The EU’s NaturAfrica must avoid colonialism in conservation: Protected areas should be managed by Indigenous Peoples themselves
On 11 December 2019, European Commission published a Communication setting out a European Green Deal for the European Union and its citizens. The Communication referred to its Comprehensive Strategy with Africa, and mentioned an initiative called “NaturAfrica”:
The EU will launch a “NaturAfrica” initiative to tackle biodiversity loss by creating a network of protected areas to protect wildlife and offer opportunities in green sectors for local populations.
In March 2020, the European Commission published a Communication titled, “Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa”, and “NaturAfrica” got another brief mention:
[T]he EU and Africa should take joint action to protect and reduce pressure on forests, water and marine ecosystems while enhancing their management by tackling illegal harvesting and combating environmental crime, thereby tackling the drivers of biodiversity loss. This can be done inter alia by launching a ‘NaturAfrica’ initiative.
Inclusive and holistic
In February 2020, a group of 14 NGOs put out a Briefing titled, “Making the European Green Deal work for international partnerships”. The Briefing recommends:
An inclusive and holistic approach to ‘NaturAfrica’. The NaturAfrica Initiative outlined in the Communication should be developed in consultation with all stakeholders, with particular attention to local communities, indigenous peoples, and women. It should support African governments and local populations to tackle major drivers of biodiversity loss and environmental degradation in a holistic and systematic way, including support for well managed protected area networks that involve and respect the rights of communities and indigenous peoples. The Initiative should include integrated land/seascape approaches to address unsustainable use of natural resources and ecosystem degradation, particularly freshwater and forest ecosystems, tackle illegal wildlife trafficking, corruption and poor natural resource governance.
Among the signatories was WWF European Policy Office. In the Republic of Congo ecoguards partly funded by WWF have for years beaten up and intimidated hundreds of Indigenous Baka pygmies living around WWF’s proposed Messok Dja National Park. No wonder then, that the Briefing doesn’t mention Messok Dja, or the fact that in 2016 the EU agreed to €1 million funding for WWF’s work on the proposed new park.
In April 2020, the EU partially suspended funding for the proposed Messok Dja National Park, until a new contract is signed with WWF that includes additional human rights considerations.
Avoid colonialism in conservation
On 11 June 2020, Michèle Rivasi, MEP, put out a statement about Indigenous Peoples and the EU’s proposals on biodiversity, the protection of forests, and the Green New Deal. Rivasi is coordinator for Greens / European Free Alliance on development cooperation issues and responsible for the rights of indigenous peoples in the European Parliament Committee on Development (DEVE).
A translation of her statement is posted here in full (the original in French is available here):
“Isolated indigenous communities are at risk of being wiped out by diseases against which they are not immune and have no sanitation. The loss of their ancestral lands due to the invasion of the extractive and agro-food industries aggravates the problem. In Brazil, the mining industries are profiting from sanitary chaos and mercilessly deforesting the Amazon, polluting rivers and participating in the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
“At the European level, biodiversity is the great forgotten thing of the Green Deal and of the recent ‘Recovery plan’. We will now have to closely follow the European Biodiversity 2030 strategy and in particular the reference to ‘NaturAfrica’, the new conservation program. If this is about creating more protected areas in forest-rich countries, it will be necessary to ensure that these areas are managed by the indigenous peoples themselves to avoid colonialism in conservation.
“In this regard, the recent suspension by the European Commission of the funding of a WWF project to create the protected area of Messok Dja, in Congo-Brazzaville, is a step in the right direction. This area is the territory where the Baka, a marginalized people of hunter-gatherers, live, who have not given their free consent and have been denied access to the resources of their forest, necessary for food, health and practice. sacred rites.
“I congratulate the European Commission on this decision, which demonstrates that it knows how to sanction when the rights of indigenous peoples are violated. I expect the same intransigence in the face of industrialists who are accomplices in the destruction of the rainforest for the production of meat, wood or minerals.”