DR Congo – Indigenous Land Crisis

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Bambuti people face conflicts with rebel groups, extractive industries and conservation initiatives, loosing large swathes of land.

Idjwi island, situated in the middle of Lake Kivu, has for the large part been spared from the violence that has persisted across DR Congo. However the ‘indigenous’ Bambuti are being pushed aside for the ethnic Bantu who now comprise around 95% of the islands population of 280,000.

The process started in the 1980s as the authority figures for the Bahayu Bantu people expelled the Bambuti from the forests and deprived them of their primary means of livelihood and subsistence. These groups, like many others who are facing similar struggles worldwide, are largely hunter gatherers and practice shifting cultivation with no formal land titles.

The chief of the Idjwi Bambuti, Charles Livingstone, said “we are no more than 7000 on the island, relocated on uncultivable land and scattered on the coast in makeshift camps on the fringe of villages, in total destitution,” reported UK-based the Independent.

Adolphine Byaywuwa Muley, the head of a Bambuti women empowerment group said that South Kivu is a “province where there are a lot of land issues, land disputes everywhere, so you are told nothing can be done.”

However, Gervais Rubenga Ntawenderundi, who is a Bantu customary chief in the north of Idjwi said that there were “no problems on the islands between the two ethnic groups…the pygmies have never been driven out of the forest and have always lived near villages in this way.”

The DR Congo national parliament discussed a law to protect Bambuti rights in 2007 but as of yet there has been no progress or a vote on the proposed bill.

Today, according to the Independent, many Bambuti work for landowners and are treated with contempt, often earning much less than other workers, and have to resort to selling handicrafts to supplement their income.

Some have settled in camps; in Kagorwa camp around 300 were resettled from the Nyamusisi forest, but in their new location crops will not grow and many suffer from malnourishment.

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Displaced Mbuti childrenCC

According to the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) there are four main groups in DR Congo; the Bambuti (Mbuti), the Baka, the east Batwa and the west Batwa. The label often used to described them collectively, pygmies, is often considered to be discriminatory. Their exact numbers are unknown but are thought to be between 600,000 and 2 million.

Across the country many have lost their land and been taken as bonded labour for Banti landlords, and such dynamics are particularly evident in North Kivu and South Kivu. In the other provinces of Orientale, Equateur and Bandundu, indigenous groups are facing widespread displacement for industrial development.

The forests in DR Congo represent the second largest forest basin in the world, but the same area contains an abundance of mineral resources and the presence of numerous factionalised rebel groups.

“The state is itself a threat to our forests: it makes a complete mess of things by handing out timber licences. It gives them to anyone willing to pay, and we see these people come and cut down our trees with impunity. They cut down our medicinal trees and, with them, the bark and fruits used for our medical treatments. They cut down our caterpillar trees, our oil trees,” said Irangi, who is a member of the Mbuti Pygmies in Itombwe, reported the Guardian.

In 2006 the Congolese government created the Itombwe nature reserve facilitated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS); all human activity was forbidden in an area over 15,000 square km.

Similarly in Virunga National Park, the oldest in Africa, the Bambuti are forbidden from hunting or living inside the boundaries and are caught between both park rangers and armed groups, reported the Inter Press Service.

In the 1980s in the Kahuzi-Biega national park nearly 6000 indigenous people were moved from their villages and left to make a living outside of the forest. Many of these groups now live in precarious conditions – deprived of traditional livelihood sources and forms of religious and social identity, they often work as manual labourers.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

DR CONGO: Rebel Groups Torment Residents
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Volume. 53, Issue. 10, Pp. 21184A–21184C

DR CONGO: ADF & FDLR Violence
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Volume. 53, Issue. 9, Pp. 21146C–21147B

DR CONGO: Humanitarian Concerns
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Volume 53, Issue. 6, Pp. 21040A–21040C

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