Oka - Listening to the Congo Basin


    CIB’s Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Team spends hundreds of days each year on the ground, listening to and engaging with the local population. The Baaka, the indigenous population of Congo, and Bantus who are the majority of the population live within our forest concessions since our arrival in 1968, listening and speaking with the local peoples has been critical to building mutual respect and understanding.

    Regular communications in this region does have challenges and requires innovative thinking. The varied terrain with marshes, savannahs, forest and rivers make travelling a feat and the rains do not make gathering a community or a village easier. The majority of the local population is nomadic in nature and the hunters and gatherers often only come back at sundown, and it can prove harder to have meaningful engagement or conversations at the end of the day. And most importantly, the plethora of local dialects and languages means it is essential to communicate in the language the local people understand as the majority cannot speak or understand French or English.

    What is Project Oka

    The Oka Logo, built in-house in CIB.

    The O - With an ear, symbolising listening, the four wave form lines and the outline of the ear depict our five concessions – Pokola, Kabo, Loundoungou, Mimbeli-Ibenga and Pikounda. The line in the middle of the ear is an actual line of the frontiers of the map, where CIB is located.

    The A has the CIB leaf at its center, and the sillouhette of an actual leaf-hut inside which the families of the Baaka stay.


    The Community Team sensitises the inhabitants of our concessions on numerous topics each year. To support our community outreach and to provide a knowledge resource we are distributing 200 portable audio devices to villages and communities to share.


    The devices are part of our Project Oka – Oka means listening in Mbengele. These devices offer information and they are a knowledge resource for the local communities for when our Community Teams are not there. The audio recordings are based on hundreds of hours of discussions with the local population and enable local people to listen to answers to their questions, which have been recorded by our Community Team.



    The device carries questions and answers on topics related to health, safety, families, indigenous population rights and laws. Devices are regularly updated with refreshed content and we continue to ask for feedback from local people about topics and information they like to know about, and ways to continue to make improvements.

    We are just getting started with projects that empower and grant agency to the indigenous population. We have a long way to go with actually listening, improvising, bettering and having a real on-the-ground impact. Our goal, which may sound ambitious, is to ensure that every inhabitant has a device in their language of preference. And this is something we cannot achieve alone. We are seeking partners to support this endeavour, including anthropologists to answer questions that the population asks, and to enhance  skills of the communicators from the Baaka population who can translate and record the audio. 

    But we have made a start and we are proud of it. We are listening. Are you?

    If you would like to support this initiative, write to communication@cibpokola.com


    Ajita Chowhan Heads Communication for Congolaise Industrielle des Bois in the Republic of Congo.

    Ajita is a digital multimedia story-teller with an industry expertise of 18 years in print and digital mediums. She pursues long-term travel with a purpose of engaging with the communities and being a medium to tell their stories through pictures, documentaries, articles and graphics.

    She has travelled to more countries than her age, cities spread across five continents. She has been widely published in international journals and magazines.

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