In Cameroon, villagers dispossessed of their land by forest concessions

Emmanuel Yaba, a retired driver, fears losing his home in Bella, southern Cameroon.

Eight years ago, Emmanuel Yaba decided to return to Bella, his native village in the South region, “to live his last days in the land of (his) ancestors ». After more than thirty years spent in Yaoundé, the former driver, now retired, settled on the plot of forest that belonged to his late father. Accompanied by his wife, he lives there in the house he built thanks to the savings accumulated from the time when he traveled the roads of Cameroon.

When he left Bella, Emmanuel Yaba was only 18 years old. Since his retirement, he has rediscovered a peaceful life, punctuated by the cultivation of fields of cocoa, cassava, plantains, yams, and discussions with the neighborhood. But for a few months, the former driver has lost sleep. A few meters from his concession, traces of red paint appeared on the trees.

These markings delimit the parcels under exploitation in Cameroon, the second largest forest country in the Congo Basin. Emmanuel Yaba was presented with a fait accompli, he says: his customary lands are today in the space of the forest management unit (UFA) 00-003, a vast concession awarded by the government to a company for industrial logging.

Emmanuel Yaba’s parents had never spoken to him about this situation. Neither do his neighbors. Even less Propalm Bois, the company that operates the concession. In Bella, the trees marked with red stretch as far as the eye can see on either side of the main ocher earth road which connects Lokoundjé and Bipindi, the two communes of the Ocean department covered by UFA 00- 003. The same track leads to the houses. A path paved with worries.

“We are afraid because it is the State”

When he leaves his home, Norbert Nzée, the leader of the Bagyeli community of Bella (the Bagyeli are the indigenous populations of the forests), is surrounded by the paths that serve these plots. ” They are everywhere, everywhere, everywhere in the bush,” repeats this 58-year-old man. Even in areas where this father of five children, who is also a traditional healer, obtains leaves, bark and fruit, and where he has food crops.

In the neighboring villages, everyone is housed in the same boat, indigenous populations as well as Bantu. Oil palm plantations are streaked with red lines. Residents interviewed by The world And InfoCongo assert that they were never associated with the delimitations or informed of the contours of the forest unit. “We are afraid because it is the state. But these people must have pity on us who keep the forest”implores Jacqueline Nguissi, widow and mother of eight children, whose four hectares of fields are in the forest concession.

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