This cannot be an accountable and responsible way of reporting. Yet, from the report, it can be deduced that the projects are merely a grandstanding. For instance, in its report, UNDP noted that  $33.8 million (19 percent) of the total expenditure on projects was for demographic control (population control). The funders, in a questionable approach to Africa’s climate change problem, believe that population control is a potent way to reduce emissions, not sustainable urban planning and development. This shows how foreign donors use so-called assistance and aid to achieve their own agendas, especially for Africa.

While the impact of population on development vary widely with complex relationship, the singular narrative approach to it by the western policy makers is aimed at imposing an ideology. For instance, Africa has been losing its youthful population and expertise to Europe and North America as a way of escaping poverty and strife, which shows the impact of population emigration on development.  Developing Africa’s economy can benefit greatly from its population. Indeed, one of the selling points of some industrialised countries such as United States, China and India, is their population. In any case, controlling population will not have immediate impact on protection of the rainforests, as its outcome will only manifest decades after when the new-borns would have matured. Therefore, the narrative about population as a factor for deforestation is not only wrong but also unscientific, while attempt to enforce a deliberate population control as a solution to climate change is simply fraudulent and criminal. Yet, this narrative is not only sold to Africa, but is being incorporated as a fundamental aspect of western countries’ aid policy and foreign policy towards Africa. This obviously is not aimed at promoting development in Africa, but at best, using a shortcut to avoid responsibility towards Africa’s underdevelopment, and to further deepen its underdevelopment and enslavement.

It is therefore not strange to discover that the total expenditure on population control is more than the allocation towards clean cooking facilities and green energy, especially in DR Congo, where most of the population control expenditures were spent. While $2.5 million was used (35.7 percent of $7 million approved) for clean cooking stoves, $23.4 million (70 percent of $33 million approved) was used for population control, mostly on consultancy and contraceptives. Worse still, the demographic control program did not include any funding for the health of children and mothers, especially as relating to diseases that increase childhood and maternal mortality. Furthermore, there is little or no funding for green power like solar and wind, which, alongside funding for clean cooking (especially through waste energy conversion), could have reduced significantly the rate of use of wood as energy sources.

Skewed Project Implementation

The $2.5 million spent on clean cooking stoves was 1) at a costly market rate in a country with high population of poor people; 2) too little, as only 35,000 cookstoves have been sold to date in DR Congo, where about 96 percent of households use unclean cooking systems and 80 percent have no access to electricity. Interestingly, so-called clean cooking is not actually a sustainable system, as it still involves the use of wood and charcoal, though in the UNDP’s self-defined “efficient” way. Also, the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking is not actually a clean energy approach, as it still involves the use of fossil fuel (a major contributor to carbon emissions and climate change) as primary fuel. Yet, the main aim of the CAFI is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through rainforest protection. The disturbing aspect is that a significant amount of the money could have provided a cleaner and affordable green renewable energy (such as solar, wind, or waste biomass) to many families and communities on the basis of direct investment. Rather than fund clean renewable energy, the program funded fast-growing trees as source of biomass for cooking. However, on the basis of market fundamentalist approach, coupled with a neocolonialist ideology that aims to utilise the CAFI program to promote the interests of donor countries under the guise of aid and assistance, few impacts could be made, despite some of the funds being committed to clean energy.

Parameter FONAREDD (CAFI in DRC) result Realities
Forest and Wood Use Management a. 500,000 hectares restored between 2016 and 2021 through procured titles

b. 4469 hectares of wood energy plantation with fast growing tree cultivated.

c. 17,260 hectares of used wood forest left to regenerate for supply of wood for energy.


499,059 hectares forest loss in 2021 alone.
Alternative Energy 34,601 clean stoves sold in 5 years


4 percent (4.1 million) of population has access to clean cooking (World Bank, 2021)4
Agricultural Support 27,500 households benefitedfrom support for productive and sustainable agriculture that spares forest land i. 62 percent  (63.4 million people) of the total population depends on subsistence agriculture; and 72 percent of rural household are poor (IFAD, 2019).5

ii. 15.6 million people are food insecure; 3.4 million children acutely malnourished (IFAD, 2020)6

Electricity Access No impact recorded 80 percent of the population has no access to electricity 7
Poverty 2,185 beneficiaries had their income doubled through increased revenue from improved agricultural practices for rice and corn farming 62 percent (about 60 million are poor) (World Bank, 2023)8

Furthermore, the accounting system for measuring the result of the program is suspect. For instance, UNDP reported that it set up many forest management and monitoring committees while sustainable agricultural practice systems were also set up, meaning that there has been no increase in deforestation. However, the conclusion that it is the CAFI program that led to reduction in deforestation is not supported by any scientific data or proof. Aside the fact that there are many similar programs going on in these countries, other social and economic factors also affect the rate of deforestation. A significant number of CAFI forest management and governance programs are based on consultancy training, capacity building, and setting up local committees, with limited resources for technologically driven solutions. CAFI’s forest management policies did not include adequate investment in modern agriculture with sustainable systems, which could have increased land productivity and reduced land use for agricultural purposes while sustaining the forest. These, alongside investment in clean renewable energy systems and social programs, such as sustainable mass housing, will reduce deforestation and land degradation.

In summary, the CAFI program has ended up as a huge program that promotes the interests of the funders and donors rather than addressing climate change fundamentally, developing the target countries or helping to develop adaptation capacity and resilience of those countries. Rather, it gives fake credentials to the donor countries, provide free money to implementing organizations while undermining serious development in the African countries. It is ironic that a program worth over $500 million (as at 2021) will not add a single kilowatt of clean renewable electricity, but only provide “clean” cooking stoves and gas cookers to about 30,000 people and increase agricultural revenue of about 40,000 people (if we take the report of results by CAFI at their face value).

The CAFI program, as it has been shown, is a case of how climate funding actually undermines development in Africa.


  1. CAFI. (2016). EB.2015.01: Rules and Procedures of the Executive Board of CAFI. Available at: www.cafi.org
  2. CAFI (2023). The CAFI Executive Board. www.cafi.org
  3. UNDP (2021). CAFI Trust Fund 2021 Consolidated Report. Available at: mptf.undp.org
  4. World bank (2022). Data: Access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking (% of population)—Congo, Dem. Rep. data.worldbank.org
  5. IFAD (2019). Democratic Republic of the Congo Country Strategic Opportunities Programme 2019-2024. EB 2019/127/R.21/Rev.1. webapps.ifad.org
  6. IFAD (2020). The Democratic Republic of the Congo and IFAD partner for better nutrition and resilience for small-scale farmers facing COVID-19. Press release No.: IFAD/29/2020. www.ifad.org
  7. World bank (2022). Data: Access to electricity (% of population)—Congo, Dem. Rep. data.worldbank.org
  8. World Bank (2023). World Bank in DRC. www.worldbank.org