Progress toward promoting indigenous peoples’ rights in Cameroon

Posted on 13 June 2018
Representatives of indigenous communities take part in workshops organised by WWF and her partners
© Ernest Sumelong/WWF
Around the globe, indigenous people are known as guardians of the forest with their lives and livelihoods usually directly linked to it. However, they are often marginalized and discriminated against and their rights undermined.
An estimated 26,000 Baka live in the southeast of Cameroon and share forest resources with more than 15 ethnic groups. Facing historic discrimination for several decades, today the communities are partnering with WWF and stakeholders to identify solutions to protect and promote their rights through conservation.

In April 2017, Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS) with the support of WWF organized a workshop during which participants, including representatives of indigenous communities, highlighted the rights granted to indigenous peoples (IP) in conservation initiatives as enshrined in national laws and international conventions ratified by Cameroon.

Over one year into the triennial action plan, WWF and MINAS recently assembled representatives of IPs, government ministries, civil society organizations, the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, Plan International as well as administrative authorities of East Cameroon, from 31 May to 1 June 2018, to take stock of the progress made so far.

“We are happy to be part of this and satisfied with what is going on. Already, WWF has done much for my community by creating a community forest and giving us necessary material that enable us to exploit and transform wood from it. We have been exploiting this community forest for the past four years and with the money generated we have carried out many development projects in the village. However, more needs to be done to promote the education of Baka and ensure the integration of educated Baka into the civil service,”” states Bibi Joseph Johnson, Baka leader of Yenga Village in Moloundou subdivision, east Cameroon.

“In 2013, WWF launched an education scheme that has seen hundreds of Baka children being supported through school and we have also helped construct classrooms for Baka children in Assoumndele village,” says Dr Hanson Njiforti, WWF-Cameroon Director. “We will continue to support these initiatives along with others we are working on to help protect the rights of the Baka through conservation.”

One such initiative is a mechanism to monitor and take action against cases of abuse of indigenous peoples’ rights in the East Region of Cameroon, initiated by local civil society organizations and supported by WWF. In 2017, the Baka were able to raise at least 13 cases of abuse which were followed up at the level of judiciary, penitentiary and local administrative units with support provided by the initiative.

Victor Amougou, Coordinator of local NGO CEFAID, believes that positive strides have been made regarding the upholding of Baka’s rights. “Much has been done and issues relating to respect and promotion of the rights of IPs are increasingly integrated in conservation projects being undertaken in the country,” he explains.

Within protected areas, conservation services of Lobeke and Boumba-Bek national parks as well as the Ngoyla Wildlife Reserve have signed memoranda of understanding with Baka communities to grant greater access rights to natural resources. WWF is facilitating similar initiatives with private sector operators.

“The desire to place communities at the centre of our initiatives with regard to the management of natural resources is in line with WWF’s vision of building a future where people live in harmony with nature,” underlines Dr Njiforti. “We are committed to do our best to help protect biodiversity and the people and wildlife that depend on it across Cameroon.”
Representatives of indigenous communities take part in workshops organised by WWF and her partners
© Ernest Sumelong/WWF Enlarge
Baka women Match on International Women's day with placards that speak of their rights
© Ernest Sumelong/WWF Enlarge
Baka women standing up for their rights: A Baka woman is equal to a Cameroonian citizen
© Ernest Sumelong/WWF Enlarge