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Sun, 10.12.1000

The Indigenous People of Africa, a short story

*The indigenous people of Africa are affirmed on this date in c 1000 BCE. 

These are Black people and their communities of the African continent whose way of life, attachment or claims to land, and social and political standing in relation to other more dominant groups have resulted in their substantial marginalization within modern African states (namely "politically underprivileged group who have been an ethnic entity in the locality before the present ruling nation took over power").  

This date is also an international holiday sometimes called First People's Day.  Although the vast majority of Native Africans can be considered to be "indigenous" in the sense that they have originated from that continent and nowhere else, identity as an "indigenous people" is in modern application more restrictive. Not every African ethnic group claim identification under these terms. Groups and communities who do claim this recognition are those who by a variety of historical and environmental circumstances have been placed outside of the dominant state systems.

Their traditional practices and land claims often conflict with the objectives and policies publicized by governments, companies and surrounding dominant societies.  Marginalization, along with the desire to recognize and protect their collective and human rights, and to maintain the connection of their individual cultures, has led many to seek identification as indigenous peoples, in the modern global sense of the term.  After the Berlin Conference and its white-European invasion and colonization, independence took place for several African counties.  In the post-colonial period, the concept of specific indigenous peoples within the African continent has gained wider acceptance, although not without controversy.

The highly-diverse and numerous ethnic groups which comprise most modern, independent African states contain within them various peoples whose situation, cultures and pastoralist or hunter-gatherer lifestyles are generally marginalized and set apart from the dominant political and economic structures of the nation. Since the late 20th century these peoples have increasingly sought recognition of their rights as distinct indigenous peoples, in both national and international contexts.  The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC) was founded in 1997. It is one of the main trans-national network organizations recognized as a representative of African indigenous peoples in dialogues with governments and bodies such as the UN.

In 2008, IPACC was composed of 150 member organizations in 21 African countries. IPACC identifies several key characteristics associated with indigenous claims in Africa:

  • "political and economic marginalization rooted in colonialism;
  • de facto discrimination based often on the dominance of agricultural peoples in the State system (e.g. lack of access to education and health care by hunters and herders);
  • the particularities of culture, identity, economy and territoriality that link hunting and herding peoples to their home environments in deserts and forests (e.g. nomadism, diet, knowledge systems);
  • some indigenous peoples, such as the San and Pygmy peoples are physically distinct, which makes them subject to specific forms of discrimination."

With respect to concerns that identifying some groups and not others as indigenous is in itself discriminatory, IPACC states that it:

  • "...recognizes that all Africans should enjoy equal rights and respect. All of Africa's diversity is to be valued. Particular communities, due to historical and environmental circumstances, have found themselves outside the state-system and underrepresented in governance...This is not to deny other Africans their status; it is to emphasize that affirmative recognition is necessary for hunter-gatherers and herding peoples to ensure their survival."

At an African inter-governmental level, the examination of indigenous rights and concerns is pursued by a sub-commission established under the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), sponsored by the African Union (AU) (successor body to the Organization of African Unity (OAU)). In late 2003 the 53 signatory states of the ACHPR adopted the Report of the African Commission's Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities and its recommendations. This report says in part (p. 62):

  • "...certain marginalized groups are discriminated in particular ways because of their particular culture, mode of production and marginalized position within the state form of discrimination that other groups within the state do not suffer from. The call of these marginalized groups to protection of their rights is a legitimate call to alleviate this particular form of discrimination."

The adoption of this report at least notionally subscribed the signatories to the concepts and aims of furthering the identity and rights of African indigenous peoples. The extent to which individual states are mobilizing to put these recommendations into practice varies enormously, however. Most indigenous groups continue to agitate for improvements in the areas of land rights, use of natural resources, protection of environment and culture, political recognition and freedom from discrimination.  On December 30, 2010, the Republic of Congo adopted a law for the promotion and protection of the rights of African indigenous peoples. This law is the first of its kind in Africa, and its adoption was a historic development for indigenous peoples on the continent.

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