Indigenous World 2020: Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) lies at the heart of the African continent, far from any coastline. It straddles the equator and thus enjoys a tropical climate. Its ecosystem comprises savanna woodland and steppe in the north, gallery forest in the centre and dense tropical rainforest in the south.
There are three Indigenous groups living in the CAR: the M’bororo Fulani, the Aka and the Litho.
The M’bororo Fulani are generally nomadic herders. They live in the prefectures of Ouaka in the centre-east, M’bomou in the south-east and Lobaye in the south-west. The 2003 census estimated their population at 39,299 individuals, or around 1% of the total population. They have a strong presence in rural areas, accounting for 14% of the global population, as opposed to 0.2% in urban areas.
The exact number of Aka Pygmies is unknown but they are estimated to number in the tens of thousands. Around 90% of them live in the forests, which they consider to be their heritage and where they live by their traditional activities of hunting, gathering and fishing. The Aka live in the prefectures of Lobaye, Ombella Mpoko and Sangha-Mbaéré in the south-west, and Mambéré Kadéi in the west.
The Litho are a minority group located in the north of the country. They are semi-nomadic and practise farming, hunting, gathering and fishing.
CAR voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007 and ratified ILO Convention 169 in August 2010. It was the first and only African State to ratify this Convention. On 11 August 2011, under the terms of the ILO Constitution, the Convention entered into force.
There are two seasons in the CAR: the rainy season and the dry season. In the south, the rains last a good part of the year. Flooding is a major risk at times of high rainfall (storms and tornadoes) and, in October 2019, the capital Bangui experienced this on an unprecedented scale. The Oubangui River burst its banks and then took some time to subside. Several water courses in the north and centre of the country suffered the same fate. In December, the hot Harmattan wind blew across the north of the country, accompanied by abnormally hot temperatures reaching 45° C.
Impact of climate change on Indigenous Peoples
Climate change varies according to the region and has differing effects on the Indigenous Peoples depending on whether they live in the savanna woodland, gallery forest or dense rainforest.
The M’bororo Fulani
Grass is becoming harder to find during the dry season. The M’bororo are having to travel to find pasture. These journeys often bring them into conflict with sedentary farmers because of the damage caused to the crops by their herds. This conflict often ends in bloodshed despite regulations established by the communal and administrative authorities setting out the rights of herders and farmers:
In 2019, the M’bororo emigrated south for the same reasons. There, they lost a large proportion of their cattle to a disease known as “Gnagnaré” in Fula. Other M’bororo from the centre-north moved north-west. There, the children suffered variations in temperature that resulted in a disorder that caused a yellowing of the skin. In addition to this, violent winds became commonplace in this region, with reported cases of children being swept away by whirlwinds.1
In addition to the above, those Fulani who remained along the border with Chad suffered serious flooding. A number of Fulani children and many of their livestock perished in the “Vassaco”, the region’s main water course.
The dry season this year was particularly harsh for the M’bororo, who were faced with a drought that negatively affected their milk production. The volume of milk produced by the cattle was greatly diminished and the quantity insufficient for their own consumption. Malnutrition has now become a common sight among the children. This scarcity has also resulted in a lack of income as they have been unable to sell any of their milk as they usually do.
The Litho live in the savanna woodland of northern CAR. Climate change here is resulting in harsher dry seasons, causing changes in vegetation that mean the produce these people gather is becoming harder to find. In addition to this, their harvests are no longer what they used to be. These factors have resulted in malnutrition among the population, and this is particularly severe among the children. Young girls and boys have become highly vulnerable and exposed to diseases of the skin, eyes and bloating. The violent hot winds in December caused havoc to their homes.
The Pygmies live in a dense forest environment and have therefore not experienced the same negative impacts of climate change as the M’bororo or the Litho. The forest is a more temperate environment, for example, so they have been spared the heat that their peers have suffered in the savanna. However, the forests are under continual threat of destruction due to large-scale industrial works: the opening of roads, for example, and unregulated logging by multinational companies. This is disfiguring the forest landscape and leaving cleared areas that these companies make no attempt to reforest, despite the conditions imposed on them in this regard. Other not insignificant factors have exerted “direct pressure on the forest ecosystems (…): the production of wood for energy, slash-and-burn agriculture, artisanal and industrial mining (gold, diamonds, etc.), bush fires…”.2
The consequences for the ecosystem are clearly visible. Some wild animals have left for neighbouring countries, elephants in particular because the swampy areas they used to use to cool off and play have dried up. This is something that has been seen in the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve at Nola. Plant and insect species have also disappeared. “In the Central African Republic, there is a giant butterfly that still eludes scientists. The largest African butterfly has thus far eluded scientists who are still looking for its caterpillar and its chrysalis.”3 In short, forest destruction is negatively affecting the ecosystem and threatening the Pygmies’ quality of life.
Awareness raising actions
Together with NGOs (the Central African Organisation for the Defence of Nature / OCDN in particular), the government has organised awareness raising workshops focused primarily on women. The goal is to get them to identify the causes of deforestation and degradation of the ecosystem, the cause of global warming. The “strong involvement of local and Indigenous (Pygmy) communities in the production of the strategic plan to reduce forest greenhouse gas emissions and forest degradation in the CAR (REDD+)” should be noted.4 The aim is to raise awareness among the female population, including Pygmy women, of the consequences of global warming and the challenges raised by the Paris Agreement in relation to the national climate programme. It is thus a question of building capacity among village and Pygmy women around techniques for restoring degraded areas, protected and sacred forest areas. This awareness raising targeted women from Baleloko and Moboma in Lobaye, in the equatorial rainforest, between 8 and 18 April 2019 and again on 6 July 2019, and women from Bagandou on 28 and 29 May 2019.
The different training and awareness raising workshops have endeavoured to demonstrate that “biodiversity conservation, sustainable resource management and carbon stock enhancement are all necessary solutions for mitigating the impact of climate change”.5
An evaluation of these workshops has thrown up some weaknesses in terms of local people’s ownership of the challenges of climate change because their daily behaviour has not actually changed: bush fires can still be seen, and the excessive exploitation of forests for domestic purposes is still ongoing. This resistance to change stems partly from the fact that they have not been offered any income-generating alternatives in exchange. Under such circumstances, even if the people are aware “of the need to preserve the environment”, it is hardly surprising that they continue to implement the same practices for their survival.6
Notes and references
- GOTINGAR Justin, Student at Bangui University,
- Activity report: Information and awareness raising campaign among local and Indigenous populations on REDD+ and climate change in villages of the communes of Baleloko and Moboma in Lobaye Prefecture from 8 to 18 April
- Sciences et Avenir, AFP published 27 December 2019, https://www. fr/animaux/en-centrafrique-un-papillon-geant-echappe- toujours-aux-scientifiques_140148
- Report – Workshop on women’s training in target villages of the gender, REDD+ and climate change project in Baleloko and Moboma
- Workshop: training of local and Indigenous communities from the communes of Baleloko and Moboma on the REDD+ process, climate change and the challenges facing the Paris Agreement and NDCs
- End-of-Project Evaluation Mission conducted by OCDN of Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance/Forest Carbon Partnership Facility funding. Baleloko and Moboma from 25 to 29 October 2019.
Abel Koulaning is a Doctor of Educational Science at the René Descartes Paris V Sorbonne University. He was previously a Senior Lecturer at Bangui University, as well as Director of Teaching and, in addition, held the position of General Secretary of the National Central African Commission for UNESCO. He is the author of several publications, including L’Éducation chez les pygmées de Centrafrique [Education among the Central African Pygmies], 2009, L’Harmattan. He was involved in getting the Aka Pygmies’ oral tradition proclaimed and recorded as world heritage. He is an Africa Region Expert for the Groupe International de Travail pour les peuples autochtones, in cooperation with the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.
This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here