Central Africa: Great Lakes Region and Cameroon Article produced for The Indigenous World 2005, IWGIA's Yearbook, published May 2005

Central Africa: Great Lakes Region and Cameroon Article produced for The Indigenous World 2005, IWGIA's Yearbook, published May 2005

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At the International Conference on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes region in November 2004, 11 heads of state signed an agreement to end conflicts in the Great Lakes region, although the strategy to implement the declaration have yet to be agreed in inter-ministerial meetings during 2005.Despite this, conflicts continued to rage throughout the region, particularly in eastern DRC. There were signs of improving regional relations when the Congolese authorities signed separate joint verification mechanisms to improve border security with Rwanda and Uganda, while in August DRC, Rwanda and Uganda agreed to disarm groups operating within their territories within the year. Nevertheless, hostilities resumed in November when Rwanda’s President Kagame announced they would invade DRC again to disarm and repatriate Hutu militants because the Congolese authorities were not acting quickly enough to do so.

In August Burundi confirmed it had repelled an attack from Rwandan Interahamwe militants at their border. MONUC (the UN mission in DRC) verified it had seen suspected Rwandan troops in DRC and that it had foiled an attack by armed men from Rwanda on the eastern town of Bukavu in December. DRC responded by deploying more troops along its border. Following reports of incursions into the country by insurgent groups based in Congo, Uganda deployed more troops along its border. By the end of 2004 tens of thousands more civilians were forced to flee the renewed fighting, leading many to believe DRC was on the brink of a major war.   The violence and insecurity in the region is continuing to affect indigenous communities as described below.


2004 marked the 10th anniversary of the genocide, during which an estimated 937,000 died, according to a census published by the Rwandan government. Commemoration events included an international conference on genocide prevention.

Following a two-year trial period, the traditional gacaca village courts system was formally introduced throughout Rwanda. At least 80,000 prisoners await trial, although that number is expected to rise. A number of genocide suspects have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment for killing genocide survivors who were due to testify at gacaca trials. In an attempt to further relieve congestion in prisons, the government announced that it would free 4,500 common law criminals and at least half of the country's prisoners who had confessed to their role in the genocide. In April about 4,000 genocide suspects were released after undergoing a one month rehabilitation course.

Following a report by a parliamentary commission which accused several civil society organizations, schools and churches of promoting “genocide ideology and ethnic division” among Rwandans, the independent human rights organisation, LIPRODHOR (League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights), which has been critical of the government’s human rights record, was banned and 6 of its officials fled the country in fear of their security and arrest. The dissolution was widely condemned by the international community. The EU called on the government to ensure that those accused were deemed innocent until proven guilty, and asked for further clarification of the terms “ideology of genocide” and “divisionism”, urging the government to allow freedom of expression.   Under Rwandan law advocating ethnic differences is a crime; however critics believe the government has used the excuse of ethnicity to suppress freedom of expression and political opposition.

The Rwandan authorities refused to legally register the national Batwa organisation, CAURWA, until it amended its name and objectives which are to promote the rights of Batwa people and which were deemed to be unconstitutional and undermining the unity and reconciliation process. CAURWA (‘Community of Indigenous People of Rwanda’) is awaiting further clarification, but it appears the authorities want all references to ‘indigenous’ removed. CAURWA’s director, Zephyrin Kalimba, was verbally criticised by officials during the national consultation process on the land law, and during a session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. CAURWA is carrying out a nationwide consultation with the Batwa on whether to comply with the authorities’ demands to remove the words ‘indigenous’ and ‘Batwa’ from its name and statutes.

The situation of the Twa remains dire, as shown by a national socio-economic survey published by CAURWA. Of an estimated 33,000 Twa now living in Rwanda, 20% live in ‘houses’ built of straw or plastic sheeting, and only 7% are members of health insurance schemes, which provide the essential means of accessing healthcare in Rwanda. Thirty-five percent have no latrine, compared to a national average of 5%. Fifty-one percent have never attended school, compared to a national average of 25%, and the net primary school enrolment rate of Twa children is only 48% compared to a national figure of 78%. Only 23% of Twa adults are able to read and write compared to a national average of 52%.

The survey, which was carried out in association with the statistics department of Rwanda’s Finance Ministry, was officially launched at a national round table, attended by officials and representatives of the international donor and NGO community, national civil society and Twa communities. As the Rwandan government has no policy for tackling the disadvantaged and inequitable situation of the Batwa, and donor agencies also lack comprehensive programmes for the Batwa, CAURWA has taken up this task. CAURWA is working with over 120 Twa cooperative associations in 8 of Rwanda’s 12 provinces to improve livelihoods through increasing food security and incomes. Activities include agriculture and small animal husbandry, as well as setting up a Twa-led Fair Trade commercial enterprise to promote and strengthen traditional Twa culture of pottery and dance. With financial support from the EU, CAURWA has been advocating on behalf of Twa rights; further lobbying was done on the land law and policy and land restitution. Some of CAURWA’s efforts appeared to have borne fruit when President Kagame announced in a newspaper article that the Batwa had been historically marginalised and he would be appointing a Batwa senator. President Kagame also appointed CAURWA’s Director to Rwanda’s NEPAD Sub Commission on Democracy and Good Political Governance.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Violent conflicts continued throughout 2004, particularly in eastern North and South Kivu provinces and the Ituri district, bordering Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Ceasefire agreements between the Congolese authorities and rebel groups were signed and broken within weeks, and even the UN offices in Kinshasa were attacked by civilians accusing the UN of allowing armed rebels to occupy the eastern town of Bukavu. The International Rescue Committee announced that as a result of the conflict over 31,000 people die per month, with a total death toll of 3.8 million between August 1998 and April 2004, many as a result of disease, hunger and lack of medicine caused by displacement. Increasing attention was drawn to the habitual use by many parties in the conflict of sexual violence as a weapon of war. MONUC civilian and military personnel were also accused of 150 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians.

MONUC’s mandate was extended to March 2005 and by the end of the year there were 12,642 peace-keeping troops in DRC. A MONUC report stated that violence and human rights abuses in Ituri will continue unless the authorities can gain control of the extraction of natural resources there. Another MONUC report noted that prison conditions are so bad that a sentence of 1-5 years was tantamount to a death sentence. There were continued concerns about freedom of expression when journalists were attacked by police and imprisoned for reporting allegations of police violence and ministerial corruption.

Following a request by President Kabila, the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation into alleged war crimes committed since 2002, including links to businesses operating in Europe, Asia and North America, and an international criminal court is expected to be established in 2005. The UN appointed an Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Titinga Frédéric Pacere (of Burkina Faso) to replace the Special Rapporteur Iulia Motoc.

Indigenous Batwa and Bambuti communities in north and south Kivu and Ituri district continued to report instances of abduction, cannibalism, murder, rape and looting throughout the year. The attacks were routinely publicised by indigenous organisations, NGOs and INGOs. The indigenous organisation CAMV (Centre d’Accompagnement des Autochtones Pygmées et Minoritaires Vulnérables) gave an oral intervention at the UN’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations denouncing the violence. In January, the World Food Programme was forced to stop distributing essential food aid to vulnerable Bambuti communities in the northern province of Equateur after it was stolen by locals. The local king (Mwami) of Idjwi Island has forbidden all inhabitants, including a sizeable Batwa community, from cutting down any trees until 2009 in an attempt to avoid desertification. As a result many communities that rely on wood for heating and to make paddles to sell are in financial difficulty.

At a press conference organised by the MLC (Ugandan-backed rebels led by Jean Pierre Bemba, a Vice-President in DRC’s transitional government), Bambuti people who had accused MLC soldiers of cannibalism in 2003 retracted their statements, under what was widely believed to be duress. The cannibalism charges were confirmed in a MONUC report presented to the UN Security Council in July, and an international NGO mission to DRC coordinated by RAPY, the indigenous network, submitted a dossier of written and video testimony of crimes committed against the Bambuti to the ICC. The Bambuti hunter-gatherers live deep within the forests in Ituri, and their unique knowledge of the forest combined with their hunting skills leave them vulnerable to exploitation and coercion by marauding rebel groups.

Indigenous organisations in eastern DRC continued their advocacy, education and livelihoods programmes with indigenous communities, although visits to communities in the east were difficult due to increasing insecurity. RAPY (Reseau des Associations Autochtones Pygmees – Network of Pygmy Indigenous Organisations) produced guidebooks in local languages to inform local communities on the country’s new mining and forestry codes and continued to document human rights abuses against Batwa and Bambuti communities in eastern DRC.

Indigenous organisations joined with other Congolese civil society and international organisations to oppose new laws and re-zoning (supported by the World Bank), which could result in 60 million hectares of Congolese rainforest being opened up to logging companies.

At the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues several indigenous organisations from DRC, including AAPDMAC (Action d'Appui pour la Protection des Droits des Minorités en Afrique centrale), CAMV, UEFA (Union pour l'Emancipation des Femmes Autochtones), PIPD-KIVU (Programme d'Intégration et de Développement du Peuple Pygmée au Kivu), and ACPROD made a joint statement on the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional territories, and condemning the proposed forestry re-zoning. Also at the Permanent Forum, the President of the “Women, Family and Child” Commission of Congo’s National Assembly denounced rights violations committed against indigenous women in her country and announced the revision of Congo’s family code. She later met with indigenous representatives and encouraged them to participate in the revision process.

In April, CAMV participated in the second meeting of the Durban Process, a platform initiated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to highlight the negative impact of coltan mining on flora and fauna of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and find alternative income generating activities for the miners. Following their expulsion from the park with neither resettlement nor compensation, and no longer able to enjoy their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, Batwa peoples have been forced to resort to clandestinely mining coltan and casselite in order to survive. Far from markets, poorly educated, and in desperate need of money, indigenous peoples are often exploited and under-paid for their work. CAMV has started an initiative called CECOMIFCO (Centrale coopérative autochtone des produits miniers et forestiers – Central Indigenous Cooperative for Mining and Forest Products) to help indigenous artisans and miners benefit fairly from the sale of their mining, forest and non-forest related produce.

RAPY, which is comprised of 6 organisations – UEFA, AAPDMAC, ARAP (Association pour le Régoupement et l'Autopromotion des Pygmées), CAMV, CPAKi (Collectif pour le Peuple Autochtone du Kivu), and SIPA (Solidarité pour l'Innovation des Peuples Autochtones) – adopted its statutes and elected its office holders in October.


The transition period, due to end in November 2004 with national elections, was extended due to continued disagreement between transitional leaders over power-sharing arrangements. A referendum on the constitution was postponed from October to December, and then again to 2005, with no date for a referendum yet agreed. Presidential elections fixed for April 2005 will be delayed again if no agreement is reached, although transitional leaders did adopt laws creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The National Independent Election Commission blamed delays on technical problems; however there have been accusations that delays are being caused by the political leanings of the Commission itself. Others claim transitional leaders are delaying the elections to hold onto power for as long as possible.

Despite a ceasefire in the rest of the country, western Burundi remains unstable particularly in Bujumburu province, where a faction of the FNL (Forces nationales de liberation) led by Agathon Rwasa – the only insurgent group not to join the transitional government – continues to fight for control of the area, despite a ceasefire agreement with the transitional government. UN troops which had replaced the peacekeeping forces of the African Union were also deployed to the region.

The FNL claimed responsibility for a massacre of 160 Tutsi refugees from eastern DRC in the Gatumba refugee camp, but according to various reports, the perpetrators also included Congolese and Rwandan Hutu militiamen, known as Interahamwe. The Burundian army was accused of standing by while the massacre took place.

The situation of the Twa in Burundi remained poor due to the ongoing conflict and political uncertainty. In October the Twa MP Liberate Nicayenzi said that Twa families in the northern province of Kirundo had been made homeless after their homes were burnt. In their statement to the UN’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva, UNIPROBA (Unissons-Nous pour la Promotion de la Batwa) decried the complete absence of Twa women from further education.

UNIPROBA hosted a workshop in November to train Batwa youth on human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights. 20 participants from the Great Lakes region included representatives of AIMPO and CAURWA (Rwanda), UNIPROBA (Burundi), and AAPDMAC, CAMV and PIDP (DRC). Participants called on the governments of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda to ensure they get equal access to land, education and health as other ethnic groups in these countries.

The UCEDD (Union Chrétienne pour l'Education et le Développement des Déshérités) carried out an evaluation of its work over the past eight years. UCEDD is supporting around 100 Twa community development associations in agriculture and animal husbandry projects, and supporting a nursery and primary school for 139 Twa children. The projects are reaching an estimated 10,000-15,000 people (about 3,000 households).


Instability in Northern Uganda due to brutal attacks from southern Sudan by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and ongoing political tension around DRC borders continues to dominate Ugandan political discourse. In spite of several cease fires and various offers of presidential pardons for those leaving the rebel army, no final settlement with the LRA has been reached, so thousands of people and an entire region of northern Uganda are still in crisis. In southwest Uganda the situation is complicated by the continued instability in eastern DRC and the alleged involvement of both Rwandan and Ugandan forces in this area of proven oil reserves.   The uncertain security in the area has prevented many tourists from coming to see mountain gorillas, impeding the flow of this crucial income stream. President Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, is due to step down before the next elections although many believe that his one party “Movement” system will enable him to get around constitutional restrictions to secure yet another presidential term, and there is strong debate about this issue through an active national press. Uganda has some of the most progressive policies related to land and poverty alleviation in the region, and this should also apply to indigenous Batwa, but implementation is still ineffective.

Due to increasing competition for land from immigrants, and the impact of some conservation projects which have taken over their remaining traditional lands since the early 1990s, several thousand indigenous Batwa peoples in South West Uganda have become landless and lost access to their traditional semi-nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle. Most Batwa livelihoods have always been linked to forests, and as forests have disappeared or been taken away for conservation their livelihoods have become extremely insecure, and now many face extreme poverty. Their continuing social marginalisation, lack of access to adequate compensation for their lost forest access, low literacy rates, lack of access to social services, and chronic poverty has led to a serious threat to Batwa’s livelihoods, and to the survival of their culture. However, so far government, donors and NGOs have failed to address Batwa needs or deliver fully their promises to address their poverty. Batwa have therefore decided to work to promote the acquisition of land for themselves, while also securing education, training, and income generation opportunities for Batwa communities.

During 2004 Ugandan Batwa and the national Batwa organisation UOBDU (United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda) conducted an extensive series of community consultations as the basis for the development of UOBDU’s new workplan. This plan was presented to donors in July and then UOBDU completed a Batwa census of three southwest districts. UOBDU is now developing a formal agreement with a national conservation NGO over the management of the Echuya Forest, in addition to establishing alternative income generating activities with communities. These and other developments have enabled Batwa and UOBDU to remain at the centre of donor and NGO efforts to address the problems Batwa face, including landlessness and the loss of their forest-based culture. National government recognition of UOBDU was signalled by its invitation in 2004 to join national celebrations in Kampala.   The significant shift in the attitudes of NGOs working in southwest Uganda towards supporting Batwa has been a very favourable result of the work of Batwa community activists, and they are continuing to build recognition and further links with other indigenous groups in Uganda and the region. However, much work remains to be done, especially given that many Batwa remain landless and without access to forest resources, partly due to a lack of resources with the Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT), and to land price increases around some of the major towns. Securing land remains the top priority of Batwa from south-west Uganda.


In Cameroon President Biya overwhelmingly won the vote in late 2004 for a new seven year term, despite allegations of widespread fraud, setting off into his third decade as leader. Cameroon is a mainly peaceful country despite some conflict in the oil-rich Bakassi area near Nigeria; negotiations over this situation are currently in international courts. In recent years control over some information media in Cameroon has been relaxed, and this is associated with domestic political moves in favour of more openness, partly inspired by donor pressure to reduce corruption in the forestry and natural resources sectors, central pillars of the economy, and to target more government funding towards the rural poor, who in most areas of the country have little access to adequate health or education services. This affects particularly indigenous Pygmy communities from across the southern forest zone, whose livelihoods rely on forests, who continue to remain socially and economically marginalised, and who receive few benefits from the small amounts of funds which do eventually trickle down to the regions.

The distribution of forestry revenues between central and local authorities and communities, and their respective role in the zoning of national forests are the source of furious debates that are far from resolution in Cameroon. Communities continue to be marginalised in discussions over forest planning despite the establishment of community participation as a central plank of government forest law. Logging companies and conservation organisations continue to dominate negotiations with governments over plans for the exploitation and conservation of forests. The allocation of forestry concessions is still an opaque process which regularly conflicts with the rights of forest communities, especially since sanctions against rule-breakers are rarely applied. Some local communities are able to secure community forests for their own use and exploitation through special provisions of the 1994 forestry law, but the systems is too complicated for many rural groups and always open to corruption, which is prevalent. This is especially true where management is weak, which is an unfortunately common situation.

The extreme poverty of the rural poor across southern Cameroon and the lack of investment in basic social services, coupled with growing rural populations and continuous growth of a national bushmeat trading network is leading to growing pressure on the rights of Cameroon’s indigenous forest communities, such as Bakola, Bagyeli and Baka. The Cameroon government aims to protect 30% of its land from exploitation, and over the past decade international conservation organisations have been very active in supporting the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF) to build up the network of national parks and reserves. Unfortunately, local communities were rarely consulted about these plans, and when they were, indigenous hunting and gathering communities were almost never involved. The result is that Baka and Bagyeli have little say in the management of their lands, and in many cases are losing access to forests that they have been inhabiting for centuries. Their culture, and continuing dependence upon these forests to secure their livelihoods, combined with their lack of access to lands to cultivate, or a decent wage to do so for others, and their social marginalisation, means that most still have little access to formal schooling, or basic health services, and virtually no influence with government agencies or other civil society institutions.

During 2004 Bagyeli and Bakola communities continued to complain about poor implementation, by FEDEC (Foundation for Environment and Development in Cameroon), of the Indigenous Peoples Plan (IPP), as well as promised regional compensation. This has been followed by changes to FEDEC’s management and initiation of new consultation measures by field staff. Growing protests by Bagyeli from around the newly-established Campo Ma’an National Park has led to an agreement by the Cameroon government, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and FEDEC, to reconsider park’s draft management plan. Campo Ma’an National Park is one of the environmental offset projects for the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline Project; its management plan has been under development for over three years, and is now awaiting approval by the government. Once this is done, the project will be implemented by the WWF, using funding from FEDEC and WWF. However, up to now the plan has not adequately taken into account indigenous communities’ views, despite the fact that park boundaries enclose lands which have sustained their livelihoods for aeons. In response to international pressure the World Bank International Advisory Group has now called for the establishment of a multiparty commission to examine the specific issues faced by Bagyeli affected by the establishment of the park, and this will hopefully lead to a revision of the park management plan in their favour during early 2005.

Baka and Bagyeli all over the southern forest zone are continuing to build the capacities of their own support organisations, and their negotiation skills, to secure identity cards, to gain access to legal advice, to create their own land use maps, and to develop alternative sources of income. However their incomes, institutional capacities, and confidence still remain very low and long-term support from government and donors to promote their rights is still difficult to obtain. In spite of this, since 2001 Bagyeli and Bakola from the southwest have engaged directly with donors such as the World Bank over the project’s impacts on their rights. Baka from the south and southeast now have their own, young NGOs, and some indigenous communities are establishing their own community associations. Baka and Bagyeli are building up their links with international and national conservation authorities, who are beginning to accept openly that their rights have been neglected in previous conservation plans.

New funding to the Cameroon forest sector by the World Bank has resulted in first steps towards the development of a national Indigenous Peoples Development Plan by the Cameroon government. However, currently there is no established process by which indigenous communities’ participation in the development of this plan will be assured, and much of the programme remains a theoretical prospect due to slow implementation.

Réseau Recherche Actions Concertées Pygmée (RACOPY), a network of organisations supporting indigenous hunter-gatherer communities in Cameroon, became much more active during 2004. Regular meetings between groups supporting indigenous forest communities are encouraging greater cohesion by civil society organisations around issues such as the need for civil society participation in forest sector planning, and indigenous forest communities’ rights in forests being taken over by logging and conservation.

Current plans in Cameroon are that IPDP arrangements will be formalised during 2005, during which the TRIDOM transboundary conservation project will be established on the ground by government and WWF, using World Bank/Global Environment Fund (GEF) funds. The TRIDOM project is a new transboundary conservation initiative between Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon that will join together a tri-national “interzone” bordered by the existing Minkébé, Boumba-Bek, Nki and Odzala National Parks and the Dja Wildlife Reserve. All these parks overlap lands upon which communities rely, along with forests in the “interzone.” The TRIDOM project is supposed to lead to the development of a regional land management plan that will govern access to and use of forests used by up to 40,000 indigenous forest peoples, mostly Baka Pygmies, so their participation in planning processes during 2005 will be crucial in order to protect their rights.

Regional events

The 2nd Heads of State Summit for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Central African Forest Ecosystems, was hosted in Brazzaville by the Republic of Congo in February. This meeting was a follow up to the 1999 Yaoundé Declaration which enabled the Conference of Ministers in Charge of Central African Forests (COMIFAC) to establish a regional framework for the management of the biodiversity of the Congo Basin, now known as the COMIFAC Convergence Plan.  This plan covers a diversity of region-wide initiatives to support better forest management and conservation, including the establishment of two transboundary protected areas between Central African Republic, Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of Congo.  Under the facilitation of the US for the past several years a regional conservation initiative known as the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) has been enabled through the COMIFAC framework   Funding for this has come mostly from the US and Europe, with Europe’s proportion expected to rise now that the French government has taken over the facilitation role within the CBFP.

The CBFP facilitating the provision of financial support to extend the total area destined for protection in Central Africa through the establishment of 11 so-called landscapes or eco-regions covering up to 20% of the Congo Basin.  The theory is that these landscapes will be zoned to accommodate a mixture of exploitation and conservation, with the involvement of local communities where appropriate.  Experience elsewhere in the Congo Basin suggests, however, that the extension of conservation and logging will lead to increased restrictions against local communities, especially indigenous communities relying on hunting and gathering to secure their subsistence needs. This threatens to exacerbate the negative social and economic impacts on indigenous communities from conservation and logging. Communities’ rights and roles in forest management have been persistently neglected by these processes, even though their rights to traditional, sustainable use are protected by the Convention on Biological Diversity, now signed by over 180 countries.  In most forest planning, local and indigenous communities have so far been unable to secure representation in discussions on new plans for forests, in spite of clear donor guidelines requiring this.