Creating positive change in an ever changing Cameroon
Spanning more than 47 million hectares, Cameroon is a country that draws many to her and is home to many more. From an abundance of different peoples, communities and traditions to a richness of natural resources, Cameroon is a land like no other. We have the sea, mountains, rainforests and so much more, nurturing lives and wildlife for centuries and just as any young nation, aiming to continue its journey forward sustainably, we also have our challenges.
With close to 33 years conservation work in Cameroon and Ghana, and as WWF’s Country Director in Cameroon, I witness the splendour and the difficulties of life in Cameroon every day. For every hard-earned dollar I see communities collaborate to generate, through activities like bee-keeping, community forest zones and sustainable fishing, I know they continue to struggle for access to vital services like education, healthcare and infrastructure.
These challenges are further intensified in places like Southeast Cameroon where historical barriers and deep-rooted social prejudices also come into play.
Here, indigenous people like the Baka, Bagyéli, Bakola, and Bedzang have conserved their traditional way of life, customs and culture for centuries. Today, as the country around them is in the midst of change, their efforts to preserve their identity and inter-generational knowledge need to be supported and their rights strengthened so people and nature can thrive together.
It is not something that can achieved overnight but through collaboration and determination, we can make a difference over time. The community forests and sustainable hunting zones WWF has helped create for the Baka, for example, are a step toward helping the community have a sustainable source of employment and income, while protecting the forests they have lived upon for centuries.
We have also started a scholarship programme for Baka children to empower them to be a part of the transformation we are seeing across the country. I must say, none of these would have been possible without the partnership of like-minded international NGOs and community based organisations. In everything, we agree that people can make small changes in the environment and in livelihoods of the future generations.
We still have a long way to go but I am optimistic about how far we can reach together.
In April, with WWF support, Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs organized an inter-ministry workshop to discuss protection of indigenous people’s rights in the implementation of biodiversity conservation projects.
It was the first time such a platform had been convened on this specific topic and as I listened to the representatives of the government, local and international NGOs and most importantly, indigenous communities themselves, come forward with ideas and solutions, I knew we were at a turning point.
As we continue our efforts, it is critical that indigenous communities like the Baka remain at the centre of the conversation - and the development of solutions. As over 25 local NGOs working on Baka issues recently indicated in a joint open letter, also signed by WWF-Cameroon, to create change we need to act together, build local capacities and create partnerships that help strengthen local action and impact.
When I wrote the chapter Conflict in Cameroon: Parks for or against People? in 1993 in the book Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas: The Law of Mother Earth, edited by Elizabeth Kemf , I was convinced (and am still convinced) that parks can only be properly managed with the people who are in day to day contact with them. This is even more so with indigenous people who depend on park resources for their daily upkeep.
A popular Cameroonian proverb states ‘Rain does not fall on one roof alone’. Together, we can make a difference - building a sustainable tomorrow starts with our collective actions today.