By Sharon Atieno

Indigenous people and local communities in Africa are still struggling despite the fifth International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Parks Congress in Durban calling for free, prior and informed consent for the establishment of new protected areas, meaningful participation by these communities in the governance of protected areas and restitution of lands that have been lost by these communities to conservation.

Speaking on behalf of this group, Milkah Chepkorir, a Sengwer indigenous woman and Coordinator of Community Land Action Now said during the inaugural IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Rwanda.

“We have had many experiences of conservation gone wrong, human rights violation, forceful evictions, dispossession, displacement, and violence even to the extent of death,” Chepkorir noted, pointing out that the conservation measures adopted in the colonial times have been sustained and even refined with increased militarization.

Nonetheless, she said these approaches have not only failed to offer a real solution to the crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss but have also caused untold harm and trauma to the citizens which governments should have looked at as conservators.

It is in this regard, that Chepkorir noted that among the demands being called for by the indigenous people and local communities in Africa is an end to ongoing threats, intimidation, violence and violent evictions, land alienation, and criminalization and imprisonment of elders and leaders from these communities.

Additionally, they have called on the African governments to advance their efforts to recognize, accord and respect the customary, collective tenure rights of the group.

They are also agitating for conservation and development support to be channeled directly to traditionally recognized institutions to strengthen and promote the governance systems of communities. Further, she said, new mechanisms and practices to be developed should channel direct funding to these communities in order to address climate change and biodiversity at the very point of impact.

“Conservation funders need to take the responsibility to end funding to organizations and governments that do not respect rights based approach to conservation and particularly, stop enabling militarization of conservation,” Chepkorir emphasized.

In a bid to achieve the United Nations (UN)’s proposed goal of countries designating 30% of their land and sea areas for conservation by 2030, the group has noted that this should not result in the loss of their land but instead, they should be engaged, enabled and empowered to be primary stewards of these areas.

Besides, the indigenous people and local communities have called on governments to respect and implement decisions from the various African Union mechanisms and structures including ceasing resistance to implementation of the already awarded resolutions and judgements.

With the congress bringing together more than 2,000 participants from 52 African countries to address challenges and drive action for Africa’s Protected and Conserved Areas, the group is hopeful these resolutions will be among those adopted in the Kigali Call to Action.