Background

Subject to high levels of discrimination and persecution and low levels of political representation, pastoralists/herders, agro-pastoralists, and hunter-gatherers in Africa are losing their traditional territories, water resources and grazing lands to powerful interests. These include: (1) international conservation organizations; (2) large-scale agribusiness; (3) small-scale farmers (who tend to be favored by their governments); (4) infrastructure projects; (5) extractive industries; (6) political conflicts that produce refugee crises; and (7) expansion of urban areas.

These threats undermine and put at risk the ability of indigenous communities in Africa to maintain their access to land and water resources, their livelihoods and cultures, their self-determination, and their basic human rights.

An additional challenge is the rhetorical position taken by African states that all Africans are “indigenous,” thereby rejecting the applicability of “indigenous peoples” in this context. Nonetheless, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) recognizes a number of peoples in Africa as indigenous. In 2007, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was passed by a majority (144) of member states, including 35 African states.

According to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), African pastoralists and hunter-gatherers who identify themselves as indigenous and who participate in the global indigenous rights movement share the following:

[T]heir cultures and ways of life differ considerably from the dominant society and their cultures are under threat, in some cases to the extent of extinction. A key characteristic for most of them is that the survival of their particular way of life depends on access and rights to their traditional land and the natural resources thereon. They suffer from discrimination as they are being regarded as less developed and less advanced than other more dominant sectors of society. They often live in inaccessible regions, often geographically isolated, and suffer from various forms of marginalization, both politically and socially. They are subject to domination and exploitation within national political and economic structures that are commonly designed to reflect the interests and activities of the national majority. This discrimination, domination, and marginalization violates their human rights as peoples/communities, threatens the continuation of their cultures and ways of life, and prevents them from being able to genuinely participate in deciding on their own future and forms of development. (Report of the African Commssion’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities, 2005, p.89)