The BaNgombe and BaKoule of the Congo

Wilkie (1996) discussed some short- and long-term consequences of commercial selective logging by the Société Forestière Algéro-Congolaise (SFAC) on indigenous BaNgombe foragers and BaKouele farmers of the northern forests of the Republic of Congo. SFAC is a semipublic company formed in 1983 within the framework of a 20-year cooperative agreement between the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria and the Republic of the Congo. In 1985, SFAC began selective logging in a concession of 855,000 ha in the Sangha region.

Before the colonial period (1900-1960), the BaNgombe lived a semino-madic existence. They had a long-term exchange relationship with BaKoule farmers who were settled in villages alongside perennial rivers and streams and practiced rotational slash-and-burn agriculture. The BaN-gombe traded farm labor and forest products such as meat and honey for cultivated crops and commodities such as salt, clothing, and tobacco. They traveled in the forest for extended periods of time and hunted forest antelope and primates with crossbow, nets, and traps.

The arrival of SFAC had a profound effect on the local economy. Although the company used heavy machinery to build roads and transport cut logs, the company still had to hire a relatively large number of workers on a daily or monthly basis. The tribal compositions of work teams had clear differences. Inventory and exploitation teams were primarily Ba-Kouele and BaNgombe, because of their intimate knowledge of the area and the tree species. The drivers and mechanics were usually from regions outside the Sangha. Despite their low wages, BaKouele and BaNgombe families with SFAC employees were more likely to have tin-roofed huts, new aluminum cooking pots, eating utensils, flashlights, and new clothes and shoes than those families with no SFAC workers. The logging operation improved health-care services, primary education, and housing conditions for a small portion of the BaKouele who lived close to headquarters. The BaNgombe, however, did not benefit, owing to implicit prejudice in the allocation of worker housing. As a result of the entrance into the cash economy, artisan and hunting skills were lost. SFAC employees used wages to finance commercial wild game hunting by buying shotguns and cartridges.

Although SFAC logging spurred the local economy and enhanced the material quality of life for BaKouele and BaNgombe employees, its effect on social services was very local. In addition, the economic income was unlikely to last, as the concession was only for 20 years, at which time most of the valuable timber in the area will have been taken. In the conclusion to his paper, Wilkie (1996) asked: "How will five to ten years or more of high income affect the needs, aspirations, and social behavior of a given local population of BaNgombe and BaKouele? Will today's employees be able to return to a more basic lifestyle once SFAC moves out of their region? Will they be able to re-attain traditional sharing patterns? Will young people have neglected to learn traditional techniques that once again become more important to daily subsistence? Will the state be able to assume the role of education and health care provider once SFAC moves out of an area? Will faunal populations be able to recover from such intensive market hunting and thus continue to provide the local population with a necessary source of protein?"

For the BaNgombe and BaKouele, the long-term costs may outweigh the short-term benefits.

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