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Conservation Projects That Harm Communities:

Threats against community rights continue to rise in and around the Boumba Bek - Nki Conservation Area of Southeast Cameroon

The transfrontier TRIDOM area has been targeted for conservation for the past 20 years. Its cornerstones comprise Minkebe National Park in Gabon, Odzala Park in the Republic of Congo, the Dja Reserve and Boumba Bek-Nki Parks. The area is also home to many rural communities, including thousands of indigenous Baka whose livelihoods and culture have relied upon forest hunting and gathering across the region for many years.

This heavily forested region has long been targeted for exploitation by logging companies that have secured government permission in the form of large (30-70,000 ha) logging concessions. In more recent years, new mines for cobalt and iron ore have started to open, and this has been associated with rapid investments in infrastructure development (mainly roads), increased numbers of illicit mining camps, and increasing migration into the zone by potential farmers, miners and commercial actors. These threats have brought about increasing investments in anti-poaching activities, resulting in indigenous Baka being cut off from their traditional lands, and having their human rights threatened by overzealous ecoguards.

Outside the few local towns across the region, the majority of the rural population is indigenous Baka, numbering around 8,000 people, with the majority aged 25 or under. The original management approach that was adopted for Boumba Bek Park was based upon the policy of no access or use, enforced by teams of paramilitary eco-guards charged with controlling illegal wildlife poaching. Around the Boumba Bek portion of the complex (Boumba Bek-Nki National Parks), these guards swiftly earned a negative and well-documented reputation for targeting local and indigenous peoples, resulting in serious abuses and conflict between park authorities and communities, reduced community welfare, and increasing poverty. Communities remain systematically excluded from the management of the park, in direct contravention to key IUCN and WWF policies requiring protection of community rights and governance of community forests based upon their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). These standards are to be further validated at the World Parks Congress in Sydney in November 2014.

Maps of customary areas in and around Boumba Bek, created between 2004 and 2006 by communities, their civil society support organisations (including FPP) and NGO conservation agencies clearly illustrated how indigenous communities’ traditional lands had been overlain by the park boundaries. Maps created by Baka communities during 2014 with support from the indigenous NGO Okani show a similar pattern of extensive forest use across vast Baka customary areas overlain by logging and mining concessions nearby, and mirror other Baka territories overlain by Nki National Park. 

The pattern of community territories overlain by conservation, as evidenced by these community maps, explains why conflicts between indigenous communities and park authorities became so severe so rapidly across this region well over a decade ago. As documented in a recent report, they continue around both Boumba Bek and Nki National Parks today. Serious allegations of human rights abuses by ecoguards against communities during 2014 in this region are credible and consistent with a systematic pattern of such abuses. This is a depressing feature of the “guns and guards” model of conservation which still predominates in southeast Cameroon, and which FPP has also documented in the northern Republic of Congo, southwest Central Africa Republic, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya (see Sengwer article in this issue).

The most significant development southwest of Nki Park in Cameroon - and part of the reason ecoguards have become even more active there in recent years - is the huge Mballam iron ore mine that is being established by the Cameroon company known as Camiron. It holds the concession permit for an area containing substantial amounts of direct ship ore in the form of up to 95% pure hematite. The development programme for the mine includes construction of a 450 kilometre long railway and associated infrastructure (including roads) between Mballam in southeast Cameroon and a new port located south of Kribi. That railway will further bisect other Baka and Bagyeli community lands, and is the harbinger of a dramatic transformation of the landscape in and around the Boumba Bek-Nki Complex. This is home to the majority of Cameroon’s indigenous forest peoples who want to conserve the forest upon which their welfare and culture depends. Conservation agencies working in Cameroon should recognise the key role that indigenous communities have had in the conservation of their customary lands, which have now become national parks - and stop persecuting them there.  And indigenous Baka from around the Mballam mining area are clear, the lands being targeted by the Mballam mining company are customary territories that are vital for their livelihoods and community wellbeing.

Film: Cameroon - Droit a La Terre et Droit a La Pierre [Zone De Mballam]

Source: October 31st, 2014