Editor’s Note: As a continent with abundant “resources”, Africa has been a target of colonial powers, who have plundered her land for centuries. This is not merely ecocide, but a violation of indigenous and human rights as well. Colonizers have destroyed Africa and continue to do so under newer guises, all in the name of, they say, advancing the lives of African people. People whose advanced cultures were destroyed along with their land. While DGR believes in community control over decisions related to energy, we not believe that renewable energy is the key to the ecological problems we are facing.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. This article is an edited version of a speech the author delivered at Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Conference with the theme ‘Advancing Environmental Justice in Africa’ held in June 2023 in Abuja, Nigeria.
The struggle for environmental justice in Africa is complex and broad. It is the continuation of the fight for the liberation of the continent and for socio-ecological transformation. It is a fact that the environment is our life: The soil, rivers, and air are not inanimate or lifeless entities. We are rooted and anchored in our environment. Our roots are sunk into our environment and that is where our nourishment comes from. We do not see the Earth and her bountiful gifts as items that must be exploited, transformed, consumed, or wasted. The understanding of the Earth as a living entity and not a dead thing warns that rapacious exploitation that disrupts her regenerative powers are acts of cruelty or ecocide.
We bear in mind that colonialism was erected on the right to subjugate, erase, or diminish the right to life and the right to the unfettered cultural expression of the colonized. In particular, the colonized were dehumanized and transformed into zombies working for the benefit of the colonial powers. Ecological pillage was permitted as long as it benefited the colonizers. This ethos has persisted and manifests in diverse forms. Grand theft by the colonial forces was seen as entrepreneurship. Genocide was overlooked as mere conquest. Slavery was seen as commerce. Extractivism was to be pursued relentlessly as any element left unexploited was considered a waste. What could be wasted with no compunction was life. So most things had to die. The civilizers were purveyors of death. Death of individuals. Death of ecosystems.
Thus, today, people still ask: What would we do with the crude oil or fossil gas in our soil if we do not exploit them? In other words, how could we end poverty if we do not destroy our environment and grab all it could be forced to yield? We tolerate deforestation, and unregulated industrial fishing, and run a biosafety regulation system that promotes the introduction of needless genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and by doing so, endanger our biodiversity and compromise our environment and food systems.
Plunder is presented as inescapable and desired under the cloak of foreign investment. Political leaders in despoiled regions offer ease of doing business, tax holidays, sundry lax rules, and other neocolonial governance policies.
The reign of exploitation and consumption without responsibility has driven Africa and indeed the world to the brink. The current civilization of death seeks ready investment in destruction through warfare and extractivism rather than in building resilience and adapting to the environmental changes that result from corporate and imperial misadventures.
We are in a reign in which condescension is the hallmark of multilateralism. The collective action needed to tackle global warming has been reduced to puny “nationally determined contributions” that add up to nothing. Rather than recognizing and paying a clear climate debt, we expend energy negotiating a loss and damage regime to be packaged as a humanitarian gesture. Pray, who negotiates what is offered as charity?
Today, Africa is facing multiple ecological challenges. All of these have resulted from the actions of entities that have seen the continent as a sacrificial zone. While the world has come to the conclusion that there must be an urgent shift from dependence on fossil fuels, we are seeing massive investments for the extraction of petroleum resources on the continent. And we must say that this investment comes with related infrastructure for the export of these resources out of the continent in a crass colonial pattern. A mere 1 percent of the labor force in the extractive sector in Africa are Africans. A mere 5 percent of investment in the sector is in Africa. More than 85 percent of the continent’s fossil gas infrastructure is for export purposes.
The shift to renewable energy brings the same old challenges to Africa. Extraction of critical minerals for renewable energy is done without prior consultation with and consent of our people. The continent’s environment is being degraded just as it has been with the extraction of oil, gas, gold, diamond, nickel, cobalt, and other solid minerals. The array of solar panels and wind turbines could well become markers of crime scenes if precautionary measures are not taken now.
Are we against renewable energy? No. They provide the best pathway toward ending the energy deficit on the continent. However, this should be pursued through discrete, autonomous, and socialized ownership schemes.
While the world knows that we must rebuild our biodiversity, what we see is the push towards more deforestation in Africa and for monoculture agriculture, all of which are against our best interest and that of the world. A sore issue, land grabbing has not disappeared with the coming innovations.
As Chinua Achebe writes in his classic 1958 book Things Fall Apart about Eneke the bird, “Since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.” For us, until the despoilers of our environment halt their destructive acts, we will intensify our resistance and never give in to their designs. We believe this conference will not only break the yoke of colonialism but will also puncture the hold of coloniality. Our book, Politics of Turbulent Waters, is one of the tools toward these ends.
Every African nation should:
Commit to issuing an annual State of Environment Report to lay out the situation of things in their territories.
End destructive extraction no matter the appeal of capital.
Demand climate debt for centuries of ecological exploitation and harm.
Require remediation, restoration of all degraded territories, and pay reparations to direct victims or their heirs.
Support and promote food sovereignty including by adopting agroecology.
Adopt and promote African cultural tools and philosophies for the holistic tackling of ecological challenges and for the healing and well-being of our people and communities.
Promote and provide renewable energy in a democratized manner.
Recognize our right to water, treat it as a public good, and halt and reverse its privatization.
Recognize the rights of Mother Earth and codify Ecocide as a crime akin to genocide, war crimes, and other unusual crimes.
Ensure that all Africans enjoy the right to live in a safe and satisfactory environment suitable for their progress as enshrined in the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights.
Editor’s Note: The following Mongabay article is based on a recent study that found that marginalized subsistence communities are driving deforestation due to poverty. The article also writes that deforestation caused by these communities cannot still be compared to industrial deforestation. It is understandable that basic needs may drive people towards deforestation. But where does the poverty come from? It is unfortunate that the communities that once lived harmoniously with the forests are now doing the opposite. Why are they now unable to do so in the same forests?
It may be that the forests that they live in now do not produce as much as they used to in the past, or that the number of people dependent on the forests now exceeds the carrying capacity of the forests. Both of these are a possibility. Humans are currently in a population overshoot. Forests across the world are being used for industrial purposes, leaving less for the subsistence communities. In addition, the overall destruction of the environment has impacted the health, and hence productivity, of natural communities. In technical terms this is called “absolute poverty,” where a person’s basic needs are unmet. A related concept is that of “relative poverty,” where a person’s income is far less than the societal norms. In this type of poverty, the person thinks of himself/herself as poor in comparison to others he/she is exposed to on a daily basis. Exposure to the industrial culture is a tool that different states have employed to assimilate indigenous populations and, thus, destroy their culture. This turns indigenous cultures against their landbases: harmonious relationships are replaced by exploitative ones. While it is necessary to acknowledge this trend, it is also worth pointing out that a lot of the indigenous communities are risking their lives to protect their landbases.
Subsistence communities can drive forest loss to meet their basic needs when external pressures, poverty and demand for natural resources increase, says a new study unveiling triggers that turn livelihoods from sustainable into deforestation drivers.
The impact of subsistence communities on forest loss has not been quantified to its true extent, but their impact is still minimal compared to that of industry, researchers say.
Deforestation tends to occur through shifts in agriculture practices to meet market demands and intensified wood collecting for charcoal to meet increasing energy needs.
About 90% of people globally living in extreme poverty, often subsistence communities, rely on forests for at least part of their livelihoods—making them the first ones impacted by forest loss.
Subsistence communities, those who live off the forest and lead largely sustainable lifestyles, can actually become drivers of forest loss and degradation under certain circumstances, according to a new study. This happens when external changes put pressure on their traditional lifestyles.
This could be anything from market demands that shift agriculture practices to increased populations in need of resources living in forest areas. These shifts could make communities another alarming source of carbon emissions, say researchers.
Subsistence communities have often been associated with low environmental impact and a small carbon footprint. But as external pressures and demand for natural resources increase, these communities tend to intensify their forest activities to meet their basic needs, at the same time releasing more carbon stocks into the atmosphere from forest destruction, according to researchers.
In the new study published in the journal Carbon Footprints, researchers set out to look at this phenomenon on a global scale. They did a systemic review of 101 scientific reports, all based in the tropics, to see if they could identify the livelihood activities and triggers that lead to forest degradation. Thirty-nine reports are in Africa, 33 in Asia, and 29 in Latin America.
The authors point out that these are the same sustainable communities, such as Indigenous and local people (IPLCs), that will be the first ones impacted by forest loss and climate change, as they continue to depend on these diminishing forests and tend to be materially poor or deprived.
About 90% of people living in extreme poverty depend on forest resources for their survival, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“At the end of the day, these communities need support, and their impact, I think, while it has not been quantified to its true extent, their impact is still minimal compared to what the energy industry does,” says Wendy Francesconi, author of the report and senior environmental scientist with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.
Their initial aim of the research was to collect data about how much forest cover is lost due to sustainable communities, but this proved too challenging to track, says Francesconi. Their impact is minimal and not documented as well as larger scale or industrial drivers of deforestation.
“I think one of the key messages is that we have to start paying more attention to these communities and how to support them better because they also have power in numbers—and impact in numbers,” she tells Mongabay via video call.
The authors identified two main activities the communities engaged in that became the main drivers of forest loss or degradation: intensified wood collecting (particularly for firewood or charcoal) and agriculture.
Other activities include illegal practices such as illicit crops or illegal logging and mining. The latter has been a growing concern for environmentalists who have seen Indigenous communities engage in illegal mining in Brazil and logging in Indonesia to supplement their income.
The factors pushing these changes include increased local population pressures in conjunction with changing lifestyles, availability of alternative labor, land tenure rights, market access, governance, migration, and access to technology.
External factors were highly context-dependent, however, and not all of them led to forest loss in all cases. A larger household size, for example, was associated with higher deforestation in most cases; but some case studies showed a higher likelihood for large families to share resources among each other, resulting in lower demand for resources and less forest loss, such as one case in Ethiopia.
It’s important to understand these dynamics so we don’t start to see “a more vicious cycle, where deforestation creates more poverty, then more deforestation, then more poverty, etc.” Martha Vanegas Cubillos, senior research associate at the Alliance for Biodiversity International and CIAT and another author of the study, tells Mongabay via video call.
Changing livelihoods in Indonesia
One of the studies analyzed from Asia looks at the impact of mangrove deforestation in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and its socioeconomic consequences. The 2016 study identified that the total area of mangroves decreased by 3,344 hectares (8,263 acres), or 66.05%, in the study area of the Takalar District between 1979 and 2011.
The majority of this loss was for the creation of shrimp ponds, mainly driven by local fishermen changing their livelihoods to shrimp farming. There are two reasons for this shift: as an export product, shrimp have more stable prices, but also government incentives, like credit and subsidies, were available for farmers to expand shrimp ponds, says the report.
This forest loss had a number of impacts on the local community, as it reduced the area where they could continue with their traditional use of the mangroves, like collecting firewood, house materials, and fish traps. It also exposed them to coastal erosion and saltwater into their territory, and released the rich carbon stocks stored in the mangrove trees, says the report.
This shift in production made the communities here more vulnerable, as they put all their eggs in one basket, centralizing their earnings in shrimping, and removing the protective cover of the mangroves from climate changes, says Ole Mertz, professor in the department of geosciences and natural resource management at the University of Copenhagen, and one of the authors of the South Sulawesi study.
But Mertz is skeptical that any global generalizations can be made from a literature review alone, referring to the Carbon footprints study, saying these drivers are often context-dependent.
Speaking from his experience working with communities in South East Asia, the most important driver of forest loss by smallholder communities – a term he prefers to ‘sustainable communities’, which he considers an inaccurate generalization – has been the political pressure to develop land to something more productive.
This includes policies to promote industries like palm oil, rubber, or, in the case of South Sulawesi, shrimp ponds, which has more to do with political decisions rather than the community’s socioeconomic situation, he says.
“Poverty might in some cases be driving deforestation, but I think it’s always in combination with other things, with other drivers,” he tells Mongabay.
More energy needs, more deforestation in the DRC
Communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are already feeling these external pressures, says Raymond Achu Samndong, a manager at the Tenure Facility, an IPLC organization based in Sweden.
In his 2018 paper – which was included in the Carbon footprints literature analysis – Samndong and fellow researchers take a closer look at deforestation at the community level in the Bikoro and Gemena regions, two REDD+ project areas in the DRC. After conducting interviews in the communities, 82% of households said they engaged in some type of forest clearing in the year prior to the study, despite the REDD+ incentives not to deforest.
All of them said it was for agriculture purposes, like moving or expanding crop area, while some also said it was for wood collection, either for charcoal production or artisanal logging. Charcoal and firewood are the main sources of energy in the DRC, with only 9% of the population having access to electricity, including in the capital Kinshasa.
As energy needs increase, particularly for businesses and restaurants in the city, the traditional use of charcoal is now a concerning driver of deforestation.
The main decision to clear forests in the REDD+ areas was economic poverty, lack of alternative livelihood or income generation, and lack of basic infrastructure and services, says the study.
Samndong says communities he’s worked with in the DRC are already seeing the effects of climate change, as changing weather patterns have reduced their harvest. They are aware that more deforestation will contribute to climate change and biodiversity loss, but community members tell him they don’t have any economic alternatives, “it’s like a survival strategy,” he tells Mongabay by a video call from his home in Sweden.
Solutions to deforestation should look at all the dimensions and drivers of it, not just depend on one economic incentive, like REDD+, to address it, adds the study. Better land use planning, tenure rights to communities, and more accountable institutions are among the needed solutions, researchers point out.
But Samndong says it’s essential that communities be involved in these plans. Billions of dollars have already been spent on development programs in the region over the years and nothing has changed, he elaborates.
“The problem is that development programs have been very challenging in Congo because they are mostly top-down,” he tells Mongabay, adding local communities still know and understand their local forests better than experts in the capital, or abroad.
Conflict and cash crops in Colombia
Deforestation in Colombia has long been a problem but has skyrocketed since 2016 when the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government signed peace agreements to try to stem the conflict. Deforestation in parts of Colombia then accelerated—reaching a peak in 2017 with 219,552 hectares (542,524 acres) of forest loss—as the FARCs left many strongholds in the forests and mountainsides, which opened up previously forested areas to illegal economic development, such as growing small coca fields for cocaine production as cash crops.
One study published in 2013 takes a closer look at the conditions under which local communities plant coca. Their research, included in the Carbon Footprints analysis, found a direct correlation between coca cultivation areas and those deemed Rural Unsatisfied Basic Needs areas, indicating that poverty was a major factor in areas where communities engage in coca cultivation. The others include weakness and low presence of the state, violence and armed conflict, inaccessibility, and favorable biophysical conditions.
Vanegas Cubillos, who has long been working with communities in Colombia and Peru, says Colombia is a very particular case, as the ongoing armed conflict has greatly impacted rural communities. Migration and forced displacements have forced communities to inhabit new territories, often causing some level of deforestation in areas where fertile lands are scarce.
Both in Colombia and on a global scale, there are opportunities for both the public and private sectors to create economic benefits for communities, and to break the cycle of deforestation, she says.
“Until they realize that they really have to pay attention to these communities,” she says, “I think that this is a problem that can continue to get worse.”
Featured image:Indigenous Tikuna paddling a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon by Rhett A. Butler via Mongabay.
Featured image: Barge transporting oil drums in the Niger Delta. Image by Stakeholder Democracy via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Oil has been spilling from a wellhead in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state for a month now, with the local company responsible unable to contain it.
Experts say the scale and duration of the spill is so severe that it’s imperative that local communities be relocated for their safety.
Oil spills and other forms of pollution caused by the industry are common in Bayelsa, the heart of the oil-rich Niger Delta.
Companies, including foreign oil majors, are largely left to self-declare the spills that frequently occur, but face only token fines for failing to respond quickly.
Crude oil from a blowout has been pouring into creeks in the Niger Delta since Nov. 5, with the well’s owner, Nigerian energy firm Aiteo, unable to contain the spill and specialists called in to help.
The blowout, at a non-producing well in the Santa Barbara field in Bayelsa state, has caused extensive pollution of rivers and farmland in the Nembe local government area, according to the state governor, Douye Diri. According to the News Agency of Nigeria, he said Aiteo should not think that “this criminal neglect of its facilities and disregard for human life and the environment, as demonstrated by its conduct, will not be accounted for.”
In a statement released Nov. 22, the company blamed the incident on sabotage. “Aiteo remains committed to ascertaining, immediately the well head is secure, the immediate and remote causes of the leak which will be driven by a [joint investigative visit] that will follow,” it said.
The oil industry in Nigeria attributes many oil spills to sabotage by people trying to steal crude. Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), which relies almost entirely on the industry itself for access to on- and offshore oil facilities, reports that around 75%of spills are caused by sabotage and theft.
The joint team initially despatched to the Nembe spill was unable to determine the cause of the spill, as the wellhead could not be accessed “due to hydrocarbon fumes that saturated the atmosphere in the area.” A video of the spill site, captured Nov. 29, showed a high-pressure stream of brownish liquid spraying through the creeks from a wellhead as technicians worked on the site.
The scale of the spill has overwhelmed local disaster response capabilities, and U.S.-headquartered oil-well control specialist Halliburton Boots and Coots has been drafted in to “kill the well,” a process that involves injecting cement into the well to plug it.
“Work is still ongoing at the site to stop the spill,” NOSDRA director-general Idris Musa told Mongabay last week, but all activities around the well were temporarily suspended Nov. 29 to allow the well-kill operation to proceed.
Decades of destruction
The Niger Delta is rich in biological diversity and natural resources. Its creeks, swamps and mangrove forests are home to fishing and farming communities as well as threatened species including manatees (Trichechus senegalensis), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti), and the Niger Delta red colobus (Piliocolobus epieni).
But decades of oil production have made the region one of the most polluted places on Earth. NOSDRA recorded 639 oil spills in just the past two years, resulting in 28,003 barrels spewed into the environment, according to the agency’s data.
Bayelsa is where oil was first discovered in Nigeria, in 1956. In the decades since, oil spills from wells and pipelines have contaminated farmland and water bodies, and exposed residents to toxic chemicals. Flaring of gas has led to acid rain falling on the area, while contributing to making Nigeria the 17th largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
This environmental destruction has been caused by oil majors including Shell, Chevron and Eni. The Nembe well was bought from Shell by Lagos-based Aiteo in 2015.
“It is extremely disturbing because the trend we are seeing now is that international oil companies know that their equipment are dilapidated, and to avoid responsibility, they move offshore and sell to gullible local companies who think they can make profit and are not ready or equipped to [deal with] this kind of emergencies,” said Nnimmo Bassey, an environmentalist and founder of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), a prominent green NGO in Nigeria.
Consequences — just not for oil companies
The impact of the Nembe spill on local communities and the environment is still to be determined, but Samuel Oburo, an environmental activist affiliated with Friends of the Earth, who lives about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Nembe, says villagers in the area have been badly impacted.
“I can tell you that the people there face great danger. They have started crying out. They have started experiencing strange illnesses due to the unfriendly atmosphere this spill has exposed the community to,” he told Mongabay over the phone.
But getting oil firms to clean up or pay for environmental crimes in Nigeria is difficult. Legal claims for compensation can take years, even decades, and companies are expected to pay relatively little in fines when they err.
NOSDRA’S regulations say oil companies have 24 hours to respond to the discovery of a spill. A joint visit by government agencies, company officials and community representatives should take place as soon as possible. But a 2018 study by Amnesty International found frequent delays, with some spills continuing for months after they were reported.
Shell, one of the largest operators in the country, visited spill sites within 24 hours on just 26% of occasions, Amnesty said. The slowest response time recorded was when Eni took 430 days to respond to a spill in Bayelsa state. “These delays point to serious negligence. Shell and Eni are wealthy, powerful multinationals: why can’t they act faster? Why can’t they do more?,” the report said.
But the penalties for noncompliance are negligible: 1 million naira ($2,400) for an initial default, and an additional 500,000 naira for every day after that.
“How much is N500,000 to an oil company?” NOSDRA’s Idris Musa said. An amendment increasing the fines is in progress.
Speaking to the ongoing spill at Nembe, HOMEF’s Bassey said that considering the apparent scale and duration of the latest spill, the safest option for residents of the area is to be relocated. “This area does not have pipe-borne water, and when the river is covered with crude oil, it means they have to depend on imported water,” he said. “Some may drink from that river because these areas are permanently polluted and they have no option. Children will swim in that river and people will drink from that river.”
“Crude oil contains very toxic heavy metals like lead; you know, lead affects a lot things concerning people, the nervous system, causes cancer. You have mercury in oil, you have cadmium, you have arsenic and benzene and many others,” he told Mongabay.
“So anybody eating fish from that river is in trouble already. So the relief that they are giving, I believe they should actually evacuate people from that territory at this time.”
Oburo agreed: “So long as the spill continues, there is nothing that can be done to restore the air quality. The only solution is to evacuate those people from there because their lives are precious.”
Bayelsa government spokesperson Dan Alabrah said the state is providing relief materials to communities, but had no plans to relocate them.
– Committee chair “frustrated, exasperated, incredulous at WWF’s failure to take responsibility” for human rights abuses
– Independent expert underlines “continued impacts of colonialism in conservation”
– He accuses WWF of “shocking deception” and warns “WWF won’t change their behavior unless forced to do so”
An unprecedented hearing by the US House Natural Resources Committee has seen WWF’s reputation shredded by Representatives from both parties, and independent experts, and a denunciation of the “fortress conservation” model that leads to human rights atrocities.
The organization was subjected to unprecedented attack for its involvement in human rights abuses, and refusal to take responsibility for them.
Survival International’s Fiore Longo called it “the conservation industry’s equivalent of the Abu Ghraib scandal – a moment from which it will never recover.”
The hearing was prompted by exposés by Buzzfeed News and many other investigations, including testimonies from Indigenous people collected by Survival International over many years, that laid bare WWF’s involvement in human rights abuses, particularly in Africa and Asia.
Dozens of Indigenous and local people have been raped, murdered and tortured by rangers funded by WWF, which has known about the abuses for decades but done little to address them. The abuse stems directly from a conservation model that sees the removal of Indigenous and local communities when their land is seized to create conservation areas. Other organizations have also been implicated in similar abuses, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and African Parks.
Professor John Knox, who led a WWF-commissioned review into human rights violations in WWF projects, told the hearing: “I’ve been very disappointed by the failure of WWF to make a break with their past… WWF’s leadership is still in a state of denial about its own role in fortress conservation and human rights abuses.”
He called on the organization to apologize [for its involvement in past human rights abuses] and take responsibility [for its failures], and castigated WWF for misleading the committee: “WWF’s statement to this sub-committee takes quotations from the panel’s report out of context, and thereby gives a false impression of the panel’s findings. It is frankly shocking…
“These allegations have also highlighted the continued impacts of colonialism in conservation: The old way of doing conservation, Westerners coming into a country, setting up a national park with strict borders and ridding the area of its inhabitants, is still causing conflict today.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D) said: “I’m absolutely shocked by the human rights violations and treatment of local and Indigenous communities that have been reported today… It’s devastating to hear” that US funds have contributed to “truly heinous atrocities.”
Committee Chair Rep. Jared Huffman (D) condemned Ginette Hemley, WWF’s Senior Vice-President of Wildlife Conservation, who represented the organization at the hearing after its President and CEO in the US, Carter Roberts, declined to testify. Huffman also criticized WWF’s failure to take responsibility for the abuses they funded: “… International conservation funding is potentially being put at risk because so many people are frustrated and exasperated and incredulous about WWF’s failure to take responsibility. You wouldn’t answer a simple Yes/ No question about whether you bear any responsibility, much less provide [an] apology…”
He said: “From the beginning, WWF has focused on elaborate excuses to distance themselves from the allegations”… and behaved “as if the problem is just bad PR for WWF.”
Rep. Cliff Bentz ( R ) also lambasted the organization: “WWF has been irresponsible – their testimony is embarrassing. They need to step up and admit that they are at fault… The word colonialism comes to mind.”
The head of Survival’s DecolonizeConservation campaign, Fiore Longo, said today: “This was the conservation industry’s equivalent of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a total demolition of what little remained of WWF’s reputation. Again and again their hard-wired instinct to cover up, avoid blame, and pretend they’re changing while carrying on with business as usual, was exposed for all to see.”
Survival’s Director Caroline Pearce said today: “As John Knox said, WWF is not unique in how it behaves: this kind of abuse is deeply embedded in the traditional conservation model, which is directly in conflict with human rights and particularly Indigenous rights. For decades it has been not just ignored but supported by huge, establishment conservation organizations, who pull in massive governmental and corporate funding while turning a blind eye to atrocities against Indigenous and other local communities. Their theft of vast areas of Indigenous lands in the name of nature conservation is, as Rep Bentz said, a modern colonialism that is finally and ruthlessly being exposed.
“This must be a wake-up call, not just to WWF’s celebrity supporters like Leonardo DiCaprio and Prince William, but also to philanthropic and corporate backers throwing money at fortress conservation supposedly to “protect” 30% of the earth: these organizations and their conservation model are toxic. With COP26 about to start, a true path to securing environmental sustainability and biodiversity requires a rights-based approach – and, in particular, Indigenous land rights being recognized – and does not go through conservation NGOs for whom abuse is a feature, not a bug.”
Editor’s note: DGR stands in strong solidarity with indigenous peoples worldwide. We acknowledge that they are victims of the largest genocide in human history, which is ongoing. Wherever indigenous cultures have not been completely destroyed or assimilated, they stand as relentless defenders of the landbases and natural communities which are there ancestral homes. They also provide living proof that not humans as a species are inherently destructive, but the societal structure based on large scale monoculture, endless energy consumption, accumulation of wealth and power for a few elites, human supremacy and patriarchy we call civilization.
On Thursday, January 14th 2021, 46 people belonging to the ethnic minority of the Pygmies were killed by suspected rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The massacre happened in the village of Masini, Badibongo Siya group, chiefdom of Walese Vonkutu in the territory of Irumu, province of Ituri.
The murders were committed by men armed with machetes and firearms. According to the coordinator of the French NGO CRDH (C.R.D.H./Paris Human Rights Center), the men were identified “as Banyabwisha disguised as ADF / NALU rebels”. Many of the bodies have been mutilated. Two people, a woman and a child of about two years, have been injured although escaped the attack. The surviving woman identified the attackers as Banyabwisha.
Adjio Gidi, minister of the interior and security of the province, confirmed the information about the massacre, but rather attributes this attack to real ADF / NALU rebels. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is an Ungandan armed group that is suspected to have carried out a series of massacres in eastern Congo, according to U.N. figures killing more than 1,000 civilians since the start of 2019.
The eastern borderlands of the Democratic Republic Congo with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are home to over 100 different constellations of militias, many of them remnants of the brutal civil war that officially ended 2003. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for many suspected ADF attacks in the past, but so far, according the U.N., there is no confirmation of a direct link between the two groups.
Violent conflicts between the ethnic minority of the indigenous Pygmies and the ethnic majority of the Bantu, which includes several ethnic groups like the Luba, have been going on for centuries. The Pygmies in the Congo are semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, traditionally living in dense forests. The Luba live in neighboring towns and villages, largely making a living by trade and commerce. The pygmies have been discriminated for a long time by different ethnic groups of the Bantu majority. This includes forcing them to leave their ancestral lands, which are rapidly being destroyed by deforestation.
More recently, pressure and violence towards the Pygmies has been rising due to the government setting up national parks in areas that are the ancestral home of the pygmies, such as the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. This situation leads to increasingly violent conflicts between Pygmies and park guards. Foreign companies operating in this region fuel further (often violent) conflict by exploiting the countries natural resources with logging operations, mining concessions and carving out farm plots.
The pygmies, making up less than 1% of Congo’s population (with the Luba making up about 18% and the overall Bantu-majority about 80%) want to be represented by quotas in government. They have been victims of racial discrimination for a long time, even categorized as “sub-human” by the Belgians who colonized this area.
The atrocities towards these indigenous peoples must stop.
Our members of DGR Africa are documenting and speaking out about the ongoing violence in the region.
You can support our ally and DGR community in The Congo in their indigenous community forestry program. Donate to CAPITA ASBL via Bank Transfer to: