Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/Conservation and Indigenous People in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) in Congo

A variety of documentation will be used to explain the conflict between the rights of Twa clan and the government decisions due to biodiversity loss. The Tenure arrangement would also be explored. The conflict between affected stakeholders and interested stakeholders is one of the most important issues exist in Kahuzi-biega National Park, Government and environmental organizations suggests expelling human living in that area to maintain the seriously lost biodiversity, however the indigenous people lived there for thousands years were facing leaving their home land and can’t found a way to make a living. With the growing awareness of government and non-government organizations on natural resources conservation, many countries made huge effort on establishing conservation areas transiting from community based forest area or co-managed area. When protecting the resources and animals in conservation areas, there were many local people who relied on the resources were influenced by the establishment of conservation areas, they became “conservation refugees”. This paper discussed the conservational national park called Kahuzi-biega National park in Congo, the conflict between the government and environment organizations and indigenous Twa people. Introduction


The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the largest countries central Africa, with a landmass of 2.3 million sq. km. The tropical climate makes it hot and humid in river basins, and cooler and wetter in Congo’s Eastern highlands. Congo has a half of total remaining forests in Africa, and 1/8 of the world’s dwindling moist tropical forest. In all, Congo contains 1,108,000 of forest, which covers forty-seven percent of its total land area (Barume, 2000). The DRC has a population of 78.74 million (World Bank, 2017), which comprises over two hundred ethnic groups. According to the United Nations human development index rank, the DRC rates 176 out of 188 countries (Human Development Report Office, 2017). Of that number, it is estimated that seventy percent of the population is living outside of urban areas (Wolfire, 1998). Wolfire (1198) notes that the Congolese population relies heavily on the land’s resources, whether directly or indirectly, as they derive they food (such as bushmeat), water, house materials, and fuel from the products of the forest. The rainforest in theDRC contains great biodiversity, having many rare, endangered, and endemic flora and fauna – particularly important from a conservation standpoint are rare fauna like the white rhino, African forest elephant, etc. The forest’s primates are also considered to be one of the foremost concerns of conservationist, many of which are critically endangered. The DRC is inhabited by many valuable great ape species, including the common chimpanzee, Eastern and Western gorilla, and the DRC is additionally the only remaining country where wild bonobo still survive (IUCN Red List, 2016). Even with the overwhelming concern for these species, the population of chimpanzees and gorillas are declining rapidly due to deforestation and poaching. As such, they have been listed as endangered by World Conservation Union.

Map of Kahuzi Biega National Park

Kahuzi-Biega national park

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park is located near Bukavu Town in the eastern part of the DRC, within the province of South Kivu, and is named after two extinct volcanoes called the Kahuzi and the Biega. In total, the national park covers 6,000 sq. km of forest. The average annual temperature is around fourteen degrees Celsius and the annual rainfall is 1,800 mm. The vegetation in the park ranges from wet lowland rain fores, transitional rainforest, and Afromontane vegetation dominated by tree heathers (Sayer,1992). The near extinction of lowland gorillas, which had fallen to 16,000 individuals at its lowest, has been the primary motivation for the parks establishment. The park was also intended to mitigate further to water and soil erosion and detraction, which were increasingly being threatened by large deforestation. The park has been monumentally important as far as these efforts are concerned; in 1979 alone, the park helped safeguard up to 223 gorillas, while simultaneously protecting other key fauna such as forest elephants, buffalo, and chimpanzees(Barume, 2000).

Low land gorilla

Twa as the indigenous people

The Twa indigenous people were some of the first inhabitants of the Kahuzi-Biega area, and they consider themselves to be the traditional owners of the land. They have lived in the forest continuously throughout many centuries and remain dependent on the forest’s resources, such as water, animal products, and NTFPs. They typically live semi-nomadic lives in the forests as hunters (primarily for elephants and gorillas) and gatherers, and so they collect herbs, plants, and hunt for bushmeat and ivory.. The Twa people built their socio-economic system by connecting with other nearby tribes of people and building a bartering system, trading their inventory. Their practices, jurisprudence, and religion are all intertwined with their use of the land, as they all relate to their long-held knowledge and beliefs of the forest they live in.

The Twa population is estimated to range between 70,000-80,000 individuals. As hunters and gatherers, they have been marginalized by the modern society and they are therefore political vulnerable. In their cultural values, they considered everyone to be equal, and their social relationships are built on exchanging hunting and gathering their inventories – which had become increasingly inconsistent with city and governmental life in the Congo. The Twa people have thus never had any political representation, although they have numbered up to 16,000 which has become detrimental to them as Congo elections and politics always followed ethnic lines [1] (Barume, 2000)Barume, 2000). No Twa has been appointed to a position in Parliament, although their chiefs were recognized as local authorities. Their inability to represent themselves and their interests have likewise eroded their ability to maintain their rights in the land that has become a national park.

Twa the indigenous people

Tenure and administrative arrangements change

  • The Kahuzi-Biega forest area has fallen under the Twa people’s traditional territory, and was until now regulated under their customary law.
  • July 1937, the ‘Zoological and Forest Reserve of Mount Kahuzi’ was created, to be regulated under the authority of the colonial administrator (Governor General) according to Article 15 of Charte Coloniale, and became the jurisdiction of the Congolese State. The land could be conceded for private use, but the State also had the right to terminate the concession for public interest purposes anytime.
  • According to Arrete Royal, 1951, the concession area should also ensure that it would continue to benefit the indigenous people inhabiting the forest. Lumber companies operated within a set boundary of space, yielding only a small amount of timber production and mining in the forest area for commercial use.

After achieving independence from their colonizers, the Congo underwent a tumultuous period punctuated by civil wars. During this time, many aspects of governance were neglected, in particular the Kahuzi-Biega region. The country fell under a subsequent economic depression brought on by the warfare, causing both armies and companies to swarm into the tropical forest to harvest and hunt its resources. Huge amounts of elephants were killed for ivory trading, while chimpanzees and gorillas were also killed for bushmeat and fur. Unregulated mining was taking place, as well, which critically degraded the health and welfare of the forest’s ecosystem.

  • In 1951, the Kahuzi-Biega reserve area was extended to 6,000 sq. km, including the Biega forest,and in 1970, the Kahuzi-Biega Natural Reserve was legally transformed into the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Hence, human habitation was prohibited. The individual and private extraction of the forest resources and hunting were also prohibited, alongside all commercial logging and mining ventures. However, hunting was allowed in hunting reserves. The owners of ‘rural hunting permits’ allocated by the state were permitted to hunt with non-automatic fire arms, but there was no law designed to exclude other hunting permits to hunt on the same land. More than 13,000 Twa people were impacted by the establishment of the national park, and thousands of them were evicted out of the area, forcing them to leave the land that they had inhabited for thousands of years. Finally, in 1980, Kahuzi-Biega National Park was declared a UNESCO world Heritage site (Madhu, 1999). This designation was beneficial to the Congolese central government, which subsequently gained billions of dollars of income from tourism in the national park. They set the entry fee of the national park for $120 per visitor (Barume,2000).
  • In 1987, influenced by the UN Working Group on Indigenous People, public attention increasingly focused on the challenges and erosion of indigenous rights. In order to allow indigenous people the legal ability to steer the course of their own development, an International Labor Organization (ILO) was devised specifically to address challenges similar to the Twa’s. Under the particular Articles in the convention, indigenous rights regarding their ownership and possession over their traditionally occupied lands became internationally recognized. In tandem, if unavoidable relocation happened, “Relocations should take place with free and informed consent and with proper compensation” (ILO Convention 169).

Article 26 further states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to own, develop, control and use the lands and territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. This includes the right to the full recognition of the laws, traditions and customs, land tenure systems and institutions for the development and management of resources, and the right to effective measures by State to prevent any interference with, alienation or encroachment on these rights.” However, despite these measures, and for a variety of reasons, local authorities in Congo have remained reluctant to recognize indigenous rights. As the Twa’s are legally not accorded ownership of the land, they do not have managerial rights, and thus cannot access the forest for its necessary goods. Thus, they are very politically vulnerable as a group of marginalized people, perhaps even more so than other indigenous groups.

  • In 1990, a new Forest Code was being prepared for widespread application. Private rights to land, either for those with written title or due to custom, were abolished and transferred to the state. In practice, customary law continues to regulate forest land. Companies in possession of a concession need the agreement of the customary chief (Barume, 2000).

The IUCN Tropical Forestry Pragramme 1991 noted in its survey that: There are frequent problems caused by land claims and customary rights of population displaced by the creation of protected areas. These cannot be resolved without substantial economic compensation in cash or by promoting development activities and local participation in the economic activities generated by the protected area, so that the displaced population do not feel themselves too injured and no longer continue to perceive the State as a repressive structure. (Doumenge, 1990)

  • Congo basin countries implemented a sweeping system starting in the year 2000 that required logging and mining operations to receive governmental concessions based on FMPs before they could start work, although the forestry law was far from complete at that time (Brandt, 2014). The demand for tropical timber worldwide is strong, especially driven by the needs of Asian and other developing economies. The DRC itself needs to sell these resources in order to find means to accelerate economic growth. A strategy must be devised that can help maintain and bolster both the health of the tropical forests and questions and the needs of the human beings that have long resided there (Lambin, 2014). Furthermore, if the tropical forest was adjudicated under a sustainable system of management, it could also lead to positive biodiversity outcomes.

"Affected and Interested Stakeholders"

affected stakeholders

  • 1. The Twa people, who are the first occupants of the Kahuzi-Biega area as they have been living in and using the land for many centuries. They remain dependent on the forest’s resources for shelters and food. The land is also an important part of their cultural heritage, as the totality of their stories, history, and religious beliefs relate to the land. The establishment of the national park has thus threatened their system of life and their ability to exist, as it has deprived them of their land, challenged their indigenous identity, and broken their cultural heritage. Being forced to find immediate alternatives to nourish and sustain themselves was unrealistic, given they were accustomed to a hunting and gathering lifestyle, and thus they have been forced into an unmitigated form of poverty.
  • 2.The adjacent tribes were also affected. Tribes like the Shi are dependent on the trading with the Twa people for bushmeat. Positive and lasting solutions must be formulated to ensure they can maintain their own existence in the forested areas, so they too can still have access to necessary resources.
  • 3. The residents of the places where expelled Twa people were relocated. Due to the high unemployment and low educational level of many of the Twa people, they have been subjected to a great deal of theft and robbery in the communities where they have been relocated.

interested stakeholders

  • 1.The colonial Belgian government, who have gained profit from small-scale logging and mining operations in the Kahuzi-Biega area.
  • 2. Poachers who predated on the forest for ivory and rare animal fur in exchange for a profit during the course of the civil war.
  • 3. The Congo central government, who have since that time endeavored to protect the lowland gorilla population and other endangered animals in the Kahuzi-Biega forests.
  • 4. NGOs. For example, the IUCN, who noticed the decline of lowland gorilla populations and the deforestation of Kahuzi-Biega forests, and mobilized the Congolese government to take action.
  • 5. The UN Working Group and International Labor Organization. They had reported first that indigenous rights were being deprived due to the conservation efforts taking place in the Congo, and as such proposed the new law of the New Forest Code in order to safeguard indigenous people, help them regain their land, and reclaim their rights.


The original purpose of establishing the Kahuzi-Biega National Park was to protect the endangered animals who populations were dwindling in the forest, and recover the forest itself from increasing degradation. In this regard, the effort was successful, as the gorilla population has bounced back from near-extinction and the forests themselves have been restored from the effects of excessive logging. However, these conservation efforts also drained indigenous people from the right to life, livelihood, and welfare, as their land was repurposed for the purposes of the state. This also negatively impacted their cultural heritage and their communal composition. It is estimated 13,000 that Twa people have been impacted and thousands of them have lost their homes entirely. In leaving the forest they had always belonged to, the Twa people have been forced to find another way to make a living. The government provides some working opportunities through agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism industry, but without any monetary compensation. Their right to sustainable use of the forest and their indigenous customary rights to the land were recognized by Congo’s government by 2000, but it took some time to allow the Twa people to regain their access, use, and management rights. What will never be compensated is the culture erosion that the Twa have faced, the emotional bereavement, and the victimization they have been forced to contend with throughout the process of resettlement.


To mitigate further conflict, the Twa people must learn the relevant skills to fit in better with the needs of modern society. Better education should thus be provided to indigenous people, which can simultaneously help them protect their legal rights. More Twa voices need to be heard in Parliament. Barring any organic amendments to the current system, the indigenous people could also use their culture connections to organize protests demanding governmental recognition. NGOs can coordinate more far-reaching campaigns designed to alert more people about the Twa people’s dilemma and their cultural needs, as international awareness can help them gain a higher degree of national power in order to finally influence government decisions. Government needs to enhance local economic stability through forest-based economic policies, pursuing the correct means to realize sustainable forest management. Government should also promote local employment and local use by letting the indigenous people participate in the management and protection in local forests. A reasonable portion of revenue from the tourism should be allocated to the Twa people.


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