Hunting ban threatens Congo forest dwellers
October 31, 2005
A blanket animal hunting ban has made life even more difficult for the Baka community, an indigenous hunter-gatherer society living in the rain forests of the Republic of Congo. Photo courtesy of IRIN.
BRAZZAVILLE, 28 Oct 2005 (IRIN) – A blanket ban on hunting in the Republic of Congo has made life even more difficult for the Baka community, an indigenous hunter-gatherer group living in the rain forests near the timber-concession areas in the north of the country.
Members of the community have warned that the ban, which Game rangers are enforcing the ban in the Congolese Wood Industries (CIB) timber concession areas. This has resulted in increased malnutrition among children and vulnerable adults. CIB is the largest timber company in the country with five timber concessions covering 1.3 million hectares.
The government, CIB and the Wildlife Conservation Society based in New York are enforcing the animal poaching ban within the concession areas. However, the Baka and human rights groups say this has jeopardised the Baka traditional way of life and threatens their food security.
“This makes life very difficult for us since our livelihood depends essentially on the meat we hunt, as our ancestors used to do,” said Edmond Mondzoumbe, a leader of Ibamba village, 150 km northwest of the industrial city of Pokola. “We have the feeling that the people who work for wildlife conservation have decided to kill us.”
Mondzoumbe said the government, CIB and the Wildlife Conservation Society should be seeking a compromise that supports sustainable wildlife management and conservation while preserving the livelihoods and customs of the Baka. He added that just a few years ago, before the hunting ban was implemented, the Baka had enough game meat to eat.
Hunting is banned between 1 November and 30 April of each year. “Chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants are protected but the other animals are not, and we can hunt them to feed ourselves,” said Roland Mangue, one of the Baka affected by the ban.
Human rights violated
The Baka in the northern administrative divisions of Sangha and Likouala are divided into several subgroups, the Bambendzele being the largest. Some villagers have complained that game park rangers have manhandled those found with game meat and sent others temporarily to jail.
“They abuse people, ransack their huts and even examine the meat in the cooking pot,” Mangue said. “Every time they hear a gunshot, they raid in order to punish someone.”
The Baka, whose average height is 1.5 metres, usually hunt with nets or bows and arrows. They cannot afford modern firearms, so they use guns loaned them by the Bantu, who constitute the larger and dominant communities. The Baka also exchange game meat for agricultural produce or second-hand clothes from those communities.
Mondzoumbe said it seemed that the authorities had singled out the Baka. “The most surprising thing with the game rangers who deal ruthlessly with us is that they are very lenient with the Bantu,” he added.
A member of the researcher team of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, Suzanne Somboko, who toured the CIB concession areas in the north, agrees that the ban, as it affects the Baka is discriminatory.
Today the African rainforest is home to some of the most celebrated tribal people, the so-called Pygmies of the Ituri forest in northern Zaire. The tallest of these people, known as the Mbuti, rarely exceed 5 feet (1.5 m) in height. Besides the Mbuti, there are three other major rainforest peoples of Africa: the Aka (Central African Republic and northern Congo), the Baka (southern Cameroon), and the Twa (central Zaire river basin). Together these groups account for some 130,000 to 170,000 forest dwellers distributed over a large area of forest. The result is low population density; the Mbuti average fewer than one person per every one-and-a-half square miles (four square kilometers).
Global warming has become an increasingly pervasive topic of discussion and concern for the scientific community. From fears over oceanic inundation of low-lying island nations such as the Maldives to glacial melting in the Arctic, higher temperatures around the globe have put experts on edge about the future of the world’s health and balance. Nowhere has the phenomenon become more immediate than for the African continent. A series of recent studies have revealed a sobering future for the majority of Africa, a future predicated by undeniable and significant climate change. The threat traverses all levels of the environmental, social, political and economic spheres, from heightened socio-economic disparity to dwindling fish populations, from civil strife to desperate hunger.
“While people face starvation in the middle of the forest, game meat is served every day in restaurants in Pokola, Ndoki and Ouesso,” Somboko said.
A CIB engineer in Pokola, Jean-Michel Ngongo, also described the behaviour of the game rangers as unacceptable. “Under Congolese law and under the agreements CIB signed with the government, CIB has agreed to respect the customs of the people who live in the forest,” he said. “CIB is involved in the fight against poaching but, at the same time, should try to promote activities to replace hunting.”
In an effort to resolve the issue, a civil society organisation consulted indigenous groups in Sangha from 27 September to 8 October. The aim was to solicit their opinion so that a bill could be drafted and tabled before parliament to protect the groups’ interests. A seven-member team, consisting of local advocacy organisations held talks for 10 days with the semi-nomadic communities living in or around the CIB concessions in Sangha.
Among these advocacy groups were the Association of Congolese Indigenous Groups (APAC), the Junior Law Society, the Association of Congolese Women Jurists, and the Forum for Governance and Human Rights. Stephanie Jeanne Mayinguidi, a member of the Association of Congolese Women Jurists said the meetings focused on the problems caused by the timber industry, the impact of the protected areas on people’s lives, and the people’s access to state services and citizenship rights.
“At this stage, the best thing is to take everything into account,” Mayinguidi said. “Then we will see, after having analysed the data, which elements to put into the future bill.”
She said consultations would be expanded to include all administrative districts where the Baka live. According to Manasse Kanquaye, a researcher and programme director with the Junior Law Society, other citizens and the security forces need to treat the Baka justly.
“When we were in the field, people asked for a census and a registry identification office in order to have their right to nationality and [property] ownership registered,” Kanquaye said. “The bill will solve this major issue.”
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