Marc Ona was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2009 for leading a campaign to publicly expose the unlawful agreements behind a huge mining project threatening the sensitive ecosystems of Gabon’s equatorial rainforests. Ona’s efforts led to an unprecedented victory for civil society in Gabon, with the government adopting new environmental oversight regulations and significantly reducing the size of the mining concession.
In the years since winning the Prize, Ona has stayed actively involved in many environmental issues facing Gabon and neighboring countries. He continues to serve as of executive secretary of Brainforest, the environmental NGO that he founded, as well as coordinator of Publish What You Pay Coalition Gabon, and coordinator of Environment Gabon.
In April 2013, Ona was faced with possible jail time and a fee of nearly $10,000.00 US after being convicted of defamation by a Gabonese court for speaking out against suspected government corruption. In response to the charges, Douglas E. Goldman, on behalf of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, sent a letter to Gabonese President Ali Bongo calling on him to overturn the sentence. The global network of Goldman Prize recipients also sent an open letter to President Ali Bongo in May 2013, which was signed by over 50 Goldman Prize recipients and circulated on their networks.
At the time of his sentencing, Ona released the following statement:
“It’s important to know that my commitment is to stop the destruction of our forest and all biodiversity by Olam, a Singaporean company, to plant palm trees and rubber. The members of the executive [government] are [giving] land to Olam without taking care of the right[s] of populations. The deforestation caused by this activity [has] accelerated since 2009 when Ali Bongo, the new Gabonese President, [gave] all power to Olam to cut trees [and] to plant palm trees and rubber. The denunciation I made is about collusion between the new President, his cabinet and Olam. They make intimidation on the populations to accept all projects by Olam. It’s not normal. The corruption of the executive members [of government] is about influence they make to [pressure they put on] the rest of the people to accept Olam project. I am fighting again the situation and we need all the network of Goldman Prize to join us by denouncing Olam activities in Gabon and the collusion with the members of the executive power in Gabon.”
Today, Ona’s fight to expose Olam’s environmentally destructive rubber tree plantation projects continues: “Development strategies cannot be imposed on a people without their advice. Many examples in the world including Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, and Indonesia show that the neglect or failure to take into account the point of view of the people can lead to conflict or socioeconomic disaster.”
Although his sentence has not officially been overturned, Ona has not yet had to serve time in jail.