Africa’s First-Ever Community-led Conservation Congress Begins in Namibia

October 25–27, 2023

Windhoek, Namibia


The event helped define a roadmap for the emerging Alliance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for Conservation in Africa for the next five years.

  1. The Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Conservation Congress in Namibia was co-hosted by RRI and the Alliance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for Conservation in Africa (AICA), in collaboration with Southern Africa’s Community Leaders Network (CLN); the Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT); and the Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management Support Organizations (NACSO).
  2. The event sought to articulate a rights-based, people-centered conservation strategy for the continent and promote inclusive, equitable, and rights-based governance and conservation in Africa.
  3. Indigenous and local community leaders, conservation organizations, government officials, and donors from over 41 countries shared their lived experiences, lessons and challenges around community-led conservation approaches.

Read the press release and final communique.

Read the letter of appreciation from the Alliance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for Conservation in Africa (AICA).

    Keep scrolling for daily summaries from the Congress!

    Day 1

    Day 2

    Day 3


    Africa is home to one-quarter of the planet’s biodiversity and has a network of protected areas covering 17% of its land mass—including national parks, game reserves, and forest reserves—and this number promises to increase. More than 20 African countries have already committed to increasing the number of protected areas to at least 30% by 2030.  

    Many of these current and potential protected and conservation areas overlap with the territories of Indigenous Peoples and local communities who have historically protected these ecosystems through innovative governance strategies, collective ownership, and ancestral knowledge since time immemorial. However, many of these communities have been criminalized and expelled from their territories to make way for conservation, putting their survival at risk. 

    In response to those human rights violations, Indigenous Peoples and local communities—including women and youth—from 53 African countries created the Kigali Call to Action during the African Protected Areas Congress (APAC) held in Rwanda in July 2022. They also issued a Declaration, which proposed the creation of an Alliance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for Conservation in Africa. AICA is conceived as a platform to share concerns, actions, programs, and cross-learning in the region, and to follow up on the commitments made in Kigali. One of its key activities is to convene the first Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities-led conservation congress on the continent.

    A space to learn and reflect on community-led conservation 

    This 3-day Congress will facilitate cross-regional learning on community-led conservation and knowledge systems and provide an opportunity to discuss and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ priorities around 5 topics: 

    1. Human-wildlife interactions and strategies to mitigate conflict with wildlife
    2. Grievance redress mechanisms, including past and ongoing rights violations
    3. The role, participation, and engagement of women and youth in conservation
    4. Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ land tenure and livelihoods
    5. Conservation legislative reforms and the 30×30 climate and biodiversity goals

    These discussions will help define the Alliance’s implementation roadmap over the next five years. For detailscontact Fiesta Warinwa.

    Day 1

    The Land of the Brave: Namibia opened its doors today to more than 300 representatives of governments, donors, NGOs, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities from across Africa with a beautiful performance of Indigenous storytelling through song and dance. 

    Welcome Ceremony

    The *Hai||om Cultural Group performing traditional dances and music during the welcome ceremony.

    Mirroring the way many African communities gather under a tree to make decisions or sit around a fire to listen to stories and learn from their elders, the first-ever Community-led Conservation Congress gathered its participants around the stage in Windhoek with instruments in hand and chants in their hearts to begin a continental dialogue around community-based conservation in Africa.

    The event started with opening remarks by Rodgers Lubilo, chairperson of the Community Leaders Network of South Africa (CLN), one of the host organizations of the Congress. Lubilo welcomed representatives from more than 40 countries and took the opportunity to mention the roots that made this event possible, the Kigali Call to Action and Declaration created in 2022 at the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) held in Kigali, Rwanda.

    As is customary at African dialogues, the event began with a blessing by community elders. On this occasion, it was Chief Frederick Langman, of the Kao/Aesi* traditional authority of Namibia, who addressed the audience. Langman mentioned the difficulties his community faces in accessing natural resources, which are becoming increasingly scarce due to climate change and strict conservation measures.

    “In Namibia, we still have problems with traditional conservation, which divides and classifies territories, but we are all here because we know the importance of a different [kind of] conservation. We are all Indigenous Peoples and local communities who fit under the same umbrella and can take care of each other.” – Chief Frederick Langman

    Following the blessing, the Hai||om Cultural Group* took the stage to perform the traditional song Ruacana, which is danced in communities to encourage hunters to come back home.

    “We sing it whenever the headman of a waterhole wants to send out the best hunters to go in search of water or go out on a hunting trip, so they can come with good news,” said Gerson Nanseb, coordinator of the Cultural Group.

    The dances and chants were recognized as an expression of the symbolic relationship that communities have with nature and, in this same sense, as a fundamental part of their conservation approach.

    “As Indigenous Peoples and local communities, we have every reason to celebrate community-based conservation because from time immemorial, we have effectively conserved forests, ecosystems, and biodiversity through collective ownership, traditional governance, and ecological knowledge systems which continue to this day,” said Mr. Malidadi Langa, the interim Chair of the Alliance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (AICA).

    Mr. Malidadi Langa, Interim Chair of the Alliance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (AICA), delivering opening remarks.

    Alain Frechette, Director of Strategic Analysis and Global Engagement at the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), mentioned the effectiveness of community-led conservation for climate change. “Forestlands owned and managed by Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendant Peoples demonstrate far lower deforestation rates and higher rates of carbon storage than other protected and unprotected areas.”

    After these words and brief introductions by Africa’s sub-regional representatives from North, South, West, Central, and East Africa, as well as from the Horn of Africa, ministers of Namibia and Ethiopia took the stage.

    The Honorable Heather Sibungo, Namibia’s Minister of Environment Forestry and Tourism, said: “These three days have the challenge of articulating the vision of rights, demonstrate the role that local communities play in conservation, and the price their paying living with wildlife.”

    The Honorable Royal Johan Kxao IUiloloo, Deputy Minister of Marginalized Communities of Namibia, added: “We should apply Community Participation and Representation (CPR). Nothing about us without us… The rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities must be protected, celebrated, and respected.”

    Kigali Call to Action and APAC Declaration

    Jose Monteiro, Secretary-Director of the Nature Based Resource Network (ReGeCom) in Mozambique, shared what has happened since the Kigali Call to Action and Declaration were signed in July 2022, what is anticipated next, and identified some ways forward.

    On the panel were Charles Oluchina, IUCN; Frederick Kwame, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF); Brighton Kumchedwa, Chair of the Africa Protected Areas Directors (APAD); and Malih Ole Kaunga, Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT).

    “We need to make sure that AICA has effective representation. Communities need to be leaders and be well represented… We shared with all the communities of the event thoughts on how to move forward with the commitments made at APAC,” said Monteiro.

    Preliminary results from RRI’s community-led and rights-based conservation in Africa report

    Kendi Borona, facilitator of RRI’s Africa Program, shared preliminary results of a forthcoming report on community-led and rights-based approaches to conservation in Africa. The report eventually contain 27 case studies conducted in 19 African countries. However, additional data is needed to ensure an accurate representation of conservation on the continent.

    Borona said: “Communities live all over Africa, including its remotest areas, and most community domains contain natural resources. They have made clear that they will not accept additional State Protected Areas created from their customary lands. We need to nurture learning-by-doing and use practical cases to guide changes to better meet community and conservation needs.”

    Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ contributions to community-led conservation approaches, knowledge systems, and initiatives

    This meaningful conversation was moderated by Dr. Basiru Isa, the Regional Secretary-General of the Network of Indigenous Peoples for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC), and gathered interesting examples of community-led conservation from different regions.

    The Ogiek community in East Africa was one case in point: “Our mode of production is primary, that is, we use what is available, so how can you sustain your life if you don’t have access to nature?” said Martin Simotwo, from the Indigenous Ogiek community in Kenya.

    “We have community laws that regulate the use of resources and tells you how to access these resources as well as the times and territorial areas where each community can put their orchards. With these regulations we know that we can live comfortably and in peace, but now we are also facing biodiversity reduction and major global challenges.” – Martin Simotwo

    Dr. Selma Lendelvo, researcher at University of Namibia, moderating a panel discussion on human-wildlife interactions.

    Human-wildlife interactions and grievance redress mechanisms

    The day’s journey ended with a discussion on issues between human and wildlife interactions, a factual problem that is growing in scale in some rural areas. Dr. Selma Lendelvo, a researcher at University of Namibia, moderated the panel and emphasized that human-wildlife conflict is increasingly becoming a lucrative business for some actors.

    “Human-wildlife conflicts are the result of the creation of protected areas in North Africa. Here there are no ferocious animals, but the protected areas created by the government are poorly managed, and animal habitats are destroyed,” said Arezki Hammoum from Algeria. “The solution would be consultation, which does not exist now, and the return of ownership and the power to protect animals to the communities that know how to live in harmony with these animals.”

    With these presentations and a final traditional dance, the first day of the Congress officially closed, whetting the appetite of participants to hear more stories and learn from their neighbors in the days ahead.

    *Note: The // symbol emulates sounds that have no translation in the roman alphabet.

    Day 2

    The celebration of community-led conservation continued with a rich agenda on Day 2. Participants reflected on how internal community structures, national legislations and current global conventions for conservation have integrated and recognized the role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, including women and youth.


    The second day’s sessions begin with a performance from the Hai||om Cultural Group of Namibia.

    The day began on the right foot: with an artistic dance performance by the Hai||om Cultural Group of Namibia. The dance represented the many ways communities relate to their territories: hunting, food collection, and healing traditions.

    An ambitious agenda comprising four panel discussions focused on communities’ understanding of international global conventions; insecure community land tenure; legislative reforms for conflict resolutions in protected areas; and the role and participation of Indigenous and local community women and youth in conservation.

    Understanding the role of global conventions 

    This panel analyzed existing global conventions on conservation and Indigenous and community rights recognition, with the goal of building participants’ knowledge on how to engage in discussions around them with a unified voice.  

    Anne Samante from Kenya shared the outcomes of the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) held in Nairobi this year. The Summit created a Call to Action and declaration centered on Indigenous and community rights recognition in the region. 

    “The ACS resulted in the Nairobi Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, in which IPs were recognized for the first time. This is a great achievement, even if it represents only a small percentage of the 100% recognition that we, the Indigenous people, require,” she said. 

    Monique Atouguia of Nature Finance, called for implementing nature-based markets governed and shaped by and for the communities, while Alain Frechette, RRI’s Director of Strategic Analysis and Global Engagement focused his intervention on the need to collectively advance communities’ land rights access.  

    “Countries need legal frameworks that support long terms needs of communities and access to land. There is also a fundamental need to build capacity for Indigenous and local communities.” – Alain Frechette

    The conversation was also joined by Vital Babanze who focused on the UN Mechanisms for protecting IP and LCs; and Njing Shei Wilson from COMIFAC who highlighted cases from the Congo Basin; Stanley Kimaren ole Riamit who spoke about the impact of carbon credit market on communities; and Hawe Hamman from UNDRIP who talked about the use of the African Charter by communities. 

    Linking insecure land tenure with conservation and community livelihoods

    Dr. Siviwe Swababa of South Africa started the discussion by sharing the successful experience of her country’s Communal Property Associations Act of 1996. A tool that aims to authorize communities to establish legal entities, the law facilitates the collective acquisition, ownership and management of land by communities. 

    “We, the South African Indigenous Peoples, were left behind… we were dispossessed of our land. We have an Indigenous majority, but it was foreigners who owned most of the country’s resources.”  

    Dr. Swababa added that the CFS was created to address this injustice: “Now we have cases like Caguba, a region with a history of mining, where the communities have changed the narrative.”   

    (L-R) Binta Monya Jalloh, Parfait Dihoukamba, and Mina Beyan during a discussion on legal implementation of land rights.

    A panel moderated by Ronny Dempers reflected on how the Alliance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for Conservation in Africa (AICA) can facilitate the establishment of replicable robust grievance redress mechanisms for past and ongoing rights violations of Indigenous and local community land rights. 

    “What the government is calling development is development for them and poverty for us,” said Mohamed Jaouhari of the Global Congress of the Amazigh People (CMA) of North Africa.  

    “We, the Amazigh people, see the land as sacred. Agriculture, pastoralism, and natural resources are shared collectively, so there’s a respect for nature and a balanced relationship between people and the land. But we don’t have legal recognition.” – Mohamed Jaouhari  

    Jaouhari added that colonizers laid down an administrative framework for appropriating the land and resources of the Amazigh People, and this policy is still used by governments, maintaining a system that is problematic for the region’s climate and ecosystems. 

    In Liberia, the context is slightly different. Even though the country has adopted some of the most progressive community land rights laws in sub-Saharan Africa, its legislation is yet to be fully implemented.  

    “In Liberia, collective land rights are respected by law but the issue is the implementation and traditional practices that don’t let women to access to their land rights,” said Mina Beyan of Liberian nonprofit, SESDev. 

    Binta Monya Jalloh of Sierra Leone, Parfait Dihoukamba of the Republic of the Congo, Sadia Ahmed from Somalia, and Naivaya Ndaskoi of Tanzania shared similar concerns around the lack of implementation of legal frameworks that can recognize customary land rights.  

    Diel Mochire of the DRC underlined the importance of security in the context of the country’s mineral resources, pointing out that they are often monopolized by external powers, jeopardizing national stability and sovereignty. He highlighted the urgent need to protect these national assets that belong to the DRC’s local peoples.

    Against this backdrop, participants from the audience called in different ways for the creation of stronger multi-sectoral networks, joined by donors and international organizations, so that communities’ voices can be heard at all levels. 

    Co-existing with protected areas  

    Nasser Abouzakhar, Director of the Global Congress of the Amazigh People moderated a panel on the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ priorities in national and regional programs. The panel included representatives from APAD; AICA; the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature; the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC); and the Namibian Ministry of Irrigation and Lowlands of Namibia. 

    The participants shared a range of issues around protected areas, including the lack of information, human rights abuses, lack of consultation for extraction, and lack of tenure regulations.  

    “We all agree that governments must listen to Indigenous and local communities and start a dialogue and continuous consultation about the management of their territories.” – Nasser Abouzakhar 

    Women and youth in conservation  

    The closing session was moderated by Maimuna Umaro of REPALEAC, DRC. Its participants recognized the need to open more spaces for transfer of traditional knowledge to Indigenous and local community youth. However, the participants acknowledged that the process needs to be flexible and possibly fragmented to allow the youth to also strengthen their skills in academic institutions. 

    Myriam Graba, from Algeria said, “There’s a need to adapt tradition to modernity and balance the two. We can’t say no to technology and innovation. Opening these doors will bring us closer to young people.” 

    The panel also identified inequitable access of land for youth and women, difficulties in transfer of assets, gender-based violence, and lack of education and access to data and technology as common challenges. 

    Maimuna Umaro of REPALEAC, panel moderator, engaging with participants.

     There was general consensus on the idea that the role of women in Indigenous and local communities needs to be valued. To this end, Myriam Graba proposed support for new micro-enterprises led by women, which would guarantee economic access and give them greater decision-making power in the community. 

    With these rich discussions the second day of the Congress came to an end, giving way to the final day where participants will explore concrete actions to create a pan-African strategy for community-led conservation.

    Day 3

    On the third and final day of the Congress, participants had the opportunity to look inward. Representatives from five African regions analyzed developments in each region since the Kigali Call to Action and Declaration and devised a roadmap for AICA. 

    The Samburu community from Kenya launched the day by sharing an ancestral dance. Members of Namibian communities held hands with the Amazigh community from North Africa and Indigenous and local community representatives from across Central, West and East Africa. Basiru Isa from REPALEAC opened the conversations. 

    “We need to continue and reinforce this dialogue. Being together is our victory.” – Basiru Isa 

    Participants from each region had the space to connect with peers from their neighboring countries and discuss the progress and challenges since the APAC in 2022.  

    “The vision for AICA is to have a wider and united voice of Indigenous Peoples and local communities of East Africa to Africa and the Globe, that can mobilize and fundraise resources for community conservation projects, capacity building and the creation of chapters per country to develop action plans,” said Loupa Pius, a pastoralist youth leader and Co-Chair of the Coalition of Pastoralist Civil Society Organizations (COPACSO) from the Eastern & Horn of Africa.  

    Participants from West Africa shared their achievements since 2022 and highlighted selected cases, such as Sierra Leone, where a one-day national conference on conservation and environment resulted in a draft biodiversity strategy and action plan that is awaiting national approval.  

    Mary Ama Kudom-Agyemang, Chairperson of the Bono East Regional Lands Commission and Executive Director of the media Platform on Environment and Climate Change (MPEC) in Ghana mentioned the cases of Benin, Liberia and Ghana, where governments have increased national discussions around the recognition of Indigenous Peoples in conservation.

    On the West African vision around AICA, she said: “We want to include the Alliance’s vision in the Forest Convergent Initiative created by ECOWAS and ensure that the voices of Indigenous Peoples are heard.” 

    Mary Ama Kudom-Agyemang, Chairperson of the Bono East Regional Lands Commission and Executive Director of the media Platform on Environment and Climate Change (MPEC) in Ghana.

    Central Africa Region representatives from seven countries (Burundi, Cameroon, République du Congo, Gabon, RDC, Rwanda and Chad), shared a long list of projects that incorporate multisectoral collaboration between governments, communities, and international development actors. Key developments in the region include the First Forum of Indigenous and Local Communities’ Women held in Brazzaville in April 2023, and the dissemination of the Kigali Declaration to Indigenous Peoples and governments across Central Africa.  

    “Our ambition with AICA is to have strong Indigenous Peoples and local communities in Africa with a single voice and a cooperation framework. For now, we’ll bring the results of this Congress back to our communities and will continue to support strengthening of our networks,” they said. 

    Dr. Rodgers Lubilo from CLN of Southern Africa presented his region’s vision that his region for AICA.  He said the Alliance must empower membership, channel resources and support community-led projects at regional as well as national levels.

    “We must develop a united front promoting space to women and youth and raise issues collectively. That includes supporting communities in the participation of international meetings especially with crossing language barriers.” – Dr. Rodgers Lubilo 

    Belkacem Lounes from the Amazigh Community of North Africa added, “Our language, education and governance are all linked to conservation.” 

    The Amazigh community from North Africa.

    Enhancing coordination and partnership 

    “When you go to any village in Africa, you’re going to find a certain level of conservation. That is because communities conserve as a way of living,” said Patrick Kipalu, Africa Program director of RRI who moderated a panel on how communities can scale up their coordination and networks to achieve their self-determined conservation priorities. 

    “Indigenous Peoples and local communities organize this space, created their own agenda and reunited 43 countries of 54 in Africa. Countries across the entire continent are discussing with donors and NGOs what can be done to leverage community conservation initiatives,” Kipalu added. 

    This panel sought to share plans and strategies to support community conservation by donors and allies of communities.  It included representatives of the IUCN, the Christensen Fund, The German Development Cooperation (GIZ), Nature Finance, and Rainforest Foundation Norway.  

    Alain Frechette, Director of Strategic Analysis and Global Engagement at RRI, delivered opening remarks for the discussion. He said: “Across Africa, Indigenous People, local communities– and especially the women and youth within these groups, have never been better positioned, organized, and coordinated to uphold and realize their land and livelihood rights.”  

    Each participant expressed support and commitment for expanding community access to land and conservation processes. 

    “We believe that land is an important entry point for Human rights and the environment. That is why since 2018, we have readjusted our mission and vision to support IPs and LCs,” said Dr. Hassan Roba of Christensen Fund. We have four programs that support African land rights. For us, conservation is about a holistic connection, a territorial integrity that supports people’s land rights, environment and culture.”  

    A regional discussion about the future of AICA.

    The program closed with an acknowledgment of the ancestral wisdom of Indigenous elders and an address from Hon. Royal Johan Kxao IUiloloo, Deputy Minister of Marginalized Communities of Namibia who attended every session of the Congress.  

    “Indigenous Peoples and local communities close to conservation areas are among the poorest people. I say that it depends on our respective countries to change this reality. We, as the government, are listening to you, and we need your support and expertise in this path.” – Hon. Royal Johan Kxao IUiloloo

    Moving forward, the AICA steering committee plans to create an Alliance roadmap compiling the recommendations and visions of participants from each region. This roadmap will also guide the next Congress, which will be announced in coming months.