20061005

 

The parks were created to protect the African wilderness - but tribal peoples are paying a high price

Excerpt: "...Exxon's £1.3bn Chad-Cameroon pipeline stretches 1,000km across arid lands and equatorial forest to the African coast. When it reaches west Cameroon it runs adjacent to an old wildlife reserve where, for centuries, thousands of indigenous Bagyeli pygmies have depended on the forest for hunting and medicines. As "compensation" for any disturbance, the World Bank, the Dutch government and international conservation group Tropenbos combined in 1999 to create the giant Campo Ma'an national park. The stated aim was to protect the forest, alleviate poverty and to allow scientific research...But a new book, From Principles to Practice, documenting nine major African conservation efforts in six central African countries, claims that the Campo Ma'an project is a disaster, threatening to destroy the Bagyeli cultural heritage and knowledge and impoverish the people further. The Bagyeli, it says, are now barred from entering a 2,000sq km zone of forest which has been put aside for scientific research, and cannot hunt or take anything from a further 4,000sq km area. With less game to hunt and less access to their medicinal plants, many have become sedentary farmers - very much against their will. The book is based on a two-year study of many of Africa's most ambitious conservation projects, led by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), an international human rights group. It is in no doubt that the Bagyeli have been ignored by the conservationists. "It seems clear that ... the sole concern has been to advance science, with no other considerations. This is no doubt a noble objective but the people who are now paying the price, particularly the pygmies, are not the beneficiaries of this 'grandiose' work," it says...Several thousand of the Bambuti Ba'twa tribe used to live in the low equatorial forests to the west of the Rwandan border, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the 1970s, their lands were designated a zoological and forest reserve, then a national park to protect gorillas and the pygmies were evicted in the name of conservation. Today the park is full of people mining the metallic ore coltan, and the gorillas, as well as the baboons, porcupines, wild boar and monkeys, are being systematically killed. "Life was healthy and good but we have become beggars, thieves and prowlers," said one Bambuti chief in the report. "This has been imposed on us by the creation of the national park."...

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