This economist upholds people-centered conservation in Africa

About the Author

Rachel Emisave is African Wildlife Foundation's Communications Assistant based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. More

Chance Conservationists is a series highlighting AWF staff who have embraced people-centered conservation in their professions despite coming from diverse academic fields. These remarkable individuals now espouse conservation values to propel the organization’s vision for sustainable development and biodiversity protection.

African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) carries out conservation missions in a multi-stakeholder context with sometimes divergent interests — loggers, miners, agro-industrialists, public administrations, conservation partners, local communities, and indigenous peoples, to name a few. As such, conflicts can arise during the implementation of biodiversity conservation projects.

“A Complaints and Conflict Management Mechanism (CCMM) is, therefore, a necessity to prevent and manage complaints and conflicts in AWF’s biodiversity conservation activities,” says Dodo Moke, AWF’s Senior Social Safeguards Officer. Since 2022, Moke, originally an economist, has supported the implementation of AWF’s rights-based conservation policy by capturing grievances and concerns and working with all parties to ensure that issues raised are resolved fairly and on time.

He joined AWF in 2011 as a project consultant managing a tugboat connecting farmers with agricultural markets for their produce along the Congo River. In 2013, he worked as a conservation enterprise assistant in the Maringa-Lopori-Wamba landscape, and in 2016 he joined AWF’s Conservation Leadership and Management Program. Since completing the two-year program, he has implemented various aspects of AWF’s work in the field, first as a program officer for Central and West Africa in 2017 and, two years later, as a project officer stationed in the Bili-Uere landscape.

In this interview, Moke explains how implementing the complaints mechanism supports AWF’s rights-based conservation policy in the countries where we work.

Why does AWF implement a rights-based approach to conservation?

In adopting a rights-based approach to conservation, AWF fully commits to respect, always protect, and always promote Human Rights in all of its initiatives and for all its beneficiaries, irrespective of their ethnic group, gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or class. This is because people and nature have direct and indirect dependencies on each other, and given the central role that people play in AWF’s organizational strategy, which envisions an Africa where people and wildlife thrive, it is required and a duty for AWF to respect the rights of these people affected by its work.

Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) can protect nature just as well, sometimes even better, than governments or protected areas. But they face big problems like being treated unfairly, people being hurt or killed for protecting the environment, others taking their land, and not being recognized by the law. This dynamic makes it hard for IPLCs to protect nature and takes away their rights as people and communities. AWF’s approach is about helping and acknowledging IPLCs and their longstanding efforts in conservation. They live close to animals and nature, and their choices can affect how long this essential flora and fauna will be around. Because they depend on the land they live on, it is important to pay attention to how they are affected by efforts to protect those lands.

How do you set up a complaints and conflict management mechanism in a landscape?

We proceed through six steps, starting with sensitizing the rangers and the local community on the notions related to the respect of human rights, followed by training on the complaints and conflict management mechanism guide for an understanding of the process. After that, we engage in reflection meetings for the contextualization of the mechanism in each landscape, alongside discussions with the local communities on the implementation of the mechanism, the training of the monitors, and finally, the setting up and legalization of the mechanism. The legalization is always certified by a competent government authority in the area, which is most often the conservator of the protected area or a local authority.

Complaints mechanism training

AWF Senior Social Safeguards Officer Dodo Moke (standing) training stakeholders on the Complaints and Conflict Management Mechanism in Bondo

How do the communities react to and welcome this approach?

In the Bili-Uere and Lomako landscapes of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the local communities had two distinct reactions. On the one hand, they expressed joy in discovering this approach, which for them was proof that AWF does not only care about biodiversity but also their well-being as people with different rights that must be recognized and respected. On the other hand, they voiced their expectations for effective implementation. “It is a good thing that the rangers have also attended this training — we hope that they will stick to all your recommendations and that implementing this mechanism will be successful. Equity is what we wholeheartedly expect as a spin-off,” some community members have said.

We reassured them that successful implementation will depend on the joint efforts of all stakeholders, including themselves. In Cameroon, particularly in the Campo Ma’an and Faro landscapes, which have been pilots for implementing this approach in the country, the engagement has been spontaneous and inclusive. From indigenous and local communities to traditional authorities, civil society organizations, park authorities, and other NGOs, about 700 participants from over 10 communities have engaged in the process, including over 100 women.

Together, they take their seats at the table to discuss in a participative and collaborative manner the best mechanism suitable for vast and diverse landscapes such as theirs. At the very first stages of the process, community voices are given the lead to express their expectations and grievances, setting the dynamic and allowing them to lead. Both women and men have volunteered to be focal points in their respective communities and joined the steering committees in different roles, so they can best manage their issues. This active involvement bears witness to the significance of AWF’s rights-based conservation approach in local communities.

Why are you passionate about people-centered conservation?

When I understood that no matter how immortal I might be, I would never be able to give back to nature what she has given me, I decided to dedicate my life to acting as her spokesman and working for her conservation. In this way, I feel useful and that I am giving something back, albeit not in the same way.

Given that economics implies good management, I — as a father of two wonderful daughters — have committed to teaching communities about the benefits of good natural resource management to maintain ecosystem balance and ensure a bright future for our offspring.

Noella Ngunyam contributed to this article

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