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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Liberia – Land Rights Concern

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Analysts suggest that the decision not to uphold the Land Rights Act could spark a return to civil war in the country.

The draft Land Rights Act, which had been proposed in 2014, was intended to uphold customary rights to land for rural communities. Since its submission people have been concerned about the lack of progress and it is likely to be delayed further according to the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) Working Group on Land Rights in Liberia.

Over two million people in Liberia, more than half of the population, live on customary land, without legal recognition. It was largely disputes over land under customary tenure that catalysed 14 years of civil wars and led to many deaths.

An estimated 90 percent of Liberia’s civil court cases are related to land and as many as 63 percent of violent conflicts in Liberia are rooted in land rights issues, reported Reuters.

In 2003, following a second civil war, the government pushed on with policies for leasing lands to foreign companies, with oil palm plantations identified as a central strategy by the World Bank, to turn the country into a desirable investment destination.

The group of CSOs, however, stated that concessions to mining, logging and agriculture, that cover around 40% of the country, pay little consideration to local people. According to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), of 237 mining and agricultural concessions in the country, all had established communities living within them.

“If its (Liberia’s) leaders try to fuel development by selling off community lands to the highest bidder, the price will once again be instability and conflict,” said Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Director for Africa at the RRI, reported Reuters.

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The coalition of 18 CSOs issued a statement which read, “if the legislature does not pass the 2014 version of the Land Rights Act before its recess in August, it will likely be delayed until after the elections; a new government takes office in 2018, leaving the legislation in limbo indefinitely.”

They added that the Act has not been made public leading to suspicions that key provisions have been removed, in a subversion of hopes for a peaceful future. “Liberia has been hailed as West Africa’s leader in land rights, but time is running out for the legislature to take this crucial step and make good on years of promises to the Liberian people. I fear that if the Act fails to pass, or passes without the key principles safeguarding the rights of communities, the country will slide backwards,” said Bandiaky-Badji, reported the CSO Working Group.

The CSO group also commented that Liberia has the opportunity to lead the way in securing its peoples’ land and forest rights, as well as contributing to sustainable development and climate change mitigation, two goals the leaders of the country have repeatedly pledged to work towards. The CSO Working Group stated that four tenets needed to be included in the Land Rights Act:

1. The formalisation of customary ownership with legal protection the same as individual private ownership.

2. Communities are able to self-define and self-identify their lands and boundaries.

3. Communities are directly responsible for the management of their land and natural resources, and there must be free, prior and informed consent before external investments are made.

4. Customary land rights take precedence over all other proposed uses of land.

Meanwhile on June 30th the United Nations (UN) mission in Liberia, (UNMIL) came to an end, 15 years after 15,000 troops were deployed. Analysts claim that a number of troops will remain and the move is hoped to encourage the ruling party to focus on internal domestic politics, although others have expressed doubt about the ability and willingness of the authorities to deal with the issues, reported the Daily Observer.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

LIBERIA: Security Concerns
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp.20935C–20936A

Liberia – Chinese Military Cooperation
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.1, Pp.20439B

LIBERIA: Corruption Charges
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.5, Pp.21278A–21278C

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Liberia – Land Rights Reform

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Civil society groups call for an improved policy approach to forested areas, as concerns remain over the ambiguous tenure of customary land.

In an October 2015 conference entitled ‘Re-thinking Libya’s Forests‘, UK-based campaigns group Global Witness called for international partners and civil society groups to work together towards creating a more inclusive policy framework and understanding of the value of Liberia’s forested areas.

The discussions urged for the creation of a multi-stakeholder, gender inclusive steering group to encourage innovation in community forestry, particularly land planning. Key stakeholders included the NGO Coalition of Liberia and USAID.

Liberia, was identified by the United Nations (UN) as possibly having serious social repercussions from ongoing land disputes; In October 2015 Al-Jazeera reported that the government promised 520,000 hectares of land — close to 5% of the country — to the top four palm oil companies in Liberia. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made an effort to attract foreign investors; Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) holds 220,000 hectares, roughly the size of Tokyo, for an initial term of 65 years.

In 2009 the Liberian government established the Land Commission to determine how the country might address customary ownership issues. By late 2014, the commission had drafted the Land Rights Act (LRA), although Al-Jazeera commented that while the law looks good, the enforcement will be difficult, as collusion and intimidation can make free and informed consent almost impossible. The LRA is currently being debated within the Liberian government.

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Additionally, in 2012, Liberia and the European Union (EU) signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) that committed Liberia to take steps to eliminate illegal timber from domestic or international markets, and the EU to take measures to prevent illegal timber from entering its market.

President Johnson Sirleaf commented, during the October 2015 conference, that “we have taken pragmatic and firm steps in recognising the breakdown in the rule of law in the forest sector and the consequent harm to the national interest.” Steps taken include a switch to a focus on conservation and community management; “the policy recognises community land right and establishes a distinct category of community land rights,” continued President Sirleaf, cited by Front Page Africa.

However it is important for these new conservation projects and property regimes to be inclusive. Conservation areas should not exclude those people who depend on forested landscapes for their survival, while community property and land rights should not be formalised in such a way that only the wealthiest locals benefit.

SciDev reported that the Rights and Resources Initiative had conducted an analysis of the coordination between Norway and Liberia for US$100m of support to protect 30% of Liberia’s forests. The researchers postulated six scenarios to estimate amount of people who could be displaced by creating conservation parks in populated forest areas.

The report warns that compensation for people forced to move and facing loss of livelihood is estimated to be six times more than the $100m currently available to implement the entire project, reported SciDev.

According to the Global Forest Watch Liberia lost an estimated 711,476 hectares between 2001 and 2014, with only 4% of the forested area described as primary forest. Experts estimate that 71% of Liberia’s land area is held under customary tenure, but commercial concessions cover as much as 75% of the country’s land, reported the Africa Report.

Many rural communities work farmland as labourers, and struggle to regain land that was grabbed to establish commercial projects or national parks, often through ambiguous legal regimes. It is hoped that the new reforms to the land law will protect the poorest, but difficulties in its implementation and the guarantee of fair and equitable distribution, still remain.

Global Witness provide a number of resources on Liberia, available here.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

LIBERIA: Senatorial Polls
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.51, Issue.12, Pp.20384B–20385A

LIBERIA: Justice Minister Resigns
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.51, Issue.10, Pp.20307A–20308A

Liberia
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.51, Issue.5, Pp.20134B

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