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Immigrants and Coastal Artisan Fishing in a Context of Constrained Spatial Expansion in the City of Pointe-Noire (Congo-Brazzaville)

Immigrants et pêche côtière artisanale dans un contexte contraignant d’expansion spatiale à Pointe-Noire (Congo-Brazzaville)
Gabriel Tati
p. 21-35

Résumés

Cet article examine les changements, tant sur le plan spatial qu’environnemental, qui ont affecté l’habitat et la pêche artisanale au sein d’une communauté de migrants sur un site côtier qu’ils partagent avec une compagnie pétrolière dans la zone côtière de la ville de Pointe-Noire. Les observations de terrain sur une longue durée montrent que ces pêcheurs ont, de manière remarquable, démontré une capacité collective à organiser leurs activités de pêche et à transformer leur habitat informel dans un contexte d’illégitimité, de conflit et de menace permanente d’éviction. La proximité avec la compagnie pétrolière a toutefois induit des contraintes majeures dans l’occupation de l’espace et dans l’utilisation des techniques de pêche en mer. Avec la poussée migratoire et les limites physiques imposées par la compagnie, l’espace habitable s’est réduit considérablement pour les pêcheurs. Cela a entraîné une occupation anarchique des espaces avoisinants, vacants mais écologiquement plus fragiles et inondables. Les pratiques de pêche sont devenues plus intensives et moins favorables à l’exploitation durable de colonies de poissons.

Les pêcheurs sont obligés de trouver de nouvelles zones de pêche à cause de la présence accrue des activités pétrolières dans les eaux où ils opèrent habituellement. L’absence de tout engagement des autorités politiques locales et de la communauté des migrants à protéger cette partie de la zone côtière est en grande partie responsable de la dégradation de l’environnement. En dépit d’une incorporation économique quelque peu réussie des migrants, les conditions physiques dans la zone de partage ont donné naissance à une expansivité, tant en mer que sur terre, qui ne considère pas les effets négatifs des pratiques en cours sur l’extraction des ressources maritimes et de l’usage de la plage. L’une des recommandations faites est la restriction des flux migratoires et la régulation des activités industrielles dans cette zone fragile, avec des actions visant à sensibiliser tous les acteurs sur les méthodes et pratiques en matière de conservation de l’environnement.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1The paper examines the changing settlement and entrepreneurial patterns within a community of African migrant fishers as they adjust their residential and livelihoods spaces to increased vulnerability engendered by the intensification of demographic pressure and industrial activities (most of them are externally generated). The role of local authority in mediating the demands for economic space between the communities of migrants and other (powerful) corporations is critically assessed at the interface of formal and informal institutions. The artisan fishing industry is largely unregulated as is the development of housing in the locations where migrants have settled. The geographical context of this paper is the city of Pointe-Noire in Congo-Brazzaville (Central Africa). Known as the “economic capital” of Congo, Pointe-Noire is the second major city of Congo, with an estimated population size of 625,000 inhabitants in 2005. The economic functions of Pointe-Noire are strongly driven the exploitation of important reserves of oil. This has had some effects in the informal economy in which mushrooming opportunities are open up to foreign migrants from all over Africa. This attractiveness is particular reflected in the expansion of artisan fishing along the coastal line as a result of cumulatively caused migration of fishers from other regions of Africa. The country itself, Congo-Brazzaville, is a major destination of immigrants from various countries in search for better living conditions.

2The observations that provide the substance of this paper are derived from the author’s fieldworks in the sites where migrants have settled. The collection of background data to this paper heavily privileged a qualitative approach that involved a collection of in-depth interviews from informal enterprises run by Fishermen from West Africa. Consent was obtained in the first place before interview. The aim in qualitative data collection was to ground the insights from the field in the views and experiences of these entrepreneurs. This was achieved by investigating a range of differences and similarities among the individuals involved and way in which they relate to their space for livelihoods. The information was gathered at the community level and consisted of general observations that helped to elaborate a detailed description of the physical setting, activities pursued to gain a livelihood, the social setting, and contacts within or outside the community. These observations included descriptions of organized events (meetings, ceremonies) and informal interaction among people as they go about their daily routine activities. Informal conversations and photos were used as part of the information collection at the community level. An open-ended questionnaire was used during the interviews.

3In addition to the introduction, the paper contains four other sections. The second section provides a theoretical discussion of the impact of immigration on the environmental change. The lack of consensus on the direction of linkages prompts us to focus on the conceptualization of these linkages along the lines of migrants’ incorporation conceptual framework. Details of this framework are given in the section. The third section is a recap of the settlement patterns of foreign migrants by referring to its physical expansion, its relations with the development of artisan fishing and housing. The changing fishing practices, as a by-effect of the sharing of the space with a multinational oil company, are examined in this section. The fourth section critically looks into the responses from the public authority to highlight their mediating role in the disputes over the space occupancy. Some concluding reflections follow up on how to address some of the environmental effects accompanying the increased migration flows and industrial activities in the location where migrants have settled.

Some theoretical considerations on the migrants’ adaptation to changes affecting their socio-physical environment

4It is well debated that immigration influences the nature, location, and timing of environmental changes through its impact on total population growth, the location of that growth, and the behaviours with respect to the environment both directly (through consumption behaviours) and indirectly (through fertility behaviour). Immigrants choose some locations over others, and tend to settle in areas where exposure to hazards are higher than average. Such trends may affect relative exposure patterns that are subject of environmental justice concerns. Humans mainly induce most important alterations in natural resources. It is therefore obvious that demographic patterns and sustainable use of natural resources are interlinked. Direct demographic pressures interact with direct economic and technological impacts, which themselves have some demographic elements as well, and are mediated by sets of intermediate variables.

5The focus of the paper being on the linkages migrant entrepreneurship has with vulnerability engendered by environmental change, social and economic forces are therefore important dimensions in the assessment of vulnerability associated with the physical hazard-generating processes [Boshen et al., 2001]. Vulnerability is a contested concept, but one can borrow from Warmington to define it as a “condition or set of conditions which adversely affect people’s ability to prepare for, withstand and/or respond to a hazard” [Warmington, 1995]. The context to which an individual or a community has the ability to prepare for, withstand and respond to a hazard or crisis will typically be context-specific [Bosher et al., 2007], thus shaped by localised spatial dynamics. In the context of coastal area, Bosher et al. suggest that such an ability can be assessed by looking at four key determinants of vulnerability: people’s access to assets (such as land, housing and ownership of boat), to facilities (such as education, medical centre, water), political networks (such as community leaders, local officials, representatives), and social networks (such as family members inside or outside the settlement, co-ethnic members, associational life).

6Some theoretical perspectives on the links between population and the environment suggest that attention to population growth and distribution, changes in technology, the sustainability of a particular landscape, economic conditions, institutions, policies, and cultural factors may all be important to a greater or lesser degree in any particular situation [Carlyn, 1997]. Perceptions of environmental uses among the lay public have been shown to vary by cultural or ethnic background as a consequence of differing values, perspectives, and experiences [Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991]. Spatial mobility is often associated with risks of environmental degradation. This physical process results from the fact that demographic growth in a particular area may represent a factor of impoverishment for the population as well as of environmental degradation. Secondly, as migration of people is a factor of social and economic incorporation in the area where migrants settle, this process may engender socio-cultural disruptions that may be harmful to the ecological system in that location. Therefore in the present paper the concept of environmental change is pursued from the perspective of incorporation into the socio-physical environment and that of the gradual deterioration of environmental conditions migrants households face within the confinement of spaces for livelihoods and housing. These spaces are important as they provide the spheres of vital reproduction and production that drive the dynamics of the community at large.

7Setting the discussion from the perspective of a destination area, one can argue that the migration’s impact depends greatly on the degree of incorporation into the local community. According to Cassels et al. (2005), the impact of a migrant’s detrimental effects on the environment is mediated through a greater degree of their incorporation. In the literature, either from the point of view of public policy towards migrants to public perceptions of migrants to the size and coherence of migrants’ ethnic enslaves already present in a destination. Migrant’s incorporation finds all its significance in the situation of migrants living in enclaves. The literature however does not provide a convincing analysis of how migrants in enclaves use the space in their possession within the constraints imposed by the limited power they have. Socially speaking, enclave building can be regarded as process driven by some forms of space appropriation by a group of migrants. One of the problems associated with this appropriation of space may arise in the sustainable use of space from the perspective of the population of migrants.

8A question that comes from these considerations is whether incorporation into a well-established migrant enclave can mediate negative environmental impact. Pichon (1997) suggests that migrants often have expansionist attitudes that fail to consider long-term effects of resource exaction and land-use. This attitude may deplete the resources in the ecological system and increase vulnerability. Cassels et al. (2005) cautioned however that migrant’s incorporation into the community may reduce the detrimental effect such as individual could have had on the environment. Incorporation prevents from isolation and provides means for meeting immediate and short-term needs of survival. As a result, the incorporated migrant get some support to invest in longer term outcomes what these two views tell us is that individual migrants are undifferentiated according to the status of incorporation; and non-incorporation could lead to detrimental action on the environment. This assertion tends to leave out the possibility that incorporation may not make migrants good enough for the environment, as the poverty fact may also counteract the positive attitude. Broad (1994) claimed that an impoverished migrant might not be able to practice sustainable resource extraction, when confronted with the urgency to meet immediate needs. Thus it is not always the case that community can provide assistance to the migrant, to avoid him making unsustainable decisions that endanger the natural environment. Face with environmental constraints, migrants may use, collectively, harmful technology, be it rudimentary, to achieve substantial fish catching which ensures bigger sales. Migrants have little grievances about the dangers of using more intensive fishing techniques. According to Begossi (1998) and Perz (2003), such technical changes imposed by migrants without knowledge of social and ecological context are more likely to fail and decrease ecological resistance. Cassels et al. (2005) however oppose that view and see it under the angle of the environmental benefits that may rise when the migrant is well incorporated into the community. The migrant may have access to less harmful technology and local knowledge of the community’s resources that preserve the sustainability of the ecological resistance.

9This paper attempts to link the above considerations on migrant’s incorporation with space appropriation. For the sake of setting out a theoretical framework for this paper, and as said earlier, appropriation of space is conceived of a social process through which a physical land site, a delineated territory falling under the public domain, is transformed at the micro-spatial level through the daily activities of immigrants, as they bring forth, or submit to, changes in socio-spatial patterns. In the course of appropriation, migrants build, produce, transform, and attach significance to their own territory and the national one as well. They take possession of space according to resources and their power in the social framework either of the existing laws, rules and norms they elaborate specifically for a purpose. Appropriation of space can be illegal, but it depends upon the actors engaged in the process. Thus appropriation of space is a dialectic process. Whether it involves conflict or not, the appropriation of space allows individuals and social groups to express their identity and to realise their projects.

10Concretely, appropriation of space implies constructing the physical environment and rehabilitating or destroying old built environment. Appropriation of space is also a process by which groups and individuals, in this case migrants, take symbolic possession of space through the cultural expression of community values or personal achievements. Culture is one the main dimensions in the appropriation of space, the other dimension being the space economy or the economics of the space, which is being appropriated. Dwelling is a cultural action because it includes shaping a space and giving it a volume according to specific tastes and aesthetic criteria, as it does in establishing a social network inside the migrant community. In brief, because culture implies communication and processing identities and projects, it is at the heart of the appropriation of space.

11This appropriation of space may be eventually accompanied by some forms of environmental degradation, which is a gradual process to which individuals exposed can determine how to respond (actively or passively) to it. Major human aspects of interacting variables are found in the absolute number of fishermen using the fish resources, the speed with which changes occurs in this number, the degree of dependence on their local natural resources, the technology and methods used to harvest or protect resources; and the amount of exploitation of local natural resources. The introduction of new and often inappropriate technologies or management strategies often results in the disruption of functioning resource systems. The environmental impact of migration is seemingly greater when settling migrants introduce new social behaviours and attitudes different from the existing population. Under such conditions, disruption could be considerable when migrants’ bring in new ideas and behaviours [McNally, Poggie and Perez, 2002]. To contextualise this view, it is important to mention that the two sub-processes which have been taking place over the past years refer, respectively, to the shrinking space for housing due to continuous inflow of foreign migrants and internal demographic growth, and to the competition with over access to near shore marine waters. These sub-processes have produced environmental changes that may be constraining for fisheries. Over-utilisation of the land available for housing makes it difficult to sustain viable housing conditions in the settlement. Parallel to this, a rapid-acting process of marine-water degradation, due to industrial activities, makes livelihoods strategies based on fisheries unsustainable, while at the same time contributing to productive decisions that are in the long run less preserving for an environmental viewpoint. The fishermen may deploy a number of coping strategies to make fishing sustainable in the short-term. These coping strategies are more likely incorporated by wealthier, as their income may be less sensitive to changes affecting economic space. Henry claimed that in case environmental deterioration, households are partly actors and this role is associated with their practices maybe. Environmental factors such as nuisance, pollution and crowding are constraining but the responses of individuals or households may be varied given the limits shaped by economic and ecological circumstances and depending on the household economic aspirations. The effects of the constraining environmental factors on the social and economic dimensions of these fisheries are somewhat intertwined with the fishing and residential practice themselves. These interactions are now examined in details.

Socio-economic and spatial patterns in the settlement of migrants

Physical expansion of the migrants’ settlement

12From a historical standpoint, it is difficult to trace back in a quantitative manner the trends in the settlement patterns within the fishermen community. However, some oral sources established the first stages of settle- ment at the end of the 1960s. Other sources, based on specific historical events, tend also to suggest that the first contingents of migrant fishermen arrived about that time. The first immigration flows were small in numbers, and this pertains to a slow rate of demographic growth of the community. The first waves of migrants were predominantly males as this labour-related mobility was primarily viewed as a temporary move. The spatial occupation has over the years considerably expanded along the coastal line.

13Though relatively small, the migrant fishermen from West Africa have stood apart for a variety of reasons. Historically, they were noticeable because they were not easily localizable in terms of geographical origin. The first colonies of migrants were thought to have come from Porto Novo (a city region in the costal area of Benin, formerly Dahomey). This might be one of the reasons why the first settlers have been called Popo (derived from Porto) by the local people [Bøe, 1999]. There- after, as the settlement grew, this name was changed into Dassa. Despite a certain willingness to assimilate to the local society, as indicated by their ability to speak the two main local languages, foreign migrants remain a group apart. They have developed a migrant economy on the coastal margin of the city, which has over the past years tended to expand within a confined ethnic enclave. The spatial concentration gives the impression live in some kind of ghetto, even though many of them have links with co- ethnic members within the city. Because of this continuing development on the margin, these immigrants remain vulnerable to eviction, despite their important economic position in the coastal fishery industry. In the course of time, fishermen from West Africa have been the major actors in the spectacular development experienced by the production of sea fish in the artisan fishing [Jul-Larsen, 1994]. Nationals from Benin dominate the active population of immigrants though it is not easy to establish the origin for particular individuals. The sparse statistics available from a previous census indicated that, at time, nationals from Benin represented 93 per cent of West Africans working in the artisan fishing industry.

The development of coastal artisan fishing and its relations with land appropriation

14The building of the ethnic enclave has mainly operated around two sub-processes: fish catching and fish selling. Cutting across is the gender divide in the income generating activities. The male immigrant entrepreneurs to Pointe-Noire make their living as fishers, and high-sea fishing remains an important activity for them to protect their livelihoods. Acquisition of land for housing has allowed some of them, though in a small number, to operate consumer retail business. Many of the operating business are generalized shops, selling a variety of consumer goods from sugar and cooking oil to liquor and cigarettes. Many fishing canoes catch stocks large enough to be able to sell en demi-gros to local traders, who, in turn, resell in smaller bulk to market dealers and itinerant suppliers. A niche that has lucratively exploited by women in the fish marketing chain is the smoking of fish. Fresh fish is generally sold on a daily basis either on the beach or in the market places around Pointe-Noire. But, with the increase in the production, the practice of smoking fish has been advocated within the community of West African fishermen. This practice allows the transformation of the excess of fresh fish into a product that can be conserved longer. By so doing, the fish is not wasted while the added value is increased. Teenagers participate as well in the smoking of fish. Most of them are daily involved in seine fishing, which prepares some of them to eventually becoming professional fishermen. One natural outgrowth of this artisan fishing industry has been a movement of female migrants into the wholesale and distribution business of fish across different places within the city and the other major cities in the country. This has resulted in the physical extension of the site as an informal fish market has been erected in the outskirt of the settlement. Most female migrants run their activities in that market where they sell smoked fish to Congolese traders who retailed it in other urban centres or rural localities. The market is named Marché de la Plage (beach market), and it is regarded as one of the most vibrant market places in the city.

15It is worth pointing out that nationals, from the local ethnic group Vili, are also participating to a certain degree in the fisheries. These fishermen are however represented in a very small number and the importance of their participation in terms of catches is by far below the performance of West African fishermen. The gap in the performances of these two communities finds its cause in the manpower and the style of running of the fishery activity in each group. West African fishermen call upon a bigger number of co-ethnic members to work on their canoes. A well elaborated organisation of the tasks also characterises the migrant entrepreneurship. The fishing techniques used by migrant fishermen are more intensive than the ones used by Congolese fishermen. Those techniques allow them to achieve large catches of fish. Canoes are wider and can generally reach a length ranging between 8 and 15 metres. Various types of nets are also used in order to take advantage of the possible locations of near offshore or deep- sea fish grounds. The variety in size of nets provides of catching fish species that appear seasonally like harangues or those found in the edge of the continental shelf. On the opposite, Congolese fishermen use canoes that cannot contain more than two persons. Their nets have a limited capacity of fish intake, in addition of being poorly maintained. Because of the fragility of the canoe, they are constrained to fish near the beach. This seriously limits their capacity to catch large colonies of fish in high sea. Because of these limitations, most of these local fishermen have resorted to seine fishing.

16Although operating in the informal sector, the management of a canoe’s activity reveals an impressive level of socio-economic organisation. The number of workers ranges between 5 and 10 persons. Equally, the arrangements around the tasks and the sharing of the catch are well elaborated. They also have established rotating saving systems that allow most of them to transfer part of their earnings to the country of origin and invest the rest in the improvement of the existing technical capital. Marriage links is perceived as a mechanism participating in the labour force reproduction and in the gender division of labour. Fishermen from West Africa operate the fishing canoe as a collective business. The group is under the supervision of a leader selected on the basis of duration in the area and the experience in the fishery industry. Group formation often requires calling upon skilled fishermen from the country of origin by financing the trip costs to Congo. The labour division is also visible between men and women or between age groups within the community of foreign fishermen. Family formation and marital relations contribute considerably to this division of labour. In a large proportion, fishermen from West Africa are heads of household carrying responsibilities for wives and children. Women and children participate in the tasks that are different from the fishery in sea. A different pattern is observed among Congolese fishermen with regard to marital status. Apart from a few cases of married individuals, they are overwhelmingly single, and the majority is of an age over 40 years old.

17One of the most interesting features of the fishing community is its cohesive nature. Nearly all the immigrants have come from the coastal region encompassing three countries: Benin, Togo and Ghana, and have in turn settled in two particular locations along the beach on the fringe of the city. Co-ethnic members (family and friends) emigrated bit- by-bit from a given area and clustered together in the same plot (concession). Fellow country communities have also tended to aggregate in certain parts of the surrounding coastal localities, but the two sites remain their main locations. Most of the current immigrant population belongs to families originating from Benin. An important reason for this geographical dominance is that this country has traditionally been of the most anchored in traditional fishing in the city. Moreover, the country has a locality, which is especially known for its local residents having a high propensity to emigrate in order to escape from poverty. During fieldworks it was gathered that the locality in question hosts wealthy returnees from Pointe-Noire who were involved in fisheries. Poverty coupled with word-of-mouth stories about successful migrants help to explain why people chose to emigrate to Pointe-Noire rather than remain in the land of their birth. The presence of successful and wealthy returnees from Pointe-Noire may explain why recent emigrants from Porto-Novo would have chosen to go to Pointe-Noire rather to stay, since they might felt themselves better equipped to compete in a place that they viewed as less rewarding for their skills.

18A contributing factor to the increased number of migrant fishermen could reside in the fact that once a few individuals from a region established themselves, both professionally and residentially, they encouraged further emigration of relatives and friends from their home areas. In addition, as most of them arrived in their early ages of adulthood, he often had his relatives at home arrange a marriage for him, almost always to someone from the same area. Thus, one a small kindred group began to form; it would grow considerably as more and more people emigrated from the same area to join relatives in Pointe-Noire.

19A significant migration of fishermen settlers from other West African nations has also taken place over the past years. For the most part, these migrants have mainly come from countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, after these nations began implementing tough controls aimed at specifically restricting illegal immigration. Settlement of immigrants within Pointe-Noire has focused on that part of the coastal line formerly settled by local fishermen up to the sixties. The concentration in that particular location is the result of easy access to basic infrastructure and market places. In addition, the location is relatively secure in terms of providing some protection to communities through the presence of nearby military camps. Fishers communities have always some persistent concerns around the possibility, although increasingly uncertain, of xenophobia-driven tension with the locals as this has happened in the past. Adding to this likelihood is the persistent concern that they may be evicted from the place where they are presently running their fishing businesses. Since the early 1980s, the community of migrant fishermen has always been at the midst of a latent eviction and dispute over the occupancy of the sites where fishing activities are located. This dispute started with the development of an industrial plant by a multinational oil company close to the settlement of the migrant fishermen. With the agreement of the city authorities to which a substantial financial package was given to downplay the risks of environmental damage, the oil company undertook the construction of a chemical laboratory in charge of conducting experimental analyses related to the tapping of off-shore oil. It also developed an industrial plant for the construction of oil-jackets used for high sea platforms. The development of the industrial site required a very large space of the beach. The oil company wanted to take advantages of both the infrastructural facilities that were already in the area, such as the presence of roads of good quality giving access to the main parts of the city, the supply of electricity and water, and the proximity of the site to the city harbour. Fishermen have continuously demonstrated considerable resistance to the repeated attempts of eviction initiated by the oil company in the past. Most of these attempts sought to relocate them in an area relatively distant from the major centres of economic activity in the city. The possibility of eviction has mobilised them into a community-based organisation of foreign fishers to negotiate their right to stay in the area. To strengthen their voice, a coalition has been built up with locals (fishermen and non fishermen living in the disputed area). This common ground has somewhat consolidated the demand for the right to stay for these informal migrant settlers, as there seems to have reached a certain tolerance of their presence close to the oil company. This proximity to the oil company however has shaped new behaviours with regard to housing conditions and economic practices among the foreign fishermen. Patterns in housing development are examined now.

Characteristic pattern of land subdivision and housing development

20Land subdivision and house construction of each individual plot are the major events in the ongoing land development process within the settlement of migrants. Actually community representatives who in the course of time, and in the absence of formal regulation, have come to see themselves as legitimate landowners carry out land subdivision on the beach. In the past, the representatives were mainly from the local ethnic group, vili, which settled there before the arrival of migrants. With time passing, some of the established migrants have become involved in the local politics and are participating in the committee of representatives. They are not elected, but use their duration of residence in the area and, when so needed, their relations with the nationals, to establish a de-jure community leadership. Tracks of land have been subdivided into small plots, in the absence of any preparation for house construction, and sold at a price that has been varying in the course of time. A large proportion of land subdivision occurred between 1978 and 1990 when the multinational oil company developed an industrial plant in the area. Entry of these plots is through informal subdivision, with no prior approval from the municipal development authority. The settlement has no public primary school, nor has it a health centre. The fishermen take advantage of the facilities that are nearby their settlement. Once the plot has been allocated to the applicant, construction takes place immediately as in almost all cases; precarious material is used to erect a dwelling unit. The dwelling unit is generally built as a courtyard (in French concession, in the same style as the one found in most parts of West Africa), a multi-household structure delimited by a fence inside which some other income-generating activities may be operated. One of these activities is fish smoking that, as indicated earlier, provides substantial cash to migrant women. Once a plot has been acquired, the new owner has to resort to the traditional solidarity to construct a concession. The established migrants play a facilitating role, not only to obtain some financing for the fishing equipment but also in housing construction. In these subdivisions, plot development takes place in a discontinuous manner, thus ending in sporadic development. This informal land subdivision makes the task of providing services for the local authority. The proper development takes place on most tracks of land much later. Migrant settlers are confronted with the persistent problem of lack of services, especially that of sanitation and garbage collection. During the fieldwork in December 2005, it was observed several piles of uncollected garbage along the beach. The local authority has been unable to provide this type of service because of the spontaneous nature of the settlement.

21The expansion of land subdivision along the beach has considerably slow down over the past recent years due to shortage of space. Influxes of migrants combined with an increasing natural growth have led to a situation of excessive densification in the area. Since the end of the 1990s, land subdivision has gradually shifted outside the beach limits, and has spread to the surrounding wetlands, riverbeds and mangrove areas. These new sites have been dried up trough deforestation, cleaning and water drainage. Most of the time, the drying up has been achieved by burning part of the flora cover in the area. The unplanned land subdivision characterized by informality in land transactions has led to the fragmented and dispersal pattern of housing units, quite similar to what is named urban sprawl. The different land parcels along the beach have unique characteristics, including size, location and accessibility. Sites with such favourable features as roads, accessibility and proximity to social infrastructure were taken up for subdivision in the early phase of settlement expansion while others were left out. As easily accessible land has been quickly taken out, subdivision activity has been making inroads into the interior wetland mangrove area and nearby river banks- and infilling has taken place on land between rivers. This process is evidently now occurring around the existing subdivisions with a tendency to spread over the area where a refinery plan is located. This area provides transportation infrastructure that facilitate access to markets. Most the new land tracks in wetland are perceived as being unsuitable for residential use, as they are over-endowed with waterlogged areas. Besides, as they are located close to the beach, these land tracks are low-lying and therefore liable to flooding during the rainy season. In these areas, groundwater is very saline and unfit for domestic purposes. Furthermore, given the substantial development of an industrial settlement, pressure has increased to control this informal encroachment onto wetland, not only because of its unsuitability to housing, but also for the conservation of the local ecological system.

22The dynamics of the natural milieu is also disrupted. With continuous influxes of migrants-coupled with internal growth, new plots are needed for housing construction. The cleaning of the sites destroys the surrounding vegetation. The deterioration of the vegetation is observed on the disappearance of the mangrove as well as that of the wetlands in the area. The process of land cleaning is gradually expanding along the beach, at such a point that today the vast areas of mango trees and other wild areas that were abundant there have entirely disappeared. This regressive process of vegetation destruction, expose the coastal line to the insidious effects of erosion as manifested in the raving, sanding and the hunting of the new by riverbanks.

Noticeable changes in the fishing practices as a consequence of the proximity with the oil company

23The proximity with the oil company has induced significant changes in the livelihoods of the community. Some of the changes are reflected in the adoption of more intensive fishing techniques, whilst others are perceptible in the level of congestion in the near-shore maritime space shared by the community and the oil company. Before the development of the oil-industrial site, the fishing activities were mostly taking place in the near-shore seawaters. The seine fishing was widely used by foreign fishermen to take advantage of various fish grounds living in the seawater along the beach. Large quantity of species like harangue, sardine, mackerel and crabs could be caught by means of this fishing technique. The moderate strength of sea waves and the ecosystem were both appropriate to seine fishing. This latter has a long standing as compared to the other practices for it allows fishermen to generate rapidly cash. Besides, it does not involve any threat to life, as is the case when fishing is conducted in high sea.

24The development of the oil-industrial site brought with a displacement of fishing territories, and this has required fishermen to accommodate their movements in accordance with the sharing of space with the oil company. The company’s activities generate an intense traffic of ships and boats. As a consequence of this heavy traffic, the movement of fishermen canoes is being hindered by this traffic. The situation is particularly critical in the evening when fishermen go on fishing trip. The long line of canoes living the shore sometimes coincides with the in and out movement of ships in the same space. Ships have sometimes to make use of hooters in order to alert the fishermen give way to the ship. This has not prevented some accidents to occur. There have been frequent cases boats ruining nets on their course. In order to make the nets more visible, canoe fishermen adopted floating colourful and lighted signals attached to different parts of the nets. This method gave the impression of stakes protecting private property against intruders, of legitimising ownership in a frontier territory. The damage of nets diminished but did not cease altogether. Evidently, the oil company objected to this practice on the ground that it obliged boats to go a long way round in order to avoid the nets. Very often, the oil company has complained about the congestion, sometimes resorting to the intervention of official authorities to prevent fishermen from casting their nets right in the middle of the boat routes.

25Cultural differences in the rights over access to marine waters may be evoked to interpret the attitudes of both parties. While the fishermen interpret the sea as a common property that belongs to all the users, the oil company makes use of its formally acquired privilege to push away the fishermen from what they see as their marine territory. The intended effect of this manoeuvre is that they should cast their nets and take their canoes somewhere else. The message seemed to have been heard as fishermen have come to resolve placing their nets quite far from the boat’s routes. The tension over the ruining of nets and the obstruction of ship movement has diminished in the recent past years, as fishermen do not receive compensation for damaged nets. The oil company’s executives simply denied that their boats did the harm.

26A major source of nuisance in the marine ecosystems is the he noise made by the engines of boats coming to and leaving the site. The disappearance of fish grounds is a growing matter of concern for the survival of local fisheries. This emanates from the perceptions of migrants interviewed. The most dominant perception is that the noise and the vibration produced by the ship engines have "disturbed" the colonies of fish that traditionally live close to the shore. Fish grounds have moved to other areas, and this has had a destructive effect on the existing fishponds. This perception remains however difficult to prove empirically, as a possible cause of this may lie in the changing quality of marine waters. The movement of ships, combined with the increasing number of oil platforms in the marine waters where fishermen actually operate, has become a major source of pollution. Some signs of this pollution are visible in the colour of the water sea surrounding the main plant of the multinational oil company. The water is very dark and looks greasy. Fishermen themselves refer to this colour of the water to signify the association of the presence of the oil company with the increasing level of pollution. A fisherman I interviewed said "Before the arrival of this company in the area, the sea was green and sometimes blue, you can even see the sand and the fish beneath the surface, now the water is like a river, you can’t see anything. Even kids are scared to swim around this place, as the greasy water looks so threatening to them". The "green and blue colours" alluded in the fisherman’s statement reappear along the coastal when one gets far from the site occupied by both the fishermen and the company. Some outside observers, among them local politicians, have expressed similar views about the greasy plight of the sea. The oil company’s accountability to this marine pollution has been called into question.

27The disappearance or the displacement of fishponds has had particularly some effects on the volume of fish caught in the area by using the seine method. Looking at their fortunes in the past, the fishermen reported that they are now reduced to caching only small quantities of fish. Sometimes the net comes with nothing inside. There is a difficulty to identify the real causes of this decline as it may have been generated by fishermen themselves due to the increase in the number of fishermen practising seine fishing. The intense fish effort among African migrants may have altered the reproductive patterns of some species as more and more nets with small holes were being used. It is widely admitted this type of net has a destructive effect on fishponds. For instance, it is said that gill nets which have been intensively used for fishing in the edge of the continental shelf, prevent migrating species from approaching the coast to spawn, thus reducing catches in the tidal zone [Robben, 1989]. In their pursuit of earnings, migrant fishermen may exhaust for near-shore fish species. Predatory behaviour may come from their ignorance of the fish reproduction pattern. As the name of a canoe puts is "Sea never dry", they tend to think that fish is indefinite supply because of the good will of God. Thus, there is need for caution in attributing the responsibility of catch decline to either the parties involved in this coastal space sharing.

28At the municipality level, there is little concern about the benefits that environmental protection can bring to the local fisheries. The lack of technical capacity in formulating and implementing appropriate action, coupled with the financial stakes embedded in the interests of the oil company at national level also restrain the city authorities to enforce the liability of the oil company on these environmental issues. Put in the words of a highly ranked civil servant in the city council, to whom I spoke about this concern of pollution, "The economy of the nation heavily depends on the income derived from the oil-exploitation, and the moderate pollution of a space inhabited by fishermen could not be regarded as a reason for blaming the oil company. They have to see themselves as lucky enough to live where they are. If these fishermen are protesting, they can leave the area and relocate elsewhere". The liability of the oil company is indirectly ensured through this public recognition that the oil-related royalties outweigh the costs of marine pollution. There is no monitoring in place of the oil companies with regard to the quality of the marine environment in the area. What seems to prevail is a unilateral claim made by the representatives of the company that the ongoing industrial activities do not harm to the fisheries.

29The fishing activity in high sea has also been affected by the oil activities conducted around the oil platforms. As the fishermen are pushing their fishing territory further from the coast, they get closer to the field of oil-platforms on which the bulk of these activities take place. Some fishermen reported that the powerful lighting coming from the oil-platforms makes the catch of fish difficult as it disrupts the way of life of fish. Fishing is more productive during the night as nets are less visible to fish and it is also the time fish are less mobile. The lighting makes visible the nets cast by fishermen and fish can avoid them. Bands of fish that usually move on the surface of the water are threatened by the lighting, and end up migrating to other places. The responses of fishermen to this disruption have been varied. Most of the times, fishermen have to redefine their fishing territory. The capacity of fishermen to localise new fishing grounds is constantly set back by the increasing oil activity in high sea. Continuously, they have to redefine new territories where abundant catch can be achieved. The search of new fishing territories is time consuming. Fishermen use their knowledge to localise fishing grounds in territories with which they are not very familiar. This option has been the one chosen by foreign fishermen, and they have adjusted their strategies to respond to new constraints. The adjustment is noticeable in the improved fishing equipment. They have chosen longer trips, at more distant locations. More powerful engines for canoe have been progressively adopted in order to fish in deep and turbulent seawater. These engines also allow carrying heavy fish such as sharks caught far from the coast. But this has implied a longer journey at sea for fishing. Also the risk of fatal accident has increased as the canoe as the canoe is not suitable for the deep-sea, above all in the situation of strong storms. A few deaths have been recorded among fishermen who were confronted with such a situation. This has prompted many among them to embark on the fishing of sharks or giant skates that are in abundant quantity in the marine waters distant from the coast. In the past the fishing of these species was not intense, as consumers less demanded them. Over the recent years, it has gained in force as the catch of more demanded species has declined. To fishermen, it is a lucrative alternative. Because of the abundant colonies, catching sharks or skates does not require fishermen to spend a long time at sea. But this kind of specialisation is costly as fishing sharks result in nets being seriously damaged. As a consequence of that, fishermen are required to spend more time on land mending nets. An indirect effect of all these constraints brought by the development of the industrial site from the company and its off-shore related activities is the steady increase in the price of fish in the market places. It becomes clear that fishermen have adjusted their methods of fishing in order to preserve their earnings, but their livelihoods have been affected in many ways by the presence of the oil company.

Responses from the public authorities to the space occupancy

30As it has emerged from the previous section, the municipal authorities have privileged a conciliatory approach to addressing the dispute over the sharing of the space by the oil company and the fishermen. However, the official authorities seem not to show any willingness to intervene directly in the management of the space attributed to fishermen. The expansion of the spatial occupancy has been accompanied by an attitude of laisser-faire from the public authorities, rather than by a well-defined policy to regulate the proliferation of inadequate housing. This attitude partly stems from the fact that the occupancy by the settlement has been always regarded on provisional terms. For the authorities, the site occupied by the fishermen is a public property and it could be claimed back at any time. However, no action is being taken in order to stop the construction of housing with permanent material. The informal settlement has become a densely populated place without any attempt from the city authorities to regulate its dynamics. Only the oil company is managing to contain the progression of the settlement within the boundaries permitted with regard to its activities. In that respect, the company is running a permanent supervision to prevent any invasion, for housing construction purpose, of the earthen path of about 10 metres which separates the edge of the fishermen housing area from the fence surrounding the company’s activities. In the five recent years, the security department of the oil company has repeatedly expressed some concerns about the danger the housing transformation in the fishermen community represents to the company in terms of fire risk. As previously indicated, the majority of houses and fences are constructed with wood that is regarded as highly inflammable material. More importantly, the security department of the oil company has complained that no safety measures are being followed within the fishermen community with regard to the connection of electricity lines from house to house.

31The prevailing attitude of laisser-faire from the city authorities has left the fishermen with the only option of operating the canoes differently. Foreign fishermen are aware that the nearby industrial activities conducted by the oil company have affected the stocks of fish available in the area, but, in response to that, they tend to avoid direct confrontation with that company. Their status of foreign migrants weakens their capability to organise in order to discuss with the company executives some of the environmental issues emerging in the space shared. They fear that if they raise these issues, they may be asked to leave the area, as they have not been granted long-term right for occupancy. There is no local Non governmental Organisation involved in the conservation of coastal livelihoods. Fishermen are left on their own to deal with the changing physical context. However, the awareness seems not to be shared with the same degree. Some of the fishermen I asked the question whether the presence of the oil company affects their activities replied by "No". After probation of this negative answer, it came out that the "No" was related to adjustment in fishing methods previously evoked. As long as they can travel long distance from the coast, and catch the volume of fish that allow them to make profits, they don’t regard the intrusion of the oil company in their space of livelihoods as being a threat. In fact, some kind of tacit compromise seems to be going on in the area as far as occupancy of the beach and near shore seawater. The oil company tends to ignore the presence of fishery activities taking place in the space where its activities are being conducted whatever the effects they are producing on the nearby fisheries; Foreigners, on their side, manage to work out strategic adjustments as a way of responding to these adverse effects in order to preserve the provisional authorisation for settling in the area.

Conclusion

32Over the years, the formation of households has generated a substantial growth in the demand for new dwellings in the locations where African migrants have settled in the city of Pointe-Noire. While these fishers have demonstrated a remarkable collective capability in organizing their livelihoods and transforming their informal settlement in a context of uncertainty and conflict in regard to rights to settle where they are, their coping strategies have had mixed environmental outcomes due to increased constraints over their territory for survival. Concurrently with the settlement of migrants, the marine and terrestrial territory where these fisheries are run has also become the site of an expanding industrial plant constructed by a multinational oil company. As a result of this space sharing, the residential dynamics and the sustainability of livelihoods for fishers have been submitted to environmental constraints. On the one hand fishers have had to deal with a rapidly shrinking residential space for further expansion of dwelling units, and on the other hand, they have had frequently to redefine their fishing territories due to the increased presence of the oil company in the marine waters where these fishers actually catch fish. The densely populated settlement of fishers is encroaching onto land sites around the beach as new migrants search for space for housing. This land conversion degrades the surrounding ecological system that is vital to the sustainability of near-shore marine resources. This encroachment is also accompanied by mounting environmental hazards due to the lack of adequate system of waste disposal and sanitation in the area. On the sea front, the intensification of the oil-related industrial activity in the marine waters pushes migrant fishers to redefine or modify their fishing territories and make use of more intensive fishing techniques, which in the end deplete the fish stocks. While demographic pressure and intensification of industrial activity of all kinds are the major factors of vulnerability to fisher’s livelihoods insecurity, the lack of political and community awareness about the interconnections of human activities and environmental stresses are also found to play a key part in the persistence of environmental degradation in the area. The patterns observed suggest that although migrants are well locally incorporated, the physical conditions in the area have tended to promulgate expansionist attitudes, both on sea and land, which fail to consider long-term effects of resource extraction and land use. The implications of these findings prompt some recommendations that are outlined below.

33Much of the erection of new informal housing tends to occur on the fringe of the beach pushing up the demand for residential land and support services in outer beach fringes. The risk is increasing that the pressures arising from further space development, when combined with pressures arising from current resource use by fishermen and nearby industrial activities will lead to significant impacts on the quality of resources in the coastal zone. Although they undoubtedly have some indigenous knowledge on fishing practices, fishermen may not possess a scientific understanding of the delicate nature of coastal resources, such as mangrove vegetation and inshore fisheries and coral reefs, as well as that of the sustainable use of these resources in their daily lives and future welfare. They have equitable access to, and harvesting of, marine and coastal resources but this access has been not paralleled by some inspiration within the community to contribute actively in resource conservation. There seems to be a mismatch between local ownership and responsibility over resources. The sustainability in the development of coastal fisheries depends on the utilization of accessible coastal resources to avoid the depletion these resources with the aim of enhancing preservation for future generation. The concern has been growing that in spite of the artisanal dimension of these fisheries, the fishing and residential practices have considerably depleted the stocks of certain species such as sharks, sea tortes, and dauphins and resulted in the destruction of the mangrove vegetation. The perception is also strong that migrant fishers are not yet fully aware of the necessity for proper utilization of their livelihoods space. They may find it more important to use or extract marine resources now than to protect and preserve them in order to prevent shortages in the future. It is a universal theme that human tends to exert dominance and control over nature. Migrants’ cultural beliefs may motivate them to think that marine resources are endless (as reflected in the name of a boat Oh god sea never dry). In much of African societies, environmental preservation is still an alien concept.

34One approach to dealing with pressures arising from further development in the coastal zone would be to consider the option of restricting the growth of the migrant population and that of industrial activities. Curtailing immigration and moving towards very limited increase in oil-related industrial activity could be part of a proposal for a sustainable environmental policy. It must be noted however that evidence establishing a simple and direct relationship between overall population growth in the area and environmental deterioration is lacking, particularly in view of the arrangements made with some of the key operators in the oil industry along the beach. Their part in the sustainable management of that part of the coastal line is yet to be defined. One can argue that much of the environmental destruction that has occurred along the coastal line could have been the result of the development of oil-related industrial plants in the area, set in train during the eighties when the migrant population was far smaller than present. Further research into the relationship between migration, industrial activities and environmental effects is necessary before consideration can be given to the formulation of appropriate policies to deal with this issue. It is difficult to establish to date that an increase in immigrant population is, in itself, the cause of degradation of the environmental quality of the coastal zone. Although no convincing case has been established for attempting to prescribe maximum population levels of immigrants, it is clear that the current patterns of immigrant population settlement warrant consideration when strategies are being formulated for such fragile locations as coastal sites.

35The growth of the population in the ethnic enclave is predominantly driven by un- checked (uncontrolled) migratory influxes. Due to the absence of proper rights over fishing and housing the fishing practices may endanger the sustainability of this scarce resource. In the long run, such practices can jeopardise the social and economic development of future generation of fishers. One way of tackling this problem is to engage the unity of fishermen in some community-based initiatives for a larger conservation of marine resources. Parallel efforts should be taken in the area of housing service to control the spatial expansion of the settlement onto the wetlands.

36Looking into the rapidly destruction of the mangroves and the environmental hazards generated by the pilling of domestic waste along the coastal line where the settlement is expanding, preventive measures are needed in order to direct housing construction or fish catching to less fragile sites, to sensitise the local actors (fishermen and multinational oil companies) to practices and methods of environment preservation, tacking stock on their experiences, practices and local knowledge. It is the route to follow if one would like to slow or reverse the destructive effects that human activities are having in that part of the coastal area of Congo-Brazaville.

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Gabriel Tati, « Immigrants and Coastal Artisan Fishing in a Context of Constrained Spatial Expansion in the City of Pointe-Noire (Congo-Brazzaville) », Espace populations sociétés, 2008/1 | 2008, 21-35.

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Gabriel Tati, « Immigrants and Coastal Artisan Fishing in a Context of Constrained Spatial Expansion in the City of Pointe-Noire (Congo-Brazzaville) », Espace populations sociétés [En ligne], 2008/1 | 2008, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2010, consulté le 25 novembre 2017. URL : http://eps.revues.org/2337 ; DOI : 10.4000/eps.2337

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Gabriel Tati

Population Studies Programme
Department of Statistics
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17 Bellville 7535
Afrique du Sud
gtati@uwc.ac.za

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