Association Okani and Gbabandi
Association OKANI and their partners, Gbabandi, are part of Synchronicity Earth’s Congo Basin Programme.
Association OKANI is a community-based indigenous NGO in Cameroon staffed by a small team and governed by a committee of Baka peoples. OKANI works to secure the rights of and promote sustainable livelihoods for indigenous peoples in Cameroon’s forests. It works in support of their collective bodies known as the Council of Elders. It employs approaches such as advocacy, participatory mapping, community conservation and agroecology to work on issues ranging from food security and indigenous education to challenging land grabs and ensuring new protected areas consider indigenous peoples’ rights and responsibilities. The team is fully indigenous and many practice their own cultures alongside their work for OKANI. It works with 54 communities from forests in the East and South Regions of Cameroon.
Currently, it also provides the secretariat for a new indigenous peoples’ platform called Gbabandi (meaning termite’s nest in Baka). With the right support the idea is that this platform will soon become more independent. Gbanbandi is a new platform uniting indigenous forest peoples living along a 700 km stretch of rainforest from the east of Cameroon to the department of Océan on the west coast. Their objective is to allow indigenous peoples, especially indigenous women, to have a voice at the national level in issues ranging from land use, to education, to women’s empowerment.
OKANI and Gbabandi are working in largely intact, biologically and culturally rich ecosystems in Cameroon which are now under imminent threat from activities such as palm oil plantations, road development, coastal development and logging. Empowering indigenous peoples’ as a movement – rather than supporting an individual association – to challenge these developments and secure long-term respect for indigenous territories is likely to have the best outcome for the long-term protection of the forest.