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Modern law and local tradition in forest heritage conservation in Cameroon: The case of Korup

Modern law and local tradition in forest heritage conservation in Cameroon: The case of Korup
Terence Onang Egute


Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Process Engineering, Brandenburg University of Technology, 03013 Cottbus, GERMANY.


Cameroon’s forests are exceptionally rich in biodiversity but are among the most threatened forests in the Congo Basin. To safeguard the country’s forest heritage, the government resorted to the creation of protected areas such as the Korup National Park (KNP) but ignored the local traditional system of natural resource management and relied merely on modern law for its protection. But the protection of the park only through modern law has not yielded satisfactory results since it still faces numerous problems which exacerbate biodiversity loss. With many problems facing the park, there is growing concern with regards to government strategy to maintain its values and integrity merely through modern law. This dissertation aims at assessing the potentials of modern law and local traditional system of natural resource management as instruments for effective protection of the KNP in particular and other Cameroonian national parks in general. It further aims at exploring ways of adapting national law and policy to suit local reality. To realise the objectives of this study, legal science analytical method, instruments of both quantitative approach (questionnaire) and qualitative approach (semi-structured interviews) were used. An in-depth assessment of the degree of effectiveness of modern law application in Korup reveals that it is to a lesser extent effective and this impedes Cameroon’s adequate compliance with its biodiversity conservation obligations under international environmental agreements. The study finds that the park’s protection unit plays a commendable role in fighting against illegal activities but inadequate financial resources and logistics render the institution weak. Other institutions play a laudable role in enforcing the law but major weaknesses identified include bail abuses, leniency in punishing offenders and corruption. It was discovered that the Korup inhabitants are against resettlement and often reluctantly cooperate in enforcing modern law. The research reveals that cultural beliefs and traditional practices associated with totems, taboos and sacred forests exist in the Korup villages and contributed in protecting Korup forest heritage. It shows that the putting into practice of some aspects of the traditional cultural practices was often without conservation intention but paradoxically, this contributed to forest biodiversity conservation. The study finds that each village has customary laws and local bylaws which are binding on its inhabitants and contribute to rational use of forest resources. The chieftaincy, village council and the Ekpe society are revealed as traditional institutions that govern the Korup people and manage forest resources through the traditional system ignored by the state. The research shows that statutory law recognises only the chieftaincy institution but reduces traditional rulers to mere auxiliaries of the government thereby weakening traditional institutions that ought to contribute in protecting Korup forest heritage. It recommends that in addition to fighting corruption and building the capacity of law enforcement institutions, the government should adequately integrate traditional rulers and institutions into the modern governance structure. It should legally recognise the role of traditional authorities in safeguarding Korup forest heritage through the traditional system. The study concludes that a management and conservation strategy that involves the people of Korup through their traditional institutions and system of natural resource management, will lead to effective protection and sustainability of the KNP and thus, contribute in enhancing Cameroon’s compliance with biodiversity-related international environmental agreements.