A Mursi woman with a plate in her lips



This unit outlines the key characteristics which identify indigenous peoples and communities in Africa. The African peoples who adopt the term ‘indigenous’ in their efforts to address their particular human rights situation can be found in various economic systems and are majorly hunter gatherers, pastoralists and small-scale farmers. They practise different cultures, have different social institutions and observe different religious systems. In Africa, examples of pastoral communities who identify as indigenous peoples include the Pokot of Kenya and Uganda, the Barabaig of Tanzania, the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, the Samburu, Turkana, Rendille, Endorois and Borana of Kenya, the Karamojong of Uganda, the Himba of Namibia and the Tuareg, Fulani and Toubou of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The hunter-gatherer communities who identify as indigenous peoples are the Pygmies of the Great Lakes Region1, the San of southern Africa, the Hadzabe of Tanzania and the Ogiek, Sengwer and Yakuu of Kenya. Also, the Amazigh of North Africa also identify as indigenous peoples.

For a group to be identified as indigenous it has to have a way of life considerably different from that of the dominant society, their cultures are threatened, even to the point of becoming extinct. The survival of majority of these groups is dependent on their access to traditional lands and the natural resources inherent.

Like indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, the indigenous peoples in Africa suffer from discrimination as they are regarded as less developed and less advanced than other more dominant sectors of society. These groups are inhabitants of remote inaccessible regions, often geographically isolated, and suffer from various forms of marginalization, both politically and socially. They are subjected to domination and exploitation within the national political and economic structures that are commonly designed to reflect the interests and activities of the national majority. This however points out the violation of the rights of these groups as they suffer discrimination, domination and marginalization.

A major threat to these indigenous groups, hunter-gatherers, pastoralist and others alike, is eviction. They have often been evicted from their land or denied access to the natural resources upon which their survival as peoples depends. Some of the reasons for this include; development paradigms favoring settled agriculture over other modes of production such as pastoralism and subsistence hunting/gathering; the establishment of national parks and conservation areas, and large-scale commercial enterprises such as mining, logging, commercial plantations, oil exploration, dam construction etc. A result of this is that the knowledge through which indigenous peoples have sustained life over the centuries has been undermined, and has led to a negation of their livelihood systems and deprivation of their resources.

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