The indigenous peoples of Cameroon: from Ngoyla-Mintom to national recognition

The dialogue on indigenous peoples held by parliament and the government in Yaounde, Cameroon
By
Messe Venant

The indigenous peoples of Cameroon: from Ngoyla-Mintom to national recognition

In dialogue with parliament and the government

Compared to the 1990s and the start of the 21st century, the question of giving recognition to the indigenous peoples of Cameroon has, in recent years, become a central issue, if still in a somewhat tentative way.

Indeed, on the 1st and 2nd of September 2011 in Yaounde, Cameroon, parliament and the government held a dialogue on indigenous peoples. The meeting brought together members of the National Assembly (under the umbrella of the Parliamentarians’ Network, REPAR), representatives of ministries with projects affecting indigenous peoples, development partners, UN special representatives and a substantial delegation of indigenous peoples: Baka, Bakola, Bagyeli and Bororo. A new phenomenon was the willingness to consider what is involved in giving recognition to indigenous communities, as was demonstrated by the extensive question and answer sessions between the members of the National Assembly and the indigenous peoples.

Through their active participation, as much at the organisational level and in areas of protocol as in the working groups, the indigenous representatives expressed the desire that issues relating to land tenure and access to basic social services be resolved positively as soon as possible. Needless to say, others were concerned at the prospect of further meetings on indigenous peoples.

The support of organisations campaigning for the rights of indigenous peoples in Africa in general and for those in Cameroon in particular is to be appreciated. They, and we all, need to closely monitor whether the recommendations from this meeting are acted on.

Ngoyla-Mintom: Baka concerns

FPP, CED and OKANI have just concluded a series of consultations with Baka communities living in the Ngoyla-Mintom corridor. This involved over 300 people. These RRI funded consultations culminated in two workshops held locally in Mintom and Ngoyla respectively.

One purpose of the consultations was to make the communities aware that project developers and the state have obligations to consult the communities when a project is likely to affect them. Another purpose was to provide information on the issues facing their forest, specifically preparations being made under the REDD initiatives by WWF, GEF, etc.

What became very clear was that the Baka living here are completely unaware of all the negotiations and discussions taking place about their forests. By the end of the discussions, WWF and its partners undertook to bridge the gaps and to bring their own practice in relation to indigenous peoples and conservation in line with the WWF principles for engagement with indigenous peoples as presented to the communities by the facilitator from the Centre for Environment and Development (CED).

In conclusion, the Baka stipulated that (i) if their right to free, prior and informed consent is not implemented, (ii) if their rights over their forests are not recognised, and (iii) if no clear mechanisms are put in place to ensure their equitable sharing of the profits and advantages expected to accrue from the REDD projects, then they will not accept REDD.

Finally, the Baka pointed out that their lifestyle and their activities have not caused damage to the forest but have protected it, and that they will welcome a form of REDD that supports them to continue these activities but not those that promote the destruction of their forest and that perpetuate their marginalisation.

Consultation workshop on REDD in Mintom
By
Messe Venant