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Voices from the DR Congo: WECAN/SAFECO Workshop, Advocacy Update & Declaration

Training report by Neema Namadamu and Stany Nzabarinda, SAFECO


On July 3, 2015 women and men from across South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo united in Bukavu for a workshop held as part of ongoing trainings and advocacy work led by the Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations, SAFECO) and the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International). The workshop was called to further efforts to protect and conserve the environment in South Kivu as a whole, and the regions’ Itombwe Rainforest in particular, and to respond to various recommendations and declarations put forth by local communities and Indigenous Peoples during previous trainings held in Mwenga Center and Itombwe.


Thirty-six participants attended the July workshop, including delegates from local communities, Indigenous Pygmies from Mwenga Center and the Itombwe savanna, and leaders from regional NGOs working in the domain of environmental protection – all brought together face-to-face to speak with provincial authorities.


Central goals of the workshop included creating a forum for exchange between diverse stakeholders, developing and strengthening regional understanding of women’s vital role as Earth guardians, and exploring and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the local communities living in and around forest areas.


Specific objectives included influencing South Kivu authorities to make just decisions and take steps to stop deforestation and protect the endangered plant species and ecosystems of Itombwe, strengthening compliance with national and international laws and instruments regarding climate and environment, and promoting Traditional Ecological Knowledge as the basis for regional environmental protection efforts.



Neema Namadamu of SAFECO & WECAN International DRC opening the workshop

Neema Namadamu, SAFECO founder and WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, and Mr. Stany Nzabarinda, program manager of SAFECO, presented opening remarks and an overview of WECAN DR Congo activities to support the protection of forests and the life-ways of Indigenous Pygmies in the Mwenga and Itombwe regions. They presented an outline of threats to the forest, solutions to decrease deforestation, and the initial declarations created by local communities in previous training sessions.



Deforestation in the DRC


The workshop included guest presentations by a series of local leaders. Remy Riziki from the provincial Division of Environment spoke on national instruments/tools currently in place for environmental protection, including DR Congo’s Forestry Code and Law No. 14/003. Mr. Boniface Rukumbuzi from the NGO Human Dignity provided an in-depth overview of international laws, instruments, and principles for environmental protection, and highlighted the importance of international and transboundary collaboration in environmental protection. Mr. Serge Tendilonge of Africapacity Project of Rainforest Foundation Norway and Foundation Prince Albert II de Monaco presented on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the participation of local communities, emphasizing the right of use, the right of ownership, the right of enjoyment, and the right of consultation as central tenants in developing and carrying out environmental protection projects in the region.



After three guest presentations, participants engaged in a general question and answer session and formed five working groups for conversation and debate. Working group questions and responses are presented below.


What are the daily activities that are destroying the environment (forest) in your area and what/who are the perpetrators and victims of that destruction?


Participants drew attention to mining, timber and charcoal production, brushfires, expansion of livestock area, chemical and slash and burn agriculture, and industrial and home waste in cities and large villages, and identified multinational corporations, local and national traders, and local populations themselves as perpetuators of this destruction. In discussing the victims most affected by environmental destruction, participants focused on women and children, small subsistence farmers and ranchers, and the diverse animal and plant life of the forest themselves.