A deadly conflict simmers between the autochthon people forced out of Kahuzi-Biga national park, and the rangers protecting the land
On a scarred hillside on the edge of the Kahuzi-Biga national park, smoke rises from the once-forested slope as men cut down trees and burn them for charcoal. Suddenly, warning cries echo across the landscape. Park rangers are arriving. More men come running to the scene, some carrying machetes in anticipation of a confrontation. A tense stand-off follows.
This corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a frontline of a simmering and sometimes deadly conflict between two largely impoverished groups: the autochthon people, forced out of the forest as part of conservation efforts, and the rangers, who are tasked with protecting the land.
The situation across the vast Kahuzi-Biga national park, home to the endangered eastern lowland (Grauer) gorilla, is itself a microcosm of growing tensions across the globe between conservation efforts and the rights of tribal peoples displaced by those efforts.
Here, the conflict escalated sharply at the beginning of the year, after candidates in national elections encouraged the autochthon popularly known as the Pygmies to return to the forest. Violence erupted again at the weekend, leaving one person dead, reportedly a Pygmy, and 14 injured.