The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC) is a network of 150 indigenous peoples’ organisations in 20 African countries. It is a membership organisation. Any legitimate organisation composed of African indigenous peoples is welcome to apply for membership. Other associations working in development, human or indigenous rights may apply for associate (non-voting) membership. Members elect an Executive Committee representing six geographic and cultural regions in Africa including a special regional representative of indigenous women.
IPACC is accredited with the UN Economic and Social Council, the UN Environment Programme, the Global Environment Facility, UNESCO and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.
IPACC’s main aims include:
- Promote recognition of and respect for indigenous peoples in Africa;
- Promote participation of indigenous African peoples in United Nations’ events and other international forums;
- Strengthen leadership and organisational capacity of indigenous civil society in Africa in particular strengthening subregional networks of indigenous peoples;
The Bujumbura 2007 meeting of the IPACC Executive Committee also adopted a framework to strengthen the participation of indigenous peoples in environmental policy, protection and sustainable management and use of natural resources;
IPACC’s view is that all peoples in Africa should be able to contribute to the economy and governance of our countries. There was a time when indigenous peoples were respected for their advanced spiritual and technical knowledge of the forests, savannah and deserts. Indigenous peoples are still often sought out as healers, trackers, rainmakers and animal behaviourists. However, due to their marginalisation under colonialism, indigenous peoples are sometimes ignored by African states or are seen as anachronistic and ‘backwards’. The cultures and economies of many indigenous peoples are at risk due to policies and practices that do not take their needs and knowledge into account.
The impact of globalisation of communications and economies means that the activities of multinational companies are reaching deep into remote areas of Africa. Globalisation comes in the form of uranium or diamond mining, logging, agriculture or oil exploration. Where indigenous peoples are not part of national development planning, they can become victims of major environmental changes which destroy their livelihoods and cultures.
Even conservation of the environment can cause unnecessary displacement and marginalisation of indigenous peoples. Numerous African national parks have caused the expulsion of indigenous peoples and then not offered them opportunities to assist in conservation activities.
It is through strengthening representative organisations and leadership that indigenous peoples will be able to speak directly to governments.
As Gabonese Bakoya Pygmy activist, Leonard Odambo has said:
''We, the indigenous peoples, must be the authors and actors of our own destiny.''
In 1994, the United Nations declared its first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1994-2004). Two main results emerged from the first Decade:
- Human rights experts worked closely with indigenous peoples to draft a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The non-binding standards document was not approved by the General Assembly by end of the Decade.
- The United Nations created a high-level committee, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) to review and comment on the work of all UN agencies dealing with indigenous peoples. The UNPFII, is a sub-Committee of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the highest organs in the UN system. It has a broad and powerful mandate though a limited budget. It is composed of 8 government representatives and 8 indigenous experts elected by indigenous civil society from around the world.
Other major instruments for indigenous peoples’ recognition and participation at the United Nations include:
- International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples;
- Components of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) that require indigenous stakeholder participation;
- UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity which highlights the protection of indigenous heritage and livelihoods;
- Resolutions in major UN forums including the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.
Inside Africa, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights reviewed the issue of indigenous peoples and came to the conclusion in 2003 that this is a concern for Africa. IPACC has observer status at the African Commission.
IPACC - 10 years on
IPACC was born out of the African caucus of indigenous peoples at the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held annually in Geneva. It took several years before indigenous Africans could overcome language and organisational challenges to found a sustainable structure. The IPACC Annual General Meeting in 1997 adopted the first constitution for IPACC.
A Secretariat was opened in South Africa in 1998 and started the process of fund raising and building a communications strategy. Over the years, the Executive Committee, Trust and Secretariat have worked to improve IPACC’s capacity.
Executive Committee meetings have been held in South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Burkina Faso and Burundi to work out policies, procedures structures and strategies. The April 2007 meeting in Bujumbura highlighted the need for indigenous Africans to be involved in the Rio Conventions processes and more generally in African environmental policy making and implementation. Emphasis is placed on how traditional knowledge can be used to help promote sustainable development in rural areas.
IPACC has conducted missions to various African countries to promote awareness of indigenous rights and to stimulate further organisational development and communications. Major recent events include a workshop on traditional knowledge of tracking Tsumkwe, Namibia in September 2006, and participatory mapping exercises and preparations in Kenya and Niger.
Missions have been conducted in Morocco, Niger, Burkina-Faso, Mali, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia and Gabon. IPACC has created a small projects grant facility for regional advocacy and lobbying initiatives around Africa.
IPACC has put its grant making resources into supporting Kenyan indigenous civil society, as well as supporting human rights training and capacity building in Morocco, Niger, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, DR Congo, Burundi and South Africa. IPACC has played a key role in various international forums including the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in South Africa (1999), the World Congress against Racism (2000) and the World Parks Congress (2003).
In 2006, IPACC held its first electronic election in Africa. IPACC has its strongest mandate ever and a team of qualified indigenous leaders working on behalf of their communities and with a vision of a better and more inclusive Africa.
IPACC cooperates with three major networks. The Coordination Autochtones Francophone unites indigenous peoples from French speaking states. Most of its members are in Africa and active in IPACC. IPACC ExCo member Dr Mohammed Handaine was elected as chair in Agadir, Morocco in 2006. IPACC cooperates on joint events with the African Biodiversity Network including partnerships with Shalin Suomi Ry which is based in Helsinki. IPACC supports the work of the African Indigenous Women's Organisation (AIWO).
IPACC associated networks include the Hunter-Gatherer Forum of East Africa and Tasghalt, the Saharan-Sahelian indigenous peoples network of West Africa. IPACC also cooperates with the Working Group on Indigenous Minorities of Southern Africa and related bodies and structures.