In a remote western corner of our vast nearly trackless study area – something was not right. We had been hearing rumors for almost 7 months that in a series of isolated villages, the Djonga villages, something had gone wrong for conservation. We had to find out what.
That was why we sent Maurice and Crispin on their 11 day trek to the west. Maurice was to find out what wildlife was in the forest, Crispin, whose degree is in sociology, was to find out if what we had heard was true ie, a conservation NGO was “tarred and feathered” or at least banished from Djonga.
Crispin explaining in Djonga what TL2 motives are and how we work
Maurice and Crispin got an icy cold reception in Djonga – the villagers thought, at first, that they worked for ACOPRIK, the local NGO whose reputation is in tatters.
This is what Maurice and Crispin were told about the ACOPRIK event in November 2007 when all hell broke loose:
- Lambert Papesola an ACOPRIK employee who came from another province was shot in the leg.
- Other ACOPRIK employees were chased off a study area in Djonga forest.
- Even now, if a certain Andre , the president of this ACOPRIK, so much as sets foot in any Djonga village, he can expect far worse than bullets in the legs….
But what did ACOPRIK do?
- Did they steal chickens or goats from someone in the village? NO
- Did they make off with village women? NO
It was something more subtle… something that I had a lot of trouble understanding. This is what the villagers said:
- ACOPRIK had been well received by the village on several visits between 2005 and 2007.
- ACOPRIK came to get the Djonga chiefs to sign documents saying they would not hunt bonobo or okapi.
- ACOPRIK deceived Djonga by using these signatures on a different document in distant Kinshasa, with the result that
- ACOPRIK “sold” their own Djonga forest and officially lost their traditional rights.
- Word of this fundamental deception swept like wildfire over radio and word of mouth from the capital of Kinshasa.
Is that what really happened?
A little research here in Kinshasa , revealed that AKOPRIK’s president, Andre, did push through a decree creating the Sankuru Reserve. He did this just before the last minister of the environment left office. The Djonga villages are indeed within this Reserve on its eastern edge.
I read the ministerial decree creating Sankuru Reserve (attached here at the very end of the post). Did it take away all the Djonga villagers’ rights? NO. In fact I don’t think anyone could create a more meaningless Protected Area. Limits are drawn on a map but there are in fact no restrictions inside the Sankuru Reserve at all : not on hunting, fishing , farming nor even logging. The statute says nothing except that restrictions are possible at some later date. Good grief.
It all seems incredibly ridiculous. What is the point of the joke? Was ACOPRIK trying to delude Djonga for some reason? And delude us? After all this Reserve was announced in National Geographic (Conservation, June 2008, vol. 213, #6 ), in Science magazine (Vol 318, 30 November 2007, p1365 ) and in Time. Or is ACOPRIK planning some second step we don’t know about? Please, if you know the answer, leave a comment.
But in the meantime – last night at about 11 PM – I finally got a spark of insight into the origins of this incredible tension. It is on page 633 of the 955 page tome sited below. My translation and interpretation follow:
“In Sankuru (district) a latent and murderous opposition developed between the Tetela of the savanna and those of the forest…..”
This was during the years of the 1960s. The president of ACOPRIK, Andre, is from the savanna section of the Tetela tribe. Djonga is the forest section. The problems then and now are those of power and control. What’s more, Andre inspires little trust in his fellow countrymen with a long background in war-time politics (RCD Goma) before moving to conservation.
Histoire générale du Congo. De l’héritage ancien à la République Démocratique. 1998. By Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem. De Boeck & Larcier s.a. Paris, Bruxelles. 955 pp
The ministerial decree creating the Sankuru Reserve