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Who is Indigenous?
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the indigenous world
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Central Africa
East Africa
North Africa
Sahel Horn of Africa
Southern Africa
West Africa
Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso,
Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon

Regional Representatives (2012-2014) :

Regional Representative : Sada ALBACHIR, Tuareg, Niger
Deputy Regional Representative : Mohamed EWANGAYE, Tuareg, Niger
Women's Representative : Zahra MOHAMMED-ATTAYOUB, Tuareg, Niger

Background and Ethnic Overview

In West Africa, many groups claiming indigenous status emphasise their historical relationship with the Sahara, their continued adherence to nomadic pastoralist economic and cultural systems, and a cultural heritage that predates agriculture in the region. These groups include the Bororo (Mbororo/ Wodaabe), the Tuareg, and the Tubu (Teda/ Daza). The Bororo are part of the larger Peuhl / Fulani language and cultural group in West Africa. These groups are the most adherent to their traditional nomadic culture and identity. The Tuareg and Tubu peoples include nomads as well as those living in the oasis, who live in symbiosis with the pastoralists.

The claim for collective rights as indigenous peoples arises from the marginalisation of Saharan nomads, first under colonialism and then later by independent states. The people of the Sahara and its oases are politically dominated by sedentary agricultural peoples living in the South.

Other extremely vulnerable groups include the Bassari hunters of Senegal and the Nemadi hunters of Mauritania. The Ogoni people of the Delta Region of Nigeria also claim indigenous status in the face of severe environmental disruption caused by oil explorations by Royal Dutch Shell and the subsequent human rights abuses carried out by the previous central government.

Regional Review
The Saharan region of West Africa was gripped with severe armed civil conflict and extreme human rights abuses between 1991 and 1995. The origins of the conflict can be traced to policies that exclude nomads from governance and policy making. Other major factors include the vulnerability of nomads during drought years, widespread corruption in the government, police and military, as well as ‘racial’ conflicts rooted in historic inequities. The military situation remains unstable and many nomad civilians are still traumatised by events in the 1990s. The region urgently needs a truth and reconciliation process to face up to past events and build a better future.
Today, there are still unresolved tensions in the region. There has been symbolic representation of nomads in the political systems of several countries, but there has been no serious effort to create substantive democracy that meets the needs of nomads and sedentary peoples and addresses the ongoing economic marginalisation of the north.

Deforestation and climate change continue to be urgent issues for indigenous peoples in West Africa. The destruction of grazing lands, deforestation, drought, access to safe water, destruction of plants and animals, and the displacement of indigenous peoples are all ongoing problems. Another major concern is the protection and promotion of the ways that indigenous peoples pass knowledge from one generation to the next. Urgent attention needs to be given to the issue of educational access for nomads which does not break transhumant cycle.

Tuareg, Tubu and other pastoralist indigenous people are dissatisfied by the slow progress in integrating nomadic peoples into governance and decision making in Mali and Niger; the 1996 peace agreements were not well implemented. In Mali (Adrar des Ifoghas) the government and the Tuareg movements reached a ceasefire, but the situation is not stable, and the Tuareg have their weapons at their feet. In Niger, a war began between the pastoralist coalition movement and the government of Niger. On 8 February, Tuareg rebels attacked a military garrison in the Air & Tenere Reserve area. 3 soldiers were killed.

The Nigerien democracy movement is calling for fundamental changes in the use of profits arising from uranium mining. There are serious concerns about human rights violations by the national armies. For more information please see: The letter submitted by a collective of human rights organisations in Europe to the European Parliament appealing for help with the crisis in the North of Niger; The report from the West African IPACC network on 'Les peuples autochtones de l’espace sahélo-sahariens, le pétrole… et les Etats Unis d’Amérique et leur terrorisme exporté'; and The Manifesto of the Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice (M.N.J). The website Temoust is a valuable and up-to-date source of information on the Touareg people. (All documents and websites are in French)

Tunfa, COGERAT, ONG GAGE, UNESCO, CTA and IPACC cooperated on a second Participatory 3 Dimensional Modeling that was held in the village of Iferouane, which is the gateway to the Air & Tenere Reserve, a World Heritage Site. The mapping was conducted by Tuareg people including nomads, traditional leaders, women, and youth. It was also a training opportunity for other Saharan and Sahelian nomadic and oasis dwelling indigenous peoples.

Mr. Aboubakr Babagana became the first Kanuri community representative from Nigeria to attend the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in NYC in May 2007.

The IPACC Executive Committee met in Bujumbura, Burundi from April 16th-19th, 2007, to discuss how problems such as deforestation and climate change can be addressed through the inclusion of indigenous peoples in national environmental policies, and recognition of indigenous knowledge systems.

West African delegates were concerned about climate changes and increasing drought. They felt that old knowledge of water management in pastoralism and arid area agriculture needs more attention and recognition, and that the rush to modernise in agriculture has put aquifers at risk now that the climate is changing.

For full details of the IPACC Executive Committee meeting in Bujumbura see this IPACC article. Governments need sensitisation regarding traditional knowledge systems and the economic viability of transhumant pastoralism.

Bororo and Tubu communities are also increasingly organised as a civil society. Their primary concerns are the recurring drought and problems of borders and instabilities which threaten their nomadic economy.

During IPACC’s 2006 mission to northern Niger, many local politicians and nomads complained that international development assistance went to the south where the government has its traditional political strength amongst Hausa, Djerma and Songhai agricultural peoples. Allegedly, much of the food aid was misused and very little got to where it was most needed. Several European countries signed assistance agreements with the government in Niamey without consulting indigenous peoples or visiting their territories. Food aid needs to take into consideration the situation of nomads, access to water and the ability to sell off livestock before starvation settles in. Indications were that the drought would worsen in 2006.

In February 2006, Tunfa Association in co-operation with Mbodscuda, Tin Hinan and the regional advocacy network Tasghalt, hosted a five-day conference for indigenous nomadic peoples of the Sahara and Sahel. (See separate downloadable reports in English and French).

40 community associations from Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, southern Algeria, Chad and northern Cameroon attended the workshop. The conference focussed on the themes of good governance, the Millennium Development Goals, strengthening civil society capacity, and building up regional advocacy alliances and capacity.

In Niger, the armed conflict flared again in 2005. The only Tuareg minister in the government was accused of murder by state officials. This led to renewed tensions north of Agadez, the region where the Tuareg conducted a 6 year rebellion against Niamey in the 1990s. The rebel activity carried on for three months but was subdued with substantial American military assistance to the Nigerien army. The United States is providing military support to potentially oil rich countries, including Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Chad. Local governments are using the military resources to deal with internal political issues rather than promoting peace in the region. Activists are concerned about the negative impact that US military assistance is having on the consolidation of democracy in the Saharan states. There needs to be international monitoring of the impact of US troops and militarisation in the Sahara.

In Mali, corruption in the police and military remains a problem for the whole country. It fosters feelings of insecurity and reminds those who were tortured or lost family members during the civil war that they are still vulnerable without secure human rights.

For Niger and neighbouring countries, 2005 was dominated by the drama of the extended drought. Nomadic pastoralists ran out of water for their herds. Government restrictions on the sale of livestock and the poor transport infrastructure meant that both animals and humans were starving.

The Saharan and Sahelian congress in Agadez held a special commission on environmental issues (see downloadable report). Concerns included pollution from petrol exploration on the coast of Mauritania, siltation of the Niger River in Mali, open pit uranium mining in Niger, toxic waste dumps in Algeria and other countries, the gas pipeline through Bororo territories in Chad and Cameroon.

Much progress was made for indigenous organizations in 2005. Indigenous nomads in seven West African countries created a regional advocacy network called Tasghalt. Tuareg groups made alliances with less organised nomadic Bororo/Wodaabe and Tubu groups. The Burkinabe nomad organisation, Tin Hinan, promoted literacy and human rights training, as well as women’s livelihood projects.

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