To Live Like an Animal Slave: the militarization of conservation

Girl in Human Zoo. Image from https://melaniannews.net/tag/brussels/

The Bambuti people were the original inhabitants of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the oldest national park in Africa whose boundaries date back to 1925 when it was first carved out by King Albert of Belgium. But forbidden from living or hunting inside, the Bambuti now face repression from both park rangers and armed groups.

Other communities in the park accuse the DRC’s National Park Authority IICCN) of expropriating land without their consent and without providing compensation, but park authorities say that rangers must undertake “legitimate defense” and take action when people in the park “recruit armed groups to secure the land.”

Virunga National Park is considered a sensitive zone for the government because of potential oil exploration, mining and rebel groups.Compounding the difficult relationship between communities and conservationists is the park’s location. According to researchers, it lies at the epicenter of an ongoing conflict and is affected by cross-border dynamics between Rwanda and Uganda.

Patrick Kipalu, of the NGO Forest People’s Program, believes that the park and government’s exclusion of the Bambuti from conservation efforts is a waste of the immense amount of knowledge indigenous communities have about forest ecosystems. One solution, he said, would be to recruit them as rangers in protecting the park.

The ICCN’s Jean Claude Kyungu said that there are “specific criteria” for recruiting rangers, which the Bambuti do not fulfill, including having a diploma from the state.Norbert Mushenzi, the ICCN’s deputy director of the Virunga National Park, said that the Bambuti have an “intellectual deficiency” and one way for them to benefit from the park is to “sell their cultural products and dances to tourists.”

His view is not unusual; many people, including those directly involved in advocating for the Bambuti, believe that they are inferior to Bantu communities...Doufina Tabu, president of a human rights organization, the Association of Volunteers of Congo (ASVOCO), works with Bambuti communities living outside the park whose land has been stolen….While Tabu advocates for the Bambuti to secure land, he also believes that they must integrate into society, “so they can live like others.”“There are things in their culture that we must change. They can’t continue to stay in the forest like animals,” he said.

A report by Survival International states that forcing “development” on indigenous people has “disastrous” impacts and that the most important factor to their well being is whether or not their land rights are respected.According to Kipalu, the living conditions of the Bambuti are far worse now than when they were in the forest. “Being landless and living on the lands of other people means that they end up being treated almost as slaves,” he said…

Around Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which like Virunga, is classified as a World Heritage Site, the organization Environment, Natural Resources and Development, ERND, together with the Rainforest Foundation Norway, filed a legal complaint in 2010 for the Batwa, another indigenous group, to receive compensation for the loss of their lands inside the park.

The case landed at the Supreme Court in Kinshasa in 2013 where it has remained. In May 2016, the organizations submitted their complaint to the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights, but have yet to receive a response from the Congolese government…Although the DRC voted to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007, the country’s constitution, 1973 land law and the 2002 Forestry Code make no reference to the rights of indigenous people. The proposed law includes the protection of their traditional medicine and culture, as well as access to land and natural resources. Article 42 specifically states that indigenous people have the right to return to their ancestral lands and be fairly and adequately compensated if they have to relocate.

Excerpts from Zahra Moloo Militarised Conservation Threatens DRC’s Indigenous People – Part 2, IPS, Sept. 15, 2016

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