Ernest Adjina: The man who led the Baka to sign historic MoU with Cameroon Gov’t
Born in the forest of Lobéké some 65 years ago, Adjina knows that the forest is sacred and central to the Baka’s survival. “I grew up with my parents in this forest of Lobéké, feeding on wild yams and honey. My parents carried out fishing and hunting. They showed me the way of the forest by initiating me into the jengi (a sacred Baka traditional ritual that is performed to fortify and protect young Baka in the forest).
Adjina was among the few Baka who attended school (up to secondary level), enabling him to read and write. When part of the Lobéké forest was to be categorized as a national park, Adjina played a key role during consultation and sensitization meetings organized in Baka camps and villages, telling the importance of conservation and getting their consent. “I went everywhere; Yokadouma, Ngatto Ancien, Moloundou, Libongo, Salapoumbe and Kika, telling my brothers why it was important to protect our forest,” he says.
The creation of the Lobeke National Park proscribed any activity within the park, thereby restricting the Baka access right to the forest that was once limitless to them. This became a source of conflict between the Baka and government rangers who had to enforce the new restrictions.
As Baka leader and spokesperson, Adjina said he was worried about the ensuing conflicts between the Baka and conservation teams following restrictions on access to the parks, and began reflecting on how the Baka could make their voices heard.
“In 2007, while working with local NGO CEFAID, I proposed the creation of an association of Baka that would articulate our worries. With the support of WWF and local NGO CEFAID, the Association Sanguia Baka Buma’a Kpodé (ASBABUK) was created and we fought hard to secure free access right into the parks,” Adjina says.
After over a decade of lobbying, Adjina led ASBABUK to sign the MoU on February 26, 2019, in Bertoua, the capital city of the East Region of Cameroon.
From his native Mbateka Village near the Lobéké National Park, Adjina oversees the implementation of the MoU with the support of the Lobéké Park management and WWF. As president of ASBABUK, Adjina alongside other Baka spokespeople work for the promotion of the rights and wellbeing of the Baka.
Following the signing of the MoU, ASBABUK with the support of the Lobeke Management (WWF and MINFOF) have been working together to ensure its implementation. While some milestones have been achieved while there is still much to do to enable the Baka to fully enjoy access their rights. Adjina admits that there have been positive changes since the signing of the MoU. “Things are changing, the Baka are now carrying out their activities in the forest freely, but there is still some work to do” he states.
Adjina says he is a happy man and that he is optimistic about the future of the Baka. “Besides having access to the forest and natural resources, our children are also embracing education thanks to support provided by WWF, the Lobeke Park management and other partners,” Adjina says.