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As the continent with the world’s largest youth population, Africa stands as the principal destination for major land-based investments, but most Africans remains disenfranchised and afflicted by climate change, poverty, and aggressive government strategies to exploit natural resources for economic development. In 2022, we saw many African governments strategizing to deliver on their international climate and biodiversity commitments by continuing to limit communities’ access to land and natural resources. But our coalition members also celebrated major breakthroughs.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) passed its first-ever law recognizing the Indigenous Pygmy Peoples following a decade-long movement. In Kenya, Indigenous Peoples won multiple landmark court rulings to protect their land rights and the RRI-supported network Community Land Action Now! (CLAN) helped communities register their customary lands and follow up on historical land injustice claims from the colonial era. We also supported the implementation of Togo’s 2018 Land Law and Liberia’s National Oil Palm Strategy and Action Plan, a framework that aims to use the country’s most important tree crops as a strategic engine for inclusive rural and national progress.

Here are a some of our achievements in Africa.

In Togo, we trained 25 customary chiefs and community leaders, including women, on the provisions of the country’s Land and Federal Property Code, which presents a framework for government and the private sector to respect community land rights. The trainings helped customary chiefs, including in the Bato community, begin the delimitation, mapping, and registration of community lands. We also led the collection of data on community lands in 20 villages which is helping communities meet the legal requirements for securing their lands. A database on land use and related conflicts in the Game Canton, for example, documents the number of affected households and their existing traditional tenure governance systems, and will guide the community’s local advocacy and land-use planning in the future.

Oil Palm Plantation in Liberia | Credit: Isabel Albee

In the DRC, our partner, Dynamic of the Groups of Indigenous Peoples (DGPA)’s efforts contributed to the signing of a long-awaited law on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Indigenous Pygmy Peoples, the first law in the country to recognize and safeguard these rights. With the law’s signing, our coalition members promptly launched an information sharing campaign to educate communities on using it to assert their rights. This included translating the law into Indigenous and local languages and adding community members as advisory experts to the Senate Commission tasked with ensuring implementation, to ensure that the senators fully understood the law’s spirit. They also produced comics, illustrations, explainer videos, and posters to communicate what the law tangibly means for the communities.

Also in the DRC, our long-time collaborator, the Coalition of Women Leaders for the Environment and Sustainable Development (CFLEDD), helped draft a provincial decree for women’s land rights by the provincial parliament in North Kivu province. CFLEDD gathered data to assess women’s access to land in the province, organized multi-stakeholder dialogues to share and discuss the data, and trained 10 women leaders on advocating for women’s inclusion in forest governance. In a culture that tends to suppress women’s voices, this project has provided women with tools to defend their rights before traditional chiefs and government authorities. At the end of the project, an Indigenous woman was appointed as Street Chief, and several customary chiefs recognized women’s land rights within their communities. Once the provincial decree process concludes, the adopted decree is expected to be a game changer for securing women’s access to their lands across the province.

“The new law on the promotion and protection of the rights of the Indigenous Pygmy Peoples in the DRC is a victory that has just consecrated more than 10 years of struggle and advocacy by civil society organizations at the parliamentary level.”

– Patrick Saidi Hemedi, Coordinator of the Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones (DGPA)

Across the DRC, RRI trained 390 community representatives, customary chiefs, and local authorities on community forestry concession laws, regulations, the role of key actors, and proper procedures to apply for and obtain a community forest concession. These trainings generated support for local public officials and customary chiefs to support communities’ demands to secure their traditional lands and bolstered the relationship and collaboration between these officials and the communities they serve. These trainings included the Kingwaya village, where our support helped secure 1,753 hectares of the village community’s lands by strengthening its governance of the community forest concession. There, we helped local public administration officials, customary chiefs, and community members understand how to perform their respective roles in the community forestry process, which would ultimately help them secure legal recognition for their lands.

In Kenya, our collaborator Chepkitale Indigenous People Development Project (CIPDP) organized an inter-community assembly in Chepkitale to collectively develop a community vision statement, which was presented at the IUCN’s Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Rwanda in July. This assembly offered seven Indigenous groups across East Africa, the Ogiek, Maasai, Batwa, Aweer, Benet, Sengwer, and Yaaku, to share their knowledge and learn from each other’s advocacy and conflict experiences. Their Laboot Declaration called upon conservation organizations and governments to redress and halt past and ongoing injustices in the pursuit of conservation goals. The IUCN welcomed the recommendations made in the Declaration, and the final APAC outcome document incorporated several of its key demands related to the promotion of rights, participation, traditional conservation knowledge and practices, capacity building, gender rights, and access to funding.

Amboseli, Kenya | Credit: Anthony Ochieng Onyango, TonyWild

In Cross River State, Nigeria, our Strategic Response Mechanism (SRM) supported trainings for 625 local community members in the Ekuri village, educating them on their inalienable rights to challenge the local government on their land and forest rights abuses. They were trained on how to petition the government, carry out non-violent protests, and create online forums to document and protest deforestation and illegal logging by government officials. This project has helped the community fight discrimination and harassment from local authorities. It recently brought a lawsuit against the government on allowing a private company to log the community’s forest without its free, prior and informed consent.

In Kenya, our collaborators in the Ogiek community, particularly youth, created a development and marketing plan to take advantage of the region’s eco-tourism industry. The community also developed a conservation plan to guide eco-tourism activities in the Mau Forest. These plans promote the Ogiek culture and traditions in natural resources management using Indigenous knowledge. The community’s youth are also documenting and promoting the historical land injustices against their people through social media campaigns and art.

“Communities should benefit, not suffer, from the richness of their lands. Land is everything for a community member in Liberia.”

– Mina Beyan, leader of RRI collaborator SESDev

In Liberia, our collaborator Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDev) supported the government’s nationwide awareness-building campaign for the Ministry of Agriculture’s new National Oil Palm Strategy and Action Plan, which helps smallholder farmers to get involved with oil palm farming and advocate for their land rights. The Plan also provides livelihood opportunities for smallholder oil palm farmers. This project shared communications about the Plan through radio segments, theater skits, and speeches broadcasted in nine counties that are at the center of oil palm development.