The overall goal of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is to prevent global catastrophe through the destruction of the natural world and environment, in turn shaping a future where people and nature can exist harmoniously. The Congo Basin is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world. It is the second largest rainforest on Earth, and therefore one of WWF's global priority regions. Thus, it is essential to work in collaboration with the indigenous peoples and the local communities who live there. Spanning five different countries, the region is rich in flora and fauna, providing food, water and shelter to over 75 million people. Humans have inhabited the area for over 50,000 years and today it is home to around 150 distinct ethnic groups, such as the Baka people.
Sustainable, effective and viable conservation efforts are not possible without the involvement and contribution of local and indigenous communities who have been stewards of these forests since time immemorial. Indigenous livelihoods, culture and survival are intimately tied to the natural world. This world is intimately linked to their environment, and therefore their invaluable ecological knowledge.
Large-scale resource exploitation, influx of migrants and land use change have severely affected a significant number of these communities, displacing them from their homes; which alienates them from their traditional ways of life and their relationship with the land. The creation of protected areas has caused conflict as indigenous peoples and local communities have seen their rights to use the forest become increasingly restricted in areas that previously belonged to them. These problems were exacerbated by the fact that they were not involved in decisions that directly affected them. Development assistance systems for local populations promoting conservation measures have been put in place, although indigenous rights are still violated and unrecognized.
The Bengo project was designed following information contained in a report published by an international institution at the end of 2018 reporting on alleged human rights violations and abuses by persons committed to monitoring Protected Areas. The dissatisfaction of indigenous peoples and local communities with their social situation and their banishment from the parks led to its conceptualization, as these areas were once used to support their livelihoods and security.
The project focuses on three World Heritage sites in the Congo Basin, with the aim of establishing strong political foundations that guarantee the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples through national political advocacy, access to local grievance mechanisms and the strengthening of civil society organizations. Such strategies will help prevent human rights violations in these regions, while simultaneously protecting indigenous heritage, cultural rights and nature conservation in Africa.
The project is centered on the idea of inclusive conservation, according to which it is not only nature that is protected, but also culture. With the support and guidance of indigenous peoples and local communities with ancestral knowledge of land and ecosystems. The project seeks to develop a new way of thinking about conservation. Ultimately, working to protect the precious ecosystems of the region, while maintaining a respectful, productive and fruitful relationship with the people who live there.
The Bengo Project has identified four major threats to the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples:
1. There is limited national legislation for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and inadequate enforcement where these rights exist. This problem will be solved through political advocacy and targeted promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples, both at the local and national level. Political decision-makers will be sensitized on the human rights situation of indigenous peoples and local communities in Lobéké, Salonga and Dzanga-Sangha. Their respective national governments will be supported in finding concrete and long-term solutions to effectively integrate indigenous rights into legal frameworks, strategies and laws relating to biodiversity conservation. There will also be an information campaign to inform the general public about the program.
2. There are no appropriate systems to deal with human rights violations. The project aims to empower indigenous peoples to claim their rights. WWF strives to establish independent local grievance mechanisms that are managed by third parties to ensure independence from park authorities and employees. This ensures that complaints can be handled in a timely manner and appropriately monitored. At the end of the program, an environmental and social safeguards framework aligned with grievance mechanisms will be fully operational in Salonga National Park, and existing mechanisms in Lobéké. Dzanga-Sangha National Park and Protected Areas will have been significantly improved, with greater attention paid to gender sensitivity and effective case tracking.
3. Civil society organizations have insufficient capacity to support the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and implement independent grievance mechanisms. They urgently need help to:
The project will help address these issues by improving the organizational capacities of local civil society organizations. This will enable them to manage grievance mechanisms effectively and independently using their own experience at site level, thus contributing to policy advocacy work at national level.
4. There is a lack of regional coordination and knowledge exchange between civil society organizations (CSOs) that implement grievance mechanisms and promote indigenous rights.
Regional coordination between CSOs on the ground and national and international bodies is essential to ensure that any legislation or regulation strengthening indigenous rights takes into account the reality of the situation in the communities and areas concerned.
In the Congo Basin, a regional and IPLC-led framework will provide definitions and guidelines for participatory management of protected areas” that will be used to develop and improve future conservation projects in the region. There is currently no exchange between CSO grievance mechanisms around protected areas, due to a mix of lack of political interest from government officials in the logistical challenges caused by the remoteness of the areas and a lack of communication infrastructure. Facilitated knowledge exchange between the three project areas will help maximize benefits for the respective IPLCs and encourage peer-to-peer learning. The fruits of these exchanges will be compiled into a “practitioner's guide” that will help managers of grievance mechanisms elsewhere, notably in PAs in the Congo Basin, to learn and design their mechanisms according to good practice.
The project will be implemented under the coordination of WWF DRC. Active in the DRC since the mid 1980’s, WWF set up a country office in Kinshasa in 2004. WWF DRC works to preserve the natural environment as a sustainable habitat for local populations. This involves initiatives focusing on wildlife, forests and agriculture, energy and infrastructure in protected areas.
WWF Germany has overall responsibility for the program approach and managing donor relationships. During the implementation, WWF Germany’s role is to ensure efficient and effective management of the program, timely contracting and disbursement of funds, as well as delivering technical and financial reports on schedule.
Founded in 1977, IPACC is a network of 135 indigenous peoples’ organizations in 20 African countries dedicated to addressing the human rights violations, systematic legal and social discrimination and exclusion from decision-making and the political economy that indigenous people face.
REPALEAC is a sub-regional civil society organization, which works to increase the empowerment and participation of Indigenous People and local communities (IPLC) in the governance and sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Central Africa.
As an NGO based in Yokadouma, Cameroon, CEFAID’s mission is the promotion and protection of human, traditional and procedural rights of the most disadvantaged populations in the Lobéké Protected Area. Its aims are to improve their social and economic living conditions through technical support and encouraging dynamic responsible management of natural resources.
Based in the Central African Republic, MEFP was created in 2000 as an NGO to improve the cultural, social, economic and legal situation of the BaAka indigenous population, especially women and children. MEFP works towards the material, moral, spiritual and cultural development of the Indigenous BaAka Peoples and the implementation of these values themselves. MEFP operates in the following areas:
Active in the Salonga National Park in DRC, JUREC works for the protection of the environment as well as in the promotion of good governance of natural resources for the benefit of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
The BMZ sponsors numerous Welthungerhilfe (World Hunger Aid) projects in the areas of emergency assistance, sustainable development cooperation through partner organisations, political information campaigns and education. The German development cooperation involves supporting activities initiated by NGOs performed in cooperation countries.