Korup National Park – The Displacement of the Indigenous People: Voluntary or by Force?
Author: Tazoacha Francis
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 09/02/2010
The wind of change that blew across Africa concerning environmental conservation also left its impact in Cameroon, leading to the creation of Korup National Park, the first national park in Cameroon in 1986. Korup National Park is found near Mundemba, the Ndian Division of the Southwest Region of Cameroon (Korup National Park, 2007). Indigenous people have lived in the present-day park area since time immemorial and the link between these indigenous people and the forest is so strong that the people cannot live without it. These indigenous people rely on the forest for their livelihood: food, fuel, water, shelter, medicine, income, and beliefs (ODI, 1993). Due to their presence in the park and their reliance on forest resources, the Cameroonian government and Worldwide Fund for Nature deemed the local population to pose as threat to the management of the parkland removed them from the park (Kai Schmidt-Soltau & Dan Brockington, 2007). This led to their resettling which action has faced some resistance.
Background of Korup National Park
The Korup National Park is believed to comprise one of the oldest and the most diverse rainforests in the African continent. The park was established in 1986 (Korup National Park, 2007) by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF and is now a joint venture of the Cameroon government, Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), Deutsche Gesellschaft f?r Technische Zusammenarbeit –German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), European Union (EU) and Worldwide Fund for Nature – United Kingdom (WWF-UK) (the Living Africa, 1998).
The park covers 1260 kilometers² and is believed to harbour more than 620 species of trees and shrubs, and at least 480 species of herbs. The park records reveal more than 400 species of birds, 82 reptiles, 92 amphibians and about 1000 species of butterflies. There are also about 130 different fish species and more than 160 species of mammals. These species are believed to be found nowhere in the planet and are endangered (Korup National Park, 2007). Additionally, there are 29 villages in the park area. Six of these villages have a population of about 1465 indigenous people (The Living Africa, 1998).
The Resettlement Plan for the Indigenous People
The decree that created the Korup National Park in 1986 stipulated that the 1465 indigenous people in the six villages were to be resettled out of the park area (Marcus Colchester, 1994). Thereafter, however, survey and research carried out by the WWF indicated that the resettlement was undertaken without consulting the targeted communities. At the same time, the results of this research showed that the indigenous people were poaching the park resources at what they deemed to be an alarming rate (Schmidt 2009; Colchester, 1994). According to Colchester (1994: page no.),
“WWF thus felt obliged to argue that ‘the presence of villages within the park whose inhabitants are involved in hunting, trapping and agriculture is incompatible with the operation of the park’ and they advised a voluntary resettlement programme based on creating incentives to relocate to neighbouring forest areas with better soils, where roads, community development initiatives and improved services would be provided.”
As stated, the policy and the decision of displacement were made without consulting the targeted population they were never informed that they would be moved, neither were they told where they would be taken nor how and when the process was to take place. The Cameroon government failed to understand the implications of their policy and the WWF minimised the importance of the indigenous people and went ahead in implementing the government’s decision. Moreover, the manner in which the people were ultimately informed that they were being relocated was hostile and may have engendered an aggressive attitude towards the park (Colchester, 1994). Colchester, (1994) citing Devitt (1988) says that:
Surveys showed that many, perhaps all, of the thirty villages within the Park and three kilometres from its boundary claim traditional rights to land and natural resources within the Park itself.
These people claimed that the forest and the land belonged to them, they demonstrated that they had a right to be involved in the decision-making process of the future of the forest. Therefore, they were not to be ignored in deciding their own fate. In response, the government of Cameroon, as a partner to this resettlement programme, undertook the responsibility to compensate the displaced people. However, the government has been reluctant and unwilling to fulfil their promise to some of the displaced persons who abandoned their crops, fruit trees, and homes (Sayer, 1991). The resettlement plan was a failure, asserts Colchester (1994), citing Ruitenbeek (1988),
“One specialist looking into the managerial aspects of the park advised against resettlement arguing that the local political disruptions would foment greater antagonism to the park and make management and policing untenable or very costly. The specialist also pointed out that the same laws that made resettlement from the park necessary would also apply in the buffer zones to which they were relocated, making their presence there equally illegal.”
The displaced communities were not given the opportunity to choose a new, suitable site; they were not asked what about the kind of housing to be built for them; they were not consulted as to the types of alternative forms of income-generation designed for them. The relocated groups refused to budge because they adhered to their culture and tradition, refusing to abandon their ancestors and their cradle for a different place. Also, the time frame given them was too short (Forzi, G.N, 1998). These factors provided an adequate foundation for their resistance. In response to their resistance, the Cameroonian government used brute force, leading to casualties. Those who were frightened to relocate later on went back to their original homes (Forzi, G.N, 1998, Schmidt S K., 2009)
Which way then?
Participatory environmental development has recently taken center stage in most governments and organisations’ development efforts. This approach has given way to the adoption of democratic principles of governance and public participation, which have helped redefine new ways of designing, deciding and implementing policies at all levels (World Resources Institute, 2002-2004). If the stakeholders of the Korup National Park had this in mind, they would not have faced the challenges of relocating the indigenous people in the park in the same manner. In order to adopt a democratic, participatory approach, the following must occur:
A) Fully involve the indigenous people in the decision making process: If the affected villagers were included in the decision-making process, the park stakeholders would have not been met with same resistance. Goverment and development decision-makers should consider local groups as one stakeholder in the development of the park (Figueroa, 2005; McGranahan, et al.,)If all parties are involved in this process, they will more likely participate with empathy, as their diverse interests are addressed.
B) Communication and dialogue: Often, people attach a very low value to indigenous people and, as a result, treat them with contempt. Such discrimination might be the reason why the villagers were not informed of the planned resettlement; it precluded consideration of them as stakeholders in the future of the area targeted for the development of the park (Figueroa, 2005). Better communication and questioning old prejudices might have helped to ease the implementation of the project.
Respect for cultural values and tradition: Culture and/or tradition can be identified within a group of people and the respect that one gives to a culture should be given to the people as well. Culture can be considered a fundamental value of human identity. The indigenous people in question believe that the forest is the cradle of their forefathers and the bond between them and the forest is so strong that they cannot easily be separated from it. However, the conservationists and other stakeholders did not appreciate the locals’ culture and values ortake them into consideration (Michael, M.C & Kai, S.S, 2003). Consequently, the significance of the relocation, the separation of the villagers from their ancestors, was not understood.
For a sustainable environmental initiative to succeed, environmental governance has to be strongly put in place. This governance has to incorporate the participation of all stakeholders at all stages of the developmental initiative and with equal rights. As a result, transparent and accountable policies and decisions that are beneficial to all parties may be made and effectively implementated. If these instruments are put in place, the sustainable management of natural resources will be possible at all levels. The government and international stakeholders of the Korup National Park failed to use such instruments and thus faced the challenges described in their conservation initiative.
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(2003). Korup National Park Project – Rural Development Component. Accessed 16 March 2010 from www.odi.org.uk/projects/98-99-tropical-forestry/projects/2219.htm
Sayer, Jeffrey. (1991). Rainforest Buffer Zones: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers. IUCN Forest Conservation Programme. Cambridge, UK.
The Living Africa. (1998). Korup National Park. Accessed 16 March 2010 from www.library.thinkquest.org/16645/national_parks/ca_kmp.shtml
Bio: Tazoacha Francis holds an MA in Natural Resources and Peace from the University for Peace.