Issue Number 62 - September 2002
Focused on Indigenous Peoples
LOCAL STRUGGLES AND NEWS
Since the 19th century the land rights of forest dwellers in Cameroon have not figured in the major decisions by the rulers. All forest lands, defined as vacant and without owners --"vacant et sans maitres"-- became property of the state, and many forests were then opened for timber exploitation, which closed those areas for hunting by Bagyeli, Baka, and other so-called "Pygmy" hunter gathering communities, whose presence across Southern Cameroon predates the colonial State.
When France became the dominant colonial power earlier last century virtually all lands in Cameroon became property of the State, even though almost all land in Cameroon is held under customary principles. This system has persisted to the present day --only 2.3% of Cameroon's lands have been titled since 1974, and most forest lands located outside of protected areas remain extremely vulnerable to outside exploitation of one form or another. Local people are rarely consulted over how these lands are to be managed, and indigenous peoples are particularly marginalised in the few public consultations which do take place. For instance, now in the Ocean Department of Cameroon local communities are coming to terms with the many impacts of an oil pipeline that now traverses their lands, facilitating the export of oil from the southern fields of Chad via an offshore pumping station near Kribi, Cameroon.
The installation of the much-criticised, World Bank-backed Chad-Cameroon pipeline through this forested region of South West Cameroon has led to land and forest loss for many different communities, and it is now well-documented how indigenous Bagyeli communities have lost out in two different geographical areas. First, in the pipeline zone, construction has left a 30 meter wide gap through the forest, traversing land where Bagyeli hunted, gathered and cultivated, and this has led to the loss of land and access to resources upon which Bagyeli livelihoods have traditionally been based. The compensation programme for the pipeline exacerbated these losses because some Bagyeli were removed from the lands they were occupying by other local people, who then stole their compensation, by claiming the pipeline was taking land which they used for agricultural production. Not one Bagyeli has received individual compensation for the losses that they experienced due to the pipeline's construction.
Secondly, new restrictions on hunting and forest access in Bagyeli traditional areas near the border with Equatorial Guinea were brought about by the gazettement of Campo Ma'an National Park. The protection of this important area, which is traversed by a road used to export timber, forms part of the environmental compensation for the pipeline. However, its new status as national park means that Bagyeli hunting and gathering communities who have operated there since recorded history face being criminalised for continuing to pursue their livelihoods. These examples illustrate a total disregard of local land tenure and livelihood systems by those who prepared the pipeline plans.
Bagyeli do not possess identity cards --a requirement under Cameroon law--, they face severe social discrimination, and they have poor access to health and education services. Most do not possess farming land of their own, and cultivate that of their stronger neighbours in exchange for food. Bagyeli's social marginalisation and the increased suffering their communities have experienced since the pipeline was proposed has led them to engage with national and international support NGOs to develop strategies for their communities to assert their rights with conservation authorities --who have joined in dialogue with Bagyeli representatives from around Campo-- and with local government and pipeline agents, who have previously been unwilling to solicit to Bagyeli's views.
With support from the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and two local NGOs (Planet Survey and the Centre for Environment and Development-CED), Bagyeli are beginning to secure identity cards and engage regularly with government officials, and representatives from the pipeline project, who have recently agreed to meet with them over their plans for regional compensation measures. FPP and its partners will also support Bagyeli to generate their own data for community based maps of land use, using Global Positioning System technology and working in collaboration with the majority Bantu communities, and final maps will be produced for them by CED. These maps will form the basis for future dialogues between Bagyeli and Bantu communities, protected area managers, government agencies and pipeline authorities to attain secure, communal land rights for the Bagyeli.
By: John Nelson, Forest Peoples Programme, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
On October 1, an indigenous group living in Kenya's Mau Forest is scheduled to have its case heard in the country's High Court. The hearing is the latest attempt by the Ogiek people's long effort to protect their forest homeland from destruction.
For decades, the Ogiek have fought first with the British colonial and then the Kenyan government to live peacefully in the Mau Forest, where they have lived for hundreds of years. The Ogiek's current lawsuit dates back to a 1997 case, when the group went to court to stop the Kenyan government from surveying and allocating Mau Forest land to others. Later that year, the High Court ordered that no Mau Forest land would be allocated to settlers until all issues related to it were resolved in court. But after years of threatening to evict the Ogiek from the Mau Forest, the government announced in 2001 it would degazette 147,000 acres of the forest. Degazetting the land would eliminate its environmentally protected status and allow settlers from other parts of Kenya to move in. The Ogiek then sued, charging the government was ignoring the 1997 High Court order since the Ogiek's earlier lawsuit had not yet been resolved.
Kenya's development plans threaten both the Ogiek and the Mau Forest, one of the largest water complexes in East Africa. Experts say that reducing Kenya's forestland would have dangerous environmental consequences. The Mau Forest is a vital water catchment area, absorbing water during the rainy season and gradually releasing it during the rest of the year. According to scientists, the forest provides about 40 percent of the nation's water supply. While the Ogiek's way of life is self-sustaining, the government has exempted three powerful companies from a logging ban and allowed them to continue harvesting wood in Mau Forest, destroying the Ogiek ecosystem in which the indigenous group gathers honey, selectively hunts animals, and grows vegetables.
Although they agree with the government that Kenya lacks sufficient agricultural land, Ogiek supporters argue that President Daniel arap Moi is more interested in rewarding its supporters than providing more food for its citizens and that most of the land has been given to Moi's close associates. Joseph Kamotho, the recently dismissed minister for environment who has fallen out with Moi, says the Ogiek land issue was used by "unscrupulous government officials to get more land for themselves."
As the gradual destruction of its forest continues, the community has faced no justice in court corridors. For over a year, the Ogiek's case has been repeatedly delayed in court due to procedural problems. In February, the case was postponed because the government lawyer handling the case was out of the country. In April, it was again rescheduled after government lawyers said that they had not had time to file their replying affidavits. In July, the judge scheduled to hear the case was absent, and a substitute judge set a hearing for October. Ogiek advocates hope that these frequent delays will end soon, but so far the government has given no indication that it wants to resolve the case quickly.
Many observers believe that changes in Kenyan politics in the next few months may help the Ogiek's legal case to move forward. Kenyan law prohibits Moi from running for office in the upcoming presidential elections, currently scheduled for December. "The post-Moi Kenya will be different and the Ogiek cases may finally be heard after elections," said John Kamau of Rights Features Service, a Kenyan-based organization that has been monitoring the Ogiek's case. "At that time Moi will not be in power to protect his cronies, unless he does so by proxy."
In addition, draft proposals for a new Kenyan constitution should help the Ogiek. Kamau pointed out that the draft of the new constitution also calls for new laws on land and the protection of indigenous communities from discrimination. "If the Constitution is adopted, then the Ogiek can sigh with relief," Kamau said. "But a lot needs to be done to sensitize politicians on the issues at hand." The draft, which needs to be approved by parliament, would also create a new position of prime minister that would be elected by the national assembly. The president, who now has almost exclusive control over government policy, would be limited to carrying out "special responsibilities" in such areas as national unity. By reducing the president's powers, the draft would make it more difficult for Moi's successor to stop the Ogiek's case.
A number of Kenyan and international groups --including the Ogiek Welfare Council, Rights Features Service, Survival International, and the Digital Freedom Network-- have maintained an international campaign to protect the Mau Forest and the Ogiek's way of life. The campaign's Web site (www.ogiek.org) contains news and other information about the Ogiek.
By: Bobson Wong, Digital Freedom Network, e-mail: email@example.com
The indigenous inhabitants of Rwanda are the Twa, a 'Pygmy' people who originally lived as hunters and gatherers in the high altitude forests around the lakes in the Albertine Rift area of central Africa, in the present-day countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In some parts of DRC, Twa are still able to live a forest-based existence. However, in most other areas the Twa have had to abandon their traditional way of life as their forests have been destroyed by logging, agriculture and "development" projects. Wildlife conservation areas, established to protect gorilla populations and watersheds, have evicted Twa communities in Rwanda, DRC and Uganda even though the Twa traditionally do not hunt gorillas nor do their activities affect watershed functions. In common with many other Pygmy peoples, the Twas' rights to forest lands and resources are not recognised in customary or written law and the evictions took place without compensation or alternative land provision.
Rwanda's forests began to be felled centuries ago as incoming Hutu farmers and Tutsi herders cleared land for agriculture and pasture. Rwanda avoided the ravages of the Arab and European slave trades, and its population increased as other people sought refuge there. Local chiefs encouraged settlement on their lands because they gained power and revenues the more 'clients' they had. Rwanda's population increased from 1 million to 7 million from the 1940s to the 1980s. During the colonial period, land held by heads of clans was redistributed and from the 1960s onwards government policy encouraged farmers to expand into pastures, wetlands and forest areas such as around the Volcanoes National Park, and migrate east into less densely populated grazing lands. Between 1970 and 1986 the cultivated area increased by 56%, meanwhile the average land holdings had been steadily decreasing from 3 ha/family in 1949 to 0.7 ha in 1990. By the mid 1980s almost all land available for agriculture had been used up except for the areas under national parks.
Up to the end of the 1970s land distribution is considered to have been relatively equitable. Rwanda could feed its population; small farmers were more productive than larger ones. However, farmers' main method of increasing the production from ever decreasing plots of land was to reduce the fallow period, resulting in depletion of soil fertility.
Rwanda's population is now 8.3 million, with an average population density of 315 people per square kilometre (800 per sq km in the north-west) making it the most densely populated country in Africa. Ninety-one percent of the population depends on subsistence agriculture for survival. Landlessness and inequitability in land distribution worsened after the mid 1980s as land was expropriated by government for middle-class housing, parastatal projects and industrial development. Land also became concentrated in the hands of the emerging wealthy elite who had off-farm incomes or were employed on the many foreign aid projects, and who were able to buy land off indebted or starving small farmers.
Rwanda's forests have been drastically reduced from approximately 30 percent at the beginning of the 20th century to 7 percent of the total land area. In 1934, the Mukuru-Gishwati-Volcans forest complex in the north of Rwanda was a single forest block of 833 square kilometres. By 1955, it was divided into three discrete patches, and by 1998, only 18 per cent of the original forest remained. The largest forest in the south of the country, Nyungwe, lost 26 per cent of its area over the same period. Its area is now only 87,000 ha. Overall, 49 per cent of Rwanda's Afromontane forest disappeared between 1934 and 1998.
Clearance for farming and pasture land has contributed to the reduction in forest cover, as well as harvesting of fuel-wood and timber for housing and small scale mining. Production of export crops is also a factor in forest destruction: half the forests around the volcanoes in the north were cleared for pyrethrum plantations in the 1960s, and areas around the Nyungwe forest were cleared for tea estates. After the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists, forests were further depleted by the establishment of fuel-hungry refugee camps just over the border in DRC and the need to rehabilitate thousands of refugees returning to Rwanda after long periods of exile. These refugees were mostly accommodated in former protected areas, including the Mutara Game Reserve, two-thirds of the Akagera National Park and the Gishwati Forest.
The loss of biological resources affects everyone in Rwanda, but especially the Twa who originally depended on the forest. The Twas' customary rights to forest lands were never recognised either by local rulers or under colonial laws, with the result that as the forest was cleared, the Twa became landless squatters except for a few families that were given land by Rwanda's former Kings, the Mwamis. The last forest-dwelling Twa, the Impunyu, were cleared from the Gishwati forest in the 1980s and 90s to make way for World Bank-financed projects aimed at relieving human pressure on forests by increasing the supply of wood products through industrial eucalyptus plantations and developing a productive dairy industry using pastures in degraded forest areas. Ironically, these projects were intended to protect the forest, but they had the opposite effect: by 1994 two-thirds of the original forest had been converted to pasture, almost all of which was allocated to friends and relations of the President. Throughout this process, the Twa received no compensation or remedial measures, nor were they included among the thousands of people employed by the projects. Returning refugees settling in the area and clearing land for subsistence farming have now effectively completely destroyed the forest.
Conservation projects removed Rwandan Twa communities from the Nyungwe forest reserve in 1998 and from the Parc des Volcans (the oldest park in Africa, created in 1924 as the Albert National Park). Older Twa living in southern Rwanda recall hunting for buffalo and elephant in the Nyungwe forest and taking the horns and tusks to the Mwami as tribute. Currently a mere handful of Twa are employed in the parks as casual labour or trackers; they have no involvement in park management or decision-making. While some conservation agencies are carrying out development projects that include Twa communities around the Parc des Volcans and Nyungwe forest, these generally don't address the fundamental issue of land and access to forest resources.
The land situation in Rwanda is acute and that of Rwanda's Twa is very precarious. In 1991 it was reported that nationally only 50-57 % of households had the minimum amount of land (0.7 ha) needed to feed the average household of 5 people. However for the Twa the situation is much worse --only 1.5% Twa households surveyed by the Forest Peoples Programme and Twa organisations in 1993 and 1997 had enough land to feed their families. Since colonial times there has been virtually no land distribution to the Twa: in 1995, 84% of landed Twa were still living on land given to them by the Mwamis. The Twas' political weakness makes them vulnerable to expropriation of their existing lands by neighbouring farmers and local authorities. The marshes providing clay for Twa communities' traditional pottery are often allocated by local authorities to other groups for farming.
The Twa are the poorest group in Rwandan society, lacking access to formal education, housing and health care. Few of them know how to farm, and most eke a living from pottery, casual labour and begging. The Twa are marginalised and discriminated against because of their identity, and have virtually no representation in Rwanda's local or national administration or decision-making processes. The Twa were victims of the 1994 genocide, losing an estimated 30% of their population compared to 14% of the overall population. The Twas' losses have never been acknowledged by the post-genocide Rwandan government. They feel that they have been forgotten in the post-genocide reconstruction of Rwandan society.
However, over the past few years there have been some positive developments. Rwandan Twa have organised themselves, creating NGOs to press for improvements in the situation of the Twa. These organisations have made representations to the President of Rwanda and to the Commission charged with the revision of Rwanda's constitution, calling for affirmative action on land and education and requesting special measures for their representation in government processes. The Twa NGO 'CAURWA' is working with 70 local Twa associations, helping them to get land, learn how to farm and develop non-agricultural income generating activities such as tile-making, basketry and pottery. These activities are complemented by advocacy work at local, national and international level and community capacity building to enable the Twa to play an active role in national processes such as Rwanda's Poverty Reduction Strategy, the traditional gacaca courts that will judge the thousands of prisoners accused of genocide-related crimes and the national Unity and Reconciliation process, that seeks to heal the wounds caused by Rwanda's long history of ethnic strife.
By: Dorothy Jackson, Forest Peoples Programme, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Batwa (so-called Pygmies) are the Indigenous peoples of south-west Uganda. According to historical records and oral histories, only the Batwa inhabited this area until at least the mid sixteenth century. They have been mostly hunter-gatherers, some in the mountainous forests, and some in forest savannah or lake environments.
The Tutsi moved into the area after 1550. Although recognizing Batwa ownership of the high altitude forest, the Batwa were regarded as Tutsi's servants within the King's courts. From about 1750, Hutu clans began to move into the area, and from 1830 the Tutsi sought to establish more direct rule over the territory, leading to conflict between the two groups. The Batwa played an important role in these conflicts and the Tutsi could not have established or retained this region as part of their kingdom without the support of Batwa archers. Some Batwa established themselves in powerful positions and claimed tribute from Hutu around them, but most would pay tribute to the Tutsi kings by bringing them ivory, animal skins and meat. Throughout this whole period - and up until their forced expulsion by conservationists from the forests in 1991- Batwa would also barter meat, honey and other forest products for other products from the local community around them.
In 1991, the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks were established which caused great suffering to Batwa and other neighbouring local communities. In 1995 the conservation Trust became fully operational. In spite of the resulting violation of the Batwa's territorial and human rights, the establishment of the parks was funded by the World Bank/GEF which granted 4.3 million US dollars for resource management and biodiversity conservation in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks. The gazetted boundaries of Bwindi Park are 321 Sq. kms (over 80,000 acres) and Mgahinga Park is 33.7 Sq kms.(under 8,000 acres). The parks are hilly islands of moist tropical and upland forest within a densely cultivated region. The Batwa are by far the most affected group since they no longer have access to their forest resources, and so their forest-based participation in the local economy has been destroyed and they have been reduced to landless labourers. Nearly 20% of the Parks' income is meant to be for park management, 20% for research and 60% to local community development. As a result of the development of an Indigenous peoples policy (as required by the World Bank) - and in recognition of the devastating impact on the Batwa of the creation of the National Parks - a proportion of the conservation Trust's community development budget was allocated to a Batwa component, the most important element being a process of buying small fields for individual Batwa families.
In addition to their forced expulsion from the living in or using their forests, the Batwa of Uganda suffer severe discrimination at the hands of other communities. They experience marginalisation and discrimination, a lack of land, of access to formal education and to employment and even to secure an area to put up temporary dwellings involves having to work long hours in others' fields. They are not represented --locally or nationally. Instead of being able to base their livelihoods in the forests using their traditional skills, they now depend on labouring --and even begging-- to support their livelihoods.
To make matters even worse, there has been very slow movement in terms of achieving some form of compensation for the Batwa for their loss of their territories. The conservation Trust's buying of small parcels of land for Batwa families finally started to get somewhere in 2000. Today, according to Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT) a total of 326 acres has been bought for the Batwa. The original owners of the entire forest have been "compensated" with a mere 326 acres and, furthermore, there are many more Batwa still lacking even such miserable patches of land. The problem has been further compounded because the 4.3 million US dollars funding for the conservation Trust was invested in an offshore investment trust by the World Bank/GEF in the early 1990s. The funding for the conservation Trust has therefore been dependent on the performance of the international stock market. With the severe downturn in stock markets the Trust's income has suffered. As a result, in July 2002, the Trust announced that it was cutting the Batwa component entirely. No more land would be bought for Batwa, but meanwhile the Trust would continue to fund the other aspects of the National Park, including the park guards who forcibly exclude Batwa from entering the forest. The World Bank's own research on the impact of the National Parks on the Batwa had stated that without the Batwa component, the Trust's work would simply worsen the situation for the Batwa and would therefore run counter to the Bank's Indigenous Peoples Policy. That situation now appears to be the case. Will there be enough international pressure to ensure that the Trust continues with the Batwa component, or is there a case in international law to argue for the return of the forests to the Batwa?
The Forest Peoples Programme has been supporting the Batwa to establish their own Indigenous organisation known as the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) which is based in Kisoro in S.W. Uganda. UODU co-represents the 3000 or more Batwa within the 3 Districts Kisoro, Kabale and Kanungu where Batwa communities exist. The organisation has a Batwa Representation Committee, which represents them in meetings/workshops with the MBIFCT conservation Trust. The organisation has been campaigning for land and forest access, and has represented Batwa views in meetings with Government representatives and with NGO's. As well as continuing to argue their case, UOBDU is also providing a vehicle for the Batwa to re-develop lost skills and bring together their expertise in forest-related knowledge as a first step in reasserting their rights and improving their quality of life.
Go to Home Page - Recommend this page
World Rainforest Movement
Maldonado 1858 - 11200 Montevideo - Uruguay
tel: 598 2 413 2989 / fax: 598 2 418 0762