Reading the final communiqué from the Congress. From left to right: Salomé ELOLO – Director, FESO; François Biloko – General Secretary, Réseau CREF; Benjamin Toirambe Bamoninga – General Secretary, Ministry for Environment and Sustainable Development; Bihini Won wa Musiti – Consultant for the Synchronicity Earth Congo Basin Programme. Image: Merline Touko Tchoko
Every four years, we saw our parents and elders hone their ideas and join forces to defend our land, our forests and our animals, each time travelling to a different country to take part in the IUCN World Conservation Congress.
It was a recurring dream that one day we too would join one of these great gatherings to speak up for nature and biodiversity. We dreamt of being able to play our part in these vital discussions on the future of our planet, our local communities and our Indigenous Peoples.
Then, one day, it was our turn. The date of the next Congress was announced.
It was a time full of joy and expectation as we prepared for our trip to Marseille, excited to have our voices heard in the discussions and votes and to finally meet all these partners we had been talking to and worked with for so long, but had never met in person.
Our heads were full of ideas and challenges: the Members’ Assembly, the votes for the election of the IUCN Council members and the IUCN Motions. But then, just as we were packing our suitcases and getting ready to depart, we heard the news: Congress had been postponed. Then it was postponed again, before finally, against the odds, a date for the Congress to take place was finally agreed (over one year later).
Despite the spectre of COVID-19 hanging over the event, we didn’t give up hope. Eventually, however, it became clear that any hopes we had of making it to Marseille were gone due to travel restrictions.
The Mini-Congress began with our representative Dr Bihini Won wa Musiti welcoming participants & outlining the congress’s goals. Image © Rachidyikulu
But then, through a thick fog of disappointment and frustration, a small flicker of light appeared: our ‘fairy godmother’ and supporter, Synchronicity Earth, had decided that, for eight days at least, Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), would become Marseille. We would be able to attend and participate in the Congress after all!
With the help of the Synchronicity Earth team and under the guidance of Dr Bihini Won Musiti, planning for a ‘Mini-Congress’ got underway and, before we knew it, there we were on September 3rd, 2021, gathered together in the Maiko room at the Ministry of Infrastructure in Kinshasa, ready to take our places at the table.
In line – and online – with Marseille, together with our new companions, we were able to attend the opening ceremony, take part in the Members’ Assembly, vote online and participate in the different forums and attend presentations for the various IUCN Motions.
As we took part in these two parallel events, one in-person and one virtual, we gradually got to know each other better, breaking down the geographical barriers that had always separated us. Our relationships, which had been formal up to that point, became warmer. We became a family.
Blandine Bonianga, President of FESO and National Coordinator of SOFFLECO, presents on SOFFLECO’s work. Image © Rachidyikulu
We presented our work, showcasing our achievements in a range of different contexts throughout the Congo Basin. What a wonderful opportunity to meet all these tireless campaigners for land rights, to witness their evolution and growth and to receive their appreciation and advice! We voted together, celebrating when the INGA dam motion was passed. And we were united on one thing: this meeting could not just be a one off. So we resolved there and then to take the first steps towards creating a new provisional DRC-based IUCN national committee.
In the blink of an eye, on September 10th, the end of the Congress was upon us. In Marseille, just as in Kins