The creation of a new protected area in northwest Congo threatens the survival of the Baka. And it is illegal.
The Baka are being driven from their land for fear of violence at the hands of park rangers, and excluded from the forests they rely on for food and for medicine. The Baka have not given their consent to the park.
Act now before this WWF-funded conservation project brings about the irreversible destruction of the Baka’s way of life.
In the rich forests of the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rainforest, a small tribe of hunter-gatherers is at the mercy of a vast multinational organization that wants to seize their land. Should the organization succeed in its objectives, the tribe’s very existence as a people will be put at risk, as will the forests they inhabit.
Who is behind this land grab?
Shockingly, it is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF is working with the Congolese government to turn this area of land, belonging to the Baka people, into a protected area. The creation of Messok Dja park, in northwest Congo, will exclude the Baka people from the forests they depend on, forever. The Baka have not given their consent.
Already Baka in the area are being intimidated and harassed by WWF-funded park rangers. Wrongly accused of poaching, they are bullied and beaten, terrified into silence and submission, and driven from their forests.
Should the creation of the park go ahead, the situation will get even worse for the Baka. More park rangers will patrol the area bringing increased violence, the Baka’s lands will be stolen from them forever and their way of life will be destroyed. This will be the end of the Baka of Messok Dja as we know them. There will be no going back.
WWF should know that effective conservation does not require the eviction of local people. If the organization considers the Baka way of life incompatible with wildlife protection, this is not the case – the Baka are excellent conservationists who have nurtured and protected these forests since time immemorial.
Scapegoating the Baka makes no sense at all. It diverts attention away from the true drivers of wildlife crime, namely corruption and logging, as well as turning the Baka against conservation efforts. Without the Baka’s support, the park will fail.
WWF’s actions in Messok Dja not only violate national and international law but are also inherently colonialist: local people are being evicted from their homes without their consent, and outsiders put in charge. “Colonial conservation” has already ruined the lives of millions of people and must be brought to an end. For the sake of the Baka, for tribal peoples world-wide, and for nature, we must stop the creation of Messok Dja.
Join the campaign here.
For more information about the devastating effects of conservation projects on Congo Basin tribes, read Survival’s report here.
Why should I be concerned about this?
The Baka face an existential threat as a hunter-gatherer tribe
As hunter-gatherers, life outside the forest is inconceivable for the Baka. The forest is their lifeline, providing them with food and medicinal plants. Research has shown that closing off forests to tribal people like the Baka has devastating impacts on their health.
Already the Baka are being forced to abandon their age-old tradition of “molongo” – going deep into the forest for extended periods to hunt and gather is now impossible due to the park. Instead, they are forced to live in roadside camps on a permanent basis, driven into an alien way of life. It is clear that the park is destroying the Baka’s sense of community, identity, and their relationship with the forest. It is causing the Baka to fear for their future.
The Baka face violence at the hands of park rangers
As in many parts of the Congo basin, the Baka in the Messok Dja area live in fear of violent attacks at the hands of park rangers. And with good reason: since WWF-funded park rangers arrived in the area some ten years ago, the Baka have been subjected to all manner of violence. In 2011, Congolese park rangers were involved in events which led to the death of 10-year old Christine Mayi. Following an investigation into these allegations, the park rangers then returned to Christine Mayi’s village and attacked her family. Unbelievably, these park rangers are still working and still go out on patrol.
The Baka fear the park will bring yet more violence.
Baka across the Congo Basin endure human rights abuses in the name of conservation. Their testimonies can be found here.
Survival’s report on park ranger violence in the Congo Basin is available here.
Fundamental rights of tribal people are being violated
National and international law, as well as WWF’s own policy, set out the Baka’s right to free, prior and informed consent for all major projects on their land. However, this fundamental human right has been violated. Communities are strongly against the project and are angry that they have been ignored. As long as communities associate WWF with park ranger repression, free consent is impossible. There has been no meaningful consultation with the affected communities in the project’s development; the park and boundaries were established without their involvement. Many community members are unaware of the implications of a “park” or when it is due to be completed.
The biggest conservation organization cannot and must not be allowed to violate national and international standards in this way. Instead, we must force WWF to respect human rights law and in doing so, score a turning point in the dark history of conservation.
Excluding tribal peoples jeopardizes conservation efforts
The proposed Messok Dja protected area is doomed to fail in its goal of preserving the rainforest. WWF has violated Baka rights, deprived them of their livelihood and criminalized their way of life, leaving them with nothing. If the Baka of Messok Dja were to turn to wildlife crime to eke out a living, would they really be to blame?
WWF knows that violating tribal peoples’ rights precludes effective conservation and yet it is still backing Messok Dja.
The Baka are excellent conservationists
If WWF describes this area as one of the most pristine in central Africa, it is because the Baka have protected these forests for generations: they are the forest’s true guardians. Respect for their forest spirit Jengi means that the Baka follow a strict forest code.
The tribe relies on the forest for food and medicine: they protect the forest because it is the core of their livelihood. Honey, for example, is a key source of sugar in the Baka diet. The Baka eat at least 14 types, carefully gathered from wild hives at the tops of trees. Some 50 medicines can be prepared using the leaves, roots, sap or bark of the Moabi tree. The bark of the Sapelli tree makes an effective painkiller and anti-inflammatory.
While WWF says it recognizes the crucial role that tribal peoples play in conservation, it is still backing a project which is excluding the Baka from their land.
For all humanity
Messok Dja is an example of a deeply troubling model of “colonial conservation.”
Here are the links between conservation and colonialism as we see them:
1. People are evicted from their land on the basis that they can’t be trusted to look after it properly
2. That is used as a justification to take control of the land
3. Outsiders are put in to make sure things are done “properly”
4. Outsiders reap the benefits while the land’s true owners see their lives and livelihood destroyed
Medium, Fiore Longo, ‘If this is a park’ A Survival researcher’s account of her visit to Baka communities in the Messok Dja area
Survival International, ‘How will we survive?’ Our report on the destruction of Congo Basin tribes in the name of conservation (2017)