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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
- 10 Jul 2014 -
Tuareg leader speaks at UN side event on human rights and international duties regarding Mali
Geneva, Switzerland – 08 July 2014 Palais des Nations IPACC hosted a side event on indigenous peoples’ rights in post-conflict zones in Africa. The focus was on the ongoing threats to hu ...
- 9 Jul 2014 -
IPACC addresses EMRIP 7 on Disaster risk reduction
Statement on EMRIP Agenda Item 6: DRR Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) and Natural Justice   08 July 2014 Joseph Itongwa, Democratic Republic of Congo   &nbs ...
Upcoming Events
- 22 Sep 2014 -
United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, September 22-23, 2014
United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, September 22-23, 2014

The high-level plenary meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, to be known as the World Conference on I ...
- 6 Oct 2014 -
12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) 6 to 17 October 2014 – Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea
Conference of the Parties (COP)
Background and Status

The Conference of the Parties is the governing body of the Convention, and advances implementation of the Convention through the decisio ...
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