Protecting nature without removing people

African countries are seeking to set ambitious goals for nature protection and conservation in the wake of COP15 on biodiversity scheduled for December in Montreal. However, experts and human rights defenders have warned against increasing the number of environmental protection efforts to the detriment of populations already occupying the territory.

More than 2,000 representatives of governments, local populations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Africa have gathered in Rwanda’s capital Kigali until Saturday for the first Pan-African Congress on Biodiversity.

“Protected areas are essential to the survival of the planet,” said Bruno Oberle, director-general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which hosts the African Protected Areas Congress (APAC). According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme, Africa is home to a quarter of the world’s biodiversity.

One of the objectives of the international community is to increase the number of protected areas and their surface area. A broad coalition of countries voted in June to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030; Proposals that will be debated during COP15 in Montreal.

“The area of ​​protected areas in Africa is shrinking,” said Joel Aouhidia Korahire, director of coordination of international conventions at Burkina Faso’s environment ministry. This researcher also defended a doctoral thesis on a protected area in his country of birth.

He fears that the current increase in climate refugees will damage the integrity of the protected areas and the protection of biodiversity: “The protected areas are among the best agricultural lands and more and more groups that we cannot control the movement of want to use it. . »

“Green Colonialism”

In Africa and elsewhere, the legitimate objective of protecting the biodiversity of certain areas creates conflict with those who occupy the area, recalls Joel Awhidiya Korahire. Some authors even speak of “green colonialism”, since it is often international NGOs that, with the support of governments, take all means to fulfill their environmental objectives without taking into account the population.

Many examples have been identified on the continent. Most recently, in June, the Tanzanian government’s attempt to evict 10,000 Maasai – semi-nomadic pastoralists present in Kenya and Tanzania – from the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ngorongoro Crater region resulted in violent clashes that killed a policeman and wounded at least ten others in gunfire on the Maasai side. . Evacuation must specifically allow the construction of private reserves and tourist complexes.

“Respect for human rights is the cornerstone of environmental initiatives,” said Colette Lelievre, campaign manager at Amnesty International Canada Francophone.

He explains that the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, “both in Canada and in Africa”, are guaranteed by international charters, but “too often” justice systems prove to be “failed”.

Ancestral know-how

According to Joel Awhidiya Korahire, most people who live around and depend on Africa’s protected areas do not pose a “significant risk”. Rather, he lamented the threats these people face and the “inadequate” laws to protect them.

The researcher also criticizes the economic context that leads some populations to illegal activities harmful to the environment: “When people realize that outsiders want to protect their territory, when they see people coming on safari, they understand the value of wildlife, and it can be hunted. Poachers, as well as some people mistaken for poachers, are often violently controlled.

It is in this context that the IUCN Congress for the first time brought together such a large number of NGOs and members of local communities to respect their rights and their knowledge. The ACPA statement said, “Indigenous people are the first conservationists.

“When you involve people in the management of protected areas, they apply their knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation,” concludes Joel Aohidiya Korahire. He remains optimistic, hailing the rise of “participatory management” with the continent’s communities.

With Agence France-Presse

Can we talk about the “indigenous people” of Africa?

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