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Who are the Indigenous Peoples of Africa?

Today, groups claiming to be ‘indigenous’ in Africa are mostly those who have been living by hunting and gathering; by transhumant (migratory nomadic) pastoralism. and those practicing traditional drylands horticulture including oasis cultures.

These different peoples represent the backbone of Africa's traditional knowledge of nature and sustainable development in remote rural areas.

Indigeneity is associated with both the negative experience of discrimination and marginalisation from governance, as well as the positive aspects of being holders of unique knowledge which has emerged through the long-term management of arid area and tropical forest ecosystems. Indigenous cultures arise and are sustained by the wise use of natural resources.

Some Africans may be offended by the idea that one ethnic group should be called ‘indigenous’ and others not. IPACC recognises 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. These ‘first-peoples’ or ‘autochthonous peoples’ have associated themselves with the United Nations’ standards on the rights of indigenous peoples. This is not to deny other Africans their status; it is to emphasise that affirmative recognition is necessary for hunter-gatherers and herding peoples to ensure their survival.

The claims to being indigenous in Africa are related to a cluster of characteristics:

  • political and economic marginalisation 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.

Recent efforts to map Africa’s genetic prehistory are drawing attention to the fact that ‘first peoples’ have a great antiquity on the continent. Africa is recognised by geneticists and archaeologists as the cradle of humankind. Africa has the greatest genetic and linguistic diversity of any continent. There have been major technical advances over the last decade in reading genetic signatures and unravelling prehistory of Africa. Peoples such as the San and Khoe, the Hadzabe, and the various ‘Pygmy’ forest peoples represent some of the oldest gene types on the planet.

Genetics is not the basis of human rights, but it does reflect that the distribution of power between different peoples in Africa is born of a long history and cannot be dismissed.
Breaking News
- 25 Mar 2014 -
Major breakthrough for indigenous peoples rights in Kenya
Kenya: Landmark decision recognises Ogiek community as indigenous right-holders   In a landmark decision, the court of Kenya identifies the Ogiek community of Mau forest as both indigenous and ...
- 24 Mar 2014 -
Indigenous leaders and national Presidents meet in Congo - support UN World Conference
We, the Indigenous People of the ECCAS region, participants of the International Forum of Indigenous People of Central Africa which was organised in Impfondo, Republic of Congo from 3 to 7 March 2014 ...
Upcoming Events
- 28 Apr 2014 -
28 April - 12 May 2014 55th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) is a quasi-judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights and collective (peoples') rights throughout the African continent ...
- 12 May 2014 -
13th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 12-23 May 2014
Thirteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

12-23 May 2014
United Nations Headquarters, New York
Special Theme: “Principles of good governance consisten ...
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