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Interviews with activists: Johanne Ongbenok, Director of FONDAF, Cameroon
Johanne Ongbenok is the director of FONDAF, an organisation working to support the Bagyeli community in southern Cameroon.
The Bagyeli, a nomadic forest people living in the Campo Ma'an national park in southwest Cameroon who are commonly referred to as ‘Pygmies', have sustained themselves for centuries using their vast knowledge of the plant and animal life of the surrounding forest. They traditionally survived by hunting, fishing and gathering honey, fruit, wild yams, caterpillars and snails.
Although a few Bagyeli still follow the traditions of their elders they have faced pressure from the Catholic Church and the government to settle in ‘pilot villages' whilst intensive logging, agriculture and an oil pipeline traversing their lands have threatened their traditional lifestyles.
To outsiders, the Bagyeli may appear very poor. They have next to nothing in the way of material possessions, little or no money, and are still often without a permanent house. Yet one of the most important indicators of wealth for these peoples is the access they enjoy to the forest and its resources and the amount to which they are able to participate in decision-making processes relative to their livelihoods. For the Bagyeli, limited access to the forest affects their traditional livelihoods and leads to marginalization, discrimination and impoverishment.
The Campo Ma'an national park where the Bagyeli live was created by the government as compensation for the environmental damage caused by the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. In this interview in French, Johanne tells us how the both the pipeline, and restrictions placed on their hunting activities as a result of forest conservation, are having a deadly effect on the community.
Photo: A Bagyeli man. Still taken from the film The Bagyeli Pygmies at the Fringes of the World (Les Pygmées Bagyéli à la Lisière du Monde) directed by François-Philippe Gallois