Indigenous peoples in East Africa face issues including ethnic discrimination, encroachment of lands and resources, violence associated with political interests and / or environmental conflicts. They experience a lack of political voice in decision-making and impacts of corruption. The most serious problem in the region is land and natural resource tenure insecurity. This is exacerbated by growing interest in making lands and minerals available for multinational expropriation without recognition of indigenous people’s rights.
Hunter-gatherers were ‘de-proclaimed” as ethnic groups under British rule in Kenya. Non-recognition of hunter-gatherers and forest dwellers has been a major threat to human and civil rights. Similarly, transhumant pastoralists have struggled to sustain security of tenure over their territories and resources. Uganda, Ethiopia and northern Kenya have been best with civil conflicts over scarce resources for more than two decades. All four countries have serious issues with human rights standards, often associated with corruption in the political system and state security services.
In 2010, Kenya adopted a new Constitution that mentioned for the first time rights of minority and marginalized communities, and specifically noted that hunter-gatherers should have legally affirmed land rights. However, effective implementation remains as a challenge for the government. Overt issues of human rights abuses in Kenya have included a series of violent actions by Kenya Forest Services (KFS) against indigenous peoples in protected areas or in conserved forests. IPACC is working with various communities and authorities to promote a national strategy on linking human rights with conservation and climate change policies and practices.
A major concern in the region is the on-going practice of female circumcision. IPACC leaders have been active in educating Nilotic communities about the health and human rights problems associated with extreme forms of female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Equitable access to schooling remains a major challenge for indigenous peoples and particularly for indigenous girls. Hunter-gatherer languages have become endangered as a result of their marginalisation.
Deforestation and destruction of livelihoods.
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia all have similar situations where peoples who traditionally lived within natural forests, collect wild honey and other forest foods are not considered to be owners or even users of the land. Their livelihoods are not seen as productive by their governments, who believe that the only productive economic activities are those that involve formal agriculture.
Kenya’s forest cover has decreased from 10% of its surface in 1963 to 1.7% in 2005. In approximately the same period Ethiopian highland forests declined from 16% national coverage to 2.7% and falling.
Governments are encouraging industrial mono-cropping and biofuel plantations as well as illegal and semi-legal deforestation. The forest situation is at crisis level in Kenya and Ethiopia. Deforestation and climate change continue to be urgent issues for indigenous peoples in the East and Horn of 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 transfer of indigenous knowledge from one generation to another.
In February 2010 the African Commission on Human and People's Rights condemed the expulsion of the Endorois people from their land in Kenya. The Commission ruling raises the issue of indigenous people’s land rights to a regional and international level. Kenya more seriously engages with these issues but continues to act inconsistently on redressing systemic discrimination and legal biases.
In January 2014, thousands of Sengwer indigenous peoples are forcibly removed from Embobut by the government. This is part of an ongoing cycle of victimisation and violence against forest-based indigenous peoples in the name of conservation.
East Africa has major challenges about its use of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and the inscribed World Heritage Sites. None of the countries have managed to provide best practice examples of involving indigenous peoples in the inscription, governance and long term management of these sites under the global treaty. Of particular importance are Ngorongoro Crater, Mt Elgon, Lake Bogoria and the highly threatened Lake Turkana. Ethiopia and Kenya appear to be conspiring to destroy Lake Turkana through the construction of a major dam project on the Omo River, the Gibe III dam. Indigenous peoples and environmentalists have expressed outrage at the threats to one of Africa’s major inland lakes.