Well Grounded

Posted by editor 19/11/2013 0 Comment 2841 views

Well Grounded

Well Grounded are a three-year-old social enterprise helping Congo Basin villagers to understand and assert their rights using the law, as well as supporting them to improve forest governance, discovers Danielle Aumord. //

This area includes the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo, Cameroon and the Central African Republic.

The basin plays host to the largest stretch of tropical rain forests outside of the Amazon, and is a sticking point between ‘official’ governing bodies and the members of local villages perched on the outskirts. “There’s very little space for communities to have their customary rights recognised within written law,” says Well Grounded co-founder Cath Long. “If you go to the community, they say that the forests belong to them, but the government will say it doesn’t, that it belongs to the state, and that they need to use it for the economic benefit of the nation.”

The villagers refer to these ‘customary rights’ to highlight their ownership of local land, and in stark contrast to the Congo Basin, officials within other African nations such as Tanzania recognise both customary rights and written law. “A lot of this is colonial legacy, insisting that written law is the only law.  Decisions are taken that rarely consult the affected communities. Sometimes they don’t even know, and the land of the forest that they depend on is given away from underneath their feet,” Long adds.

Well Grounded  have two London-based members of staff and four based in Cameroon, two of whom are Cameroonian, and another who is Congolese. The team also assist local organisations to fundraise, to run campaigns, and to look at new ways of working within these communities. In light of this, locally sourced staffs are advantageous in terms of forming strategic alliances with homegrown community groups.

They have partnered with ‘La Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones (DGPA)’, a non-profit network of organizations run by indigenous people to strengthen indigenous rights in the DRC. Recently they have assisted DGPA in designing a consultation process to gather feedback from local peoples on a draft law that is being developed to protect and promote their rights.

Overall the heart of the mission is to make lasting change. Team members get behind these groups in an attempt to lay an axe at the root of the problem through political canvassing and research-based work.

Customary rights need to be acknowledged under written law. Hopefully then local communities would be able to benefit to a degree from Western consumerism as opposed to being denied what is theirs.

The Virguna National Park, established in 1925, is a prime example. It measures 7,800-square-kilometre and borders the eastern DRC. The park has been a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) designated ‘World Heritage Site’ since 1979. It is under threat of an oil exploration by U- based company SOCO. Hopefully the strategic efforts of Well Grounded and their associates will provide damage limitation for this park, other forests within the Congo Bassin and the communities that live here.

It’s difficult at times to reverse wounds already inflicted upon these lands and their peoples, but at least what’s left could potentially be preserved.


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