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Insurgents Occupy Park W Protected Forest Spanning Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso

The Crisis Group is reporting that militant groups have moved into Park W, a vast protected area of forest stretching across the tri-border zone of Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. Their presence is imperilling efforts to preserve the park’s biodiversity as well as the livelihoods of people living in its vicinity.

If left unchecked, the insurgents could consolidate their hold on the park, using it as a base for infiltrating other West African countries. They could also exacerbate disputes over natural resources, fuelling inter-communal conflict.

The three countries home to the park should find better ways of working together to keep the militants contained, the residents safe and competition for land and water under control.

Park W is part of the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex, the single biggest protected area in West Africa and home to elephants, lions and other species whose habitats are vanishing elsewhere. From its colonial-era beginnings, the conservation effort at Park W has generated contention between environmentalists, who wanted to protect a precious site of biodiversity, and residents, who viewed the park as a place to raise crops, hunt and gather fodder for their livestock. The three governments that share jurisdiction have lacked the money and manpower to preserve the park intact. Starting in the 1970s, recurrent droughts pushed people from the arid Sahel into the park’s vicinity, stoking competition over grasslands and water.

Authorities in the three countries are working alongside foreign partners to regain control of Park W and its surroundings. They emphasise three axes of intervention: securing the park through military action; improving surveillance and anti-poaching mechanisms; and addressing resource conflicts. They have stepped up conservation efforts through legal reform, capacity building for the park’s managerial staff and concerted programs designed to bring local communities on board. They are taking measures to stop the spread of farmland into the park, as well as to mark off grazing lands, transhumance corridors and resting areas for livestock.

From The Shadows Emerges Knowledge