A decree signed by the Prime Minister on 27 April 2023, reclassifying part of the Ebo forest so that it will be easier for its timber to be exploited, has been in circulation for several days. This document plunges the Banen communities back into the 2020 episode that deprived them of their land. Greenpeace is calling on the government to reverse this decision as a matter of urgency, as it jeopardises the well-being and future of these communities as well as the rich biodiversity of this forest.
This news comes three years after a similar decree was signed and then withdrawn following claims by Banen communities to their ancestral lands. At the time, the decision was welcomed by the Banen communities and environmentalists, as it restored Cameroon's reputation nationally and internationally for respecting the aspirations of its people and protecting the environment.
Faced with this backtracking, Greenpeace Africa expresses its disappointment and concern:
"The classification process does not appear to have complied with the legal and regulatory provisions. The withdrawal of the classification decree in 2020 implies that any new classification process would have to take account of these populations' right of pre-emption over this forest or else restart the consultations from the beginning, which does not seem to have been done. We fear that, as in 2020, another decree from the Prime Minister could, under equally unclear circumstances, classify the remaining part of the Ebo forest as FMU 07 005. This would make it easier for its timber to be exploited. The struggle of the Banen communities in 2020 will then have been in vain and their demands simply ignored," says Sylvie Djacbou, Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Africa.
The April 2023 decree mentions respect for the enclaves created within the forest estate and delimited around the former villages identified during the preparation of the management plan. "This remains a veiled way of sowing doubt around those who, in 2020, opposed the project to classify their forest, and thus to divide them in order to move forward. Contrary to what the decree indicates, these are not enclaves that have been created, because these villages existed before any idea of classifying the forest," adds Sylvie.
"We remain at the side of the Banen communities, who have unfortunately been set back and robbed of their land without really having been consulted, and therefore have not been able to exercise their right of pre-emption, as should be the case in such circumstances. This creates doubts around an idea for the Banen returning to their ancestral lands, which has always been their struggle. We encourage them to take up the pilgrim's staff again and mobilise to remind the government that the communities remain the best guardians and managers of the forest and should not be separated from it," concludes Sylvie Djacbou.Greenpeace Afrique