Forest peoples challenge parks projects

Posted: 8 October 2003

Author: John Rowley

A report issued on the eve of the 5th World Parks Congress, held in Durban South Africa in September 2003, claims that neither governments nor the conservation community have made much progress in carrying through the principles for the protection of indigenous people agreed at the last Congress in 1992.

These principles, drawn up by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and the conservation agency WWF, were aimed at protecting the rights of long-established local communities, and their well-being as partners in creating and looking after parks.

The report, published in book form by the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme, looks at the impact of conservation projects on indigenous people in seven African countries, and finds that in all cases they are being overlooked and exploited.

Forced expulsions

It says that they are suffering from forced expulsions from their lands without compensation. Their rights over traditional lands are being eliminated. And their livelihoods are being destroyed, along with the loss of their identity.

The report gives as an example the deep-seated prejudice against the Batwa 'pygmy' people who can no longer practise a forest-based lifestyle in the Volcanoes Park and Nyungwe Forest in densely populated Rwanda, as a result of evictions.

As one Batwa man said: "You speak to me of the parks. All I know is that the authorities and the soldiers from far away, come to chase us away with guns and told us never to go back to the volcanoes, forbidding us to hunt, to look for honey, water and wood."

Case studies

The story is repeated in case studies from the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Mau Forest in Kenya, the Maasai and Ngorongora Conservation Area in Tanzania and elsewhere in East, West and Southern Africa.

Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International, says elsewhere on this website (Protected areas: past, present, and future) that things have "changed tremendously" in our approach to parks and indigenous people although "park authorities sometimes only pay lip service to participation by people in protected areas."

This report (along with previous ones on the situation in Latin America and Asia) shows that when it comes to conservation, there is still a long way to go in giving people the same attention as animals and plants.

John Rowley is Editor-in-Chief of this website.Indigenous people and protected areas in Africa: From principles to practice is published by the Forest Peoples Programme at Moreton-in-the-Marsh England (e-mail: ).