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date: 24 March 2019

Indigenous Peoples in Africa

Summary and Keywords

Moringe ole Parkipuny addressed the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (UNWGIP) in 1989 and, for the first time, opened up discussion of the idea that certain groups of hunter-gathers and pastoralists in Africa merited the status of indigenous peoples. Local activists and international organizations took up the cause in the following decades. Several international conferences resulted in new forms of activism, the reformulation of local identities, and a growing body of scholarship addressing African indigeneity. As NGOs built solidarity among relatively scattered groups of pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, often skeptical state governments initially resisted what they saw as demands for recognition of status and claims to “special rights.” Disagreements between state interests and newly organized indigenous groups were expressed at the United Nations during the process of adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); but as the idea of indigeneity evolved through such discussions, African governments gradually came on board. International activism and work done by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights play significant roles in convincing African states to accept the concept of “indigenous peoples.” The issue of developing a definition of “indigenous peoples” appropriate for Africa remains unsettled and continues to present challenges. Mobilization among marginalized groups on the African continent itself, however, has presented NGOs, activists, states, and courts with the opportunity, through well-publicized struggles and several landmark legal cases, to refine the category to better fit with African contexts.

Keywords: indigenous, rights, identity, United Nations, ACHPR, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers

Given the antiquity of human habitation on the African continent, a history of indigenous peoples might be a history of all Africans, or it might be a history of all Africans prior to colonization. Or perhaps it could be a history of all Africans before the great migrations that dispersed and mixed languages and cultures. But the recognition of any occupants of the African continent as indigenous in the current, legally significant sense was relatively recent. A history of indigenous peoples in Africa is a history of a concept of indigeneity that continues to be crafted for the African context. The development of the concept of indigenous Africans involved the work of visionary leaders, newly formed interest in the donor community for grassroots “cultural survival” projects, the rise of neoliberalism and the concomitant withdrawal of state resources from development initiatives, and the failure of more traditional modes of activism to achieve social justice goals.1

Early Indigenous Activism

The indigenous people’s movement in Africa began in the late 1980s, when communities in East Africa started participating in international advocacy networks. On August 3, 1989, the first African to address the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (UNWGIP), Moringe ole Parkipuny, claimed that pastoralists and hunter-gatherers in Africa “suffer from common problems which characterize the plight of indigenous people throughout the world.”2 Parkipuny, a Maasai activist and Member of Parliament from Tanzania, noted that land rights and rights of pastoralists and hunter-gatherers to cultural identity were not protected by African states.3 Over the twenty years following Parkipuny’s speech, Africa witnessed an expansion of indigenous activism, as NGOs formed regional networks to pressure African governments to recognize indigenous rights. (See Table 1 for a provisional list of indigenous groups in Africa.)

Table 1. Provisional List of Current Groups Identifying as Indigenous

The still-shifting definition of indigenous peoples, together with changes in who self-identifies as indigenous or is recognized as indigenous by others (whether by state governments or by NGOs) ensures that any list of African indigenous peoples is highly provisional and tentative. It is also the case that different subgroups of various ethnic communities go by different names at various times and in different contexts. Furthermore, there is no absolute distinction between pastoralism and hunting and gathering; and, in many cases, traditional subsistence strategies are no longer practiced, so the categorizations used here are generalizations. The following list is assembled from recent reports by IWGIA and IPACC.






Amazigh/Tuareg, Mozabite, Toubou

Burkina Faso

Peul, Tuareg


Tuareg, Mbororo Peul, and Toubou




Tuareg, Fulani


Tuareg, Mbororo, and Toubou





Peul, Tuareg, Toubou


Ogoni* (fishing and farming)







Mbororo, Kirdi

Bagyeli/Bakola, Baka, Bedzan

Central African Republic




Mbororo Peul

Democratic Republic of Congo

Mbuti, Baka, Batwa


Baka, Babongo, Bakoya, Baghame, Barimba, Akoula, Akwoa

Republic of Congo

Bakola, Tswa, Batwa, Babong, Baaka, Mbendjel, Mikaya, Bagombe, Babi





Pastoralists throughout Ethiopia



Turkana, Rendille, Borana, Maasai, Samburu, Ilchamus, Somali, Gabra, Pokot, Endorois

Aweer, Ogiek, Sengwer, Yaaku, Waata, El Molo, Aweri (Boni), Malakote, Wagosh, Sanye




Datoga/Barabaig, Maasai

Akie, Hadzabe


Ik, Karamojong

Benet, Batwa/Twa



Himba, Kuvale, Zemba

Khwe and !Kung (San), Kwis, Kwepe


San (including Ju/’hoansi, Bugakhwe, Khwe-ǁAni, Ts’ixa, ‡X’ao-//’aen, !Xóõ, ‡Khomani, Naro, G/ui, G//ana, Tsasi, Deti, Shua, Tshwa, Danisi and/Xaise), Balala, Nama


Nama, Himba, Zemba, Twa

San (including Khwe, Hai||om, Ju|’hoansi, !Xun, Naro, !Xoo)

South Africa

Nama, Koranna, Griqua, Cape Khoekhoe

San (including ‡Khomani, Khwe, and !Xun)


San/Tshwa (Tsoa, Cuaa), San/Doma (Vadema)

Mobilization was largely a result of the increasingly significant role that NGOs played in delivering development assistance. Networking between international organizations and local NGOs played a crucial role in reframing minority group issues as indigenous rights issues. Local NGOs supported by foreign donors and international NGOs (INGOs) focused on grassroots development initiatives. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), a long-established INGO based in Denmark, played a particularly significant role in promoting activism among people who were beginning to identify as indigenous Africans. The IWGIA sponsored and organized national and international workshops and conferences, and included discussions of the situation of indigenous groups in Africa in its yearbook and its magazine, Indigenous Affairs. It also provided financial support for African activists to attend meetings at the UNWGIP, and later the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

In June 1993, the IWGIA organized a “Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Africa” in Denmark. The conference hosted indigenous delegates, government representatives, and academics; and papers were presented on the situation of Maasai, Barabaig, and Inuyat-Ma pastoralists in East Africa, San groups in Southern Africa, “Pygmies” in Central Africa, and Tuareg pastoralists in Northwestern Africa.4 The conference occurred just before the start of the UN Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995–2004), which inspired a rapid increase in the number of NGOs dedicated to indigenous causes in Africa. Of the groups represented at the conference, East African pastoralists and San groups experienced the most intensive NGO-led activism.

Shortly after his groundbreaking speech at the UN, Parkipuny participated in the establishment of one of the first Maasai NGOs in Tanzania, Korongoro Integrated People Oriented to Conservation (KIPOC). Around the same time, another significant pastoralist NGO, Inyuat e Maa (Maa Pastoralists Development Organization/Maa Advancement Association) was established. Dorothy Hodgson notes that in the six years after the establishment of KIPOC, the number of registered NGOs working with pastoralists and hunter-gatherers in Northern Tanzania increased more than tenfold.5 Tensions within and among NGOs, and the disorderly proliferation of NGO activities, inspired leaders to form a “pastoral caucus.” Under Parkipuny’s leadership, the caucus evolved into the umbrella organization, the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organization (PINGOS), which was established in 1994. The objective of the organization was to build capacity and solidarity among the various groups of pastoralists, some of whom, such as Maasai and Barabaig, had experienced a long history of conflicts with each other.

The indigenous community in East Africa numbers over 10 million people, and their leaders have had significant experience with national politics and international activist networks. The San communities in Southern Africa, who number approximately 120,000, have had limited exposure to national and international political forums and international advocacy organizations.6 However, as a regional community with a younger indigenous identity and a newer NGO infrastructure run largely by non-San staff, they also did not contend with the same level of distrust and divisiveness in their initial stages of development.

Namibian independence from apartheid South African rule in 1990 created important opportunities for San and their advocacy organizations to mobilize around indigenous claims. The First Regional Conference on Development Programmes for Africa’s San Populations was held in Windhoek, Namibia, in June 1992. The conference was funded by SIDA and NORAD and was organized by the Namibian Ministry of Lands, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation in cooperation with San organizations, specifically the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation and the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative.7 The conference was attended by a delegation from Botswana, although notably none were representatives of San NGOs. In response to pressure from local NGOs, the Second Regional San Conference was held in Gaborone, Botswana, in September 1993. These two conferences represented the first occasions on which members of San communities were able to engage in direct dialogue with government and donor representatives, and to consult with each other about their shared concerns and goals.8 During a follow-up Conference on Self-Development in D’Kar, Botswana, in May 1995, San delegates from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa expressed their desire to establish a regional network. In response, the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) was established in 1996. That same year, the South African San Institute (SASI) was founded.9

WIMSA functioned as an umbrella organization for smaller NGOs working with San in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Its role was to provide training for capacity building and empowerment, to secure donor funding, and to provide logistical support for San networking at regional and international forums. Older NGOs working with San restructured to coordinate with new NGOs, and reframed their identities and mandates to align with international indigenous support networks and funding opportunities. In Namibia, the Ju/wa Development Foundation, established in 1981, became the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia in 1991; and the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative, formed in 1986, became the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. Both organizations eventually worked closely with WIMSA. The Kuru Development Trust in D’Kar, Botswana, which had been established in 1986, evolved into the Kuru Family of Organizations (KFO), an umbrella organization that coordinated the activities of small programs and NGOs, including the Botswana branch of WIMSA, and eventually SASI as well. In each case, older NGOs expanded their focus on livelihoods and income generation to include programs for more conspicuously “indigenous” issues, such as land rights, language rights, cultural heritage, and local resource management. First Peoples of the Kalahari (FPK) was the only local NGO that was founded specifically as an indigenous people’s organization. Registered as a Trust in 1993, FPK was originally established by John Hardbattle, the son of a San mother and British father. After Hardbattle’s death in 1996, FPK cofounder Roy Sesnana became the public face of the organization, especially during the highly publicized forced relocation of San from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.

In 1997, SASI, working on behalf of WIMSA at the African Caucus of the UNWGIP, facilitated the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC).10 IPACC works in 20 countries throughout Africa. It currently has an 18-person Executive Committee, representing six regions of Africa, and a regional representative of indigenous women, along with a recently established Council of Elders.

Grassroots NGO mobilization occurred alongside significant developments in the advancement of indigenous causes on the African continent. In 1999, the IWGIA sponsored the first major conference in Africa on indigenous peoples, in Arusha, Tanzania. The conference was cohosted with PINGOS and resulted in the adoption of the Arusha Resolutions.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The Arusha Resolutions were a part of activist efforts to reinforce lobbying at the international level by utilizing African legal avenues, particularly the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The Resolutions included a request that the ACHPR establish a Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities (ACWGIP) to “consider all aspects of the rights of indigenous peoples in Africa and to promote consideration of the matter by African states.”11 Initially skeptical about the applicability of the category of “indigenous peoples” in Africa, the ACHPR responded to pressure from international and local advocacy organizations and agreed to investigate the issue. At its 28th Ordinary Session in 2000, the ACHPR adopted the Resolution on the Rights of Indigenous Populations/Communities, which provided for the establishment of ACWGIP in 2001. The mandate of the ACWGIP was to examine the concept of indigenous peoples in Africa; consider appropriate recommendations for monitoring and protecting the rights of indigenous communities; and examine the implications of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights for indigenous peoples, especially concerning rights to equality and dignity, self-determination, the promotion of cultural development and identity, and protection against domination.12

The AC Working Group engaged in extensive consultations with human rights experts and indigenous leaders and, in 2003, submitted a comprehensive report to the ACHPR.13 The report included a discussion of the human rights situation of groups in Africa identified as “indigenous,” primarily pastoralists and hunter-gatherers. It also provided an analysis of the African Charter and jurisprudence relevant to indigenous rights, an analysis of criteria for identifying indigenous groups in Africa, and a list of recommendations for the Commission. The report made the “bold assertion” that the “concept of ‘peoples’ can be elaborated to embrace indigenous peoples in Africa.”14 The report noted that indigenous rights address the specific ways that certain marginalized communities are discriminated against because of their distinctive cultures and modes of production. It emphasized the importance of collective rights to land and natural resources that are considered “closely related to the capacity of those groups to survive as peoples.”15 The AC Working Group argued that, while the notion of “peoples” may have originated in relation to colonial domination, the Constitutive Act of the African Union left out the objective of eradicating all forms of colonialism. Thus, in the postcolonial context, there is a justification for protecting the rights of subnational groups within states. Important precedents were also identified in the report for acknowledging forms of self-determination consistent with state sovereignty.16

The AC Working Group recommended the appointment of a special rapporteur on indigenous issues within the Commission, the establishment of a regular forum to address indigenous issues at sessions of the Commission, the inclusion of “the rights of indigenous populations in Africa” as a permanent item on the agenda in all ordinary sessions of the Commission, and an extension of the AC Working Group’s mandate. All of the recommendations were endorsed by the Commission.

The AC Working Group’s activities were supported by funding and expertise from the IWGIA, and the report reflected international influences almost as much as local African concerns. In its consideration of communications from indigenous communities, it drew inspiration from “various international human rights instruments,” especially the International Labour Organization (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (no. 107) and ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (no. 169).17 The ACHPR proved to be a particularly important ally for indigenous peoples in their efforts at the United Nations.

Africa and the UNDRIP

On September 13, 2007, after twenty-three years of negotiations between state representatives and indigenous activists, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The UNDRIP represents a significant development in international human rights standards, especially in its elaboration of collective rights. It was not until after South Africa became a democratic state in 1994 that African states began to participate in negotiations about the drafting of the UNDRIP and, as late-comers to the process of developing the principles that informed the Declaration, they were ill-prepared to formulate a considered and coordinated response to efforts to have the Declaration adopted by the General Assembly.18

In June 2006, the Declaration was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council. Of the thirty states that voted in favor, three were African—Cameroon, South Africa, and Zambia. Of the twelve states that abstained, six were African—Algeria, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia. Two states—Canada and Russia—voted against.19 At the General Assembly in November 2006, a group of African states, led by Namibia, circulated a Draft Aide Memoir outlining their concerns with the Declaration. First, they noted that “Africa is still recovering from the effects of ethnic-based conflict,” and expressed concern that the lack of a clear definition of “indigenous peoples” would “create tensions among ethnic groups and instability within sovereign States.”20 Second, they expressed concern that a right to self-determination (outlined in preambular paragraph 13 and in Articles 3 and 4 of the UNDRIP) might afford rights to secede and, thus, threaten the territorial integrity and political unity of African countries. Third, there was a possibility that indigenous land ownership could challenge state control over natural resources. Fourth, Article 5 of UNDRIP stipulated the right of indigenous peoples “to maintain and consolidate their separate political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, by maintaining the right, if that is their choice, to fully participate in the political, economic and cultural life of the State.” In this stipulation the African Group foresaw possible constitutional problems for African countries, and noted that the duty of states to consult with indigenous peoples and obtain consent before adopting legislative measures that affected them (outlined in Article 19) risked affording “subnational groups” veto power over national laws.

At the Eighth African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in January 2007, concerns were expressed about the “political, economic, social and constitutional implications of the declaration on the African continent,” and it was affirmed “that the vast majority of the peoples of Africa are indigenous to the African continent.”21 A decision was adopted to support the African Group’s position on the issues outlined in the Draft Aide Memoire, and the UN General Assembly ultimately approved a request from the Namibian delegation to postpone the vote on the Declaration so that the African Group’s concerns could be addressed. There followed almost a year of intense lobbying and negotiations.

The African Group’s Memoire prompted responses from African indigenous activists, especially those affiliated with IPACC and IWGIA, who launched numerous coordinated campaigns at the United Nations in New York City, issuing press releases, lobbying African states, and organizing meetings between African state representatives and African indigenous leaders. Lobbying in support of the UNDRIP primarily involved convincing opponents that the provisions of the Declaration were in keeping with the principles of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. In May 2007, the African Commission issued an Advisory Opinion that addressed the concerns of the African Group. The Advisory Opinion drew heavily from the earlier AC Working Group’s report and addressed the key issues raised by the African Group, namely, (i) self-determination and territorial integrity; (ii) control of territories and natural resources; (iii) the right to establish and maintain political, economic, social, and cultural institutions; and (iv) the definition of “indigenous peoples.”

Concerning self-determination and territorial integrity, the African Commission pointed out that the preamble of the UNDRIP emphasizes that “no provision of the present Declaration can be invoked to deny a people, whatever they may be, of their right to self-determination exercised in conformity with international law.”22 Articles 3 and 4 of the Declaration specify, respectively, that “Indigenous Peoples freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,” and that “in the exercise of their right to self-determination, the indigenous peoples have the right to autonomy or self-government in everything that concerns their internal and local affairs as well as ways and means to finance their autonomous activities.”23 The ACHPR insisted that both articles must be read together with Article 46 of the Declaration, which states that “nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the UN.”24 The Commission also noted that Article 46 reaffirms the inviolability of the integrity of states.25

The ACHPR further argued that the meaning of “self-determination” had “evolved” as a result of indigenous activism and that the notion of self-determination promoted by indigenous peoples is “compatible with the territorial integrity of the Nation States to which they belong.”26 For the ACHPR, “self-determination” meant the preservation of culture heritage, the right to enjoy particular socioeconomic ways of life, and the right to manage the politics of “internal and local affairs.”27 Ultimately, the ACHPR explained that self-determination for indigenous peoples in Africa,

should be understood as encompassing a series of rights relative to the full participation in national affairs, the right to local self-government, the right to recognition so as to be consulted in the drafting of laws and programs concerning them, to a recognition of their structures and traditional ways of living as well as the freedom to preserve and promote their culture. It is therefore a collection of variations in the exercise of the right to self-determination, which are entirely compatible with the unity, and territorial integrity of State Parties.28

Regarding concerns about territorial integrity, the ACHPR noted that “trans-national identification of indigenous communities is an African reality” and that such groups “cohabit in perfect harmony with the principle of territorial integrity and national unity.”29

The Draft Aide Memoire raised the concern that provisions in the UNDRIP for indigenous control over “developments affecting them and their lands, territories and resources” is “impracticable,” largely because constitutional provisions make the control of land and natural resources “the obligation of the State.”30 The Advisory Opinion pointed out that Article 21 of the African Charter states that “all peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources” and that this right “shall be exercised in the exclusive interest of the people. In no case shall a people be deprived of it.” Similar provisions were identified in other instruments adopted by the African Union.31

In response to the African Group’s concerns that the right to maintain and consolidate separate political, economic, social, and cultural institutions would be at odds with the state laws, the Advisory Opinion referred again to Article 46 of the UNDRIP, which stated that the Declaration was not to be interpreted to imply rights to “engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the UN.”32 The ACHPR also suggested that Articles 5 and 19 of the UNDRIP were reiterations of Articles 22(1) and (2) of the African Charter outlining duties of the state to attend to cultural rights while fulfilling its development-related obligations.33

In their reactions to the Draft Aide Memoire, activist organizations pointed out that indigenous groups in Africa do not include any secessionist movements and that pastoralist groups that have promoted secessionist agendas, such as Oromo, Tigre, and Eritrean groups, do not claim to be indigenous. Indigenous activists also pointed out that recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights would not promote ethnic conflict because it was not the same as granting “special rights” to particular groups, but was rather a way of ensuring that marginalized groups enjoy greater equality and inclusion within their societies.34

The ACHPR responded to the African Group’s concern over the lack of a definition of “indigenous peoples” by claiming that a definition is neither useful nor necessary and that it is more “constructive” to highlight “characteristics” that would enable the identification of indigenous populations and communities.35

After months of intense negotiations, in August 2007, a diplomatic effort led by Mexico and Peru resulted in an agreement between the African Group of States and the states that supported the Declaration. The agreement entailed including nine amendments to the UNDRIP, subject to the approval of the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus.36 The Declaration was adopted by a majority in the General Assembly, with 144 countries voting in support, 4 against, and 11 abstaining. The four opposing votes came from Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. All of the opposing countries have since reversed their position; Australia announced its support for the Declaration in 2009, and Canada, New Zealand, and the United States followed suit in 2010.

The ACHRP’s disinclination to offer a definition of indigenous peoples and its preference for identifying “characteristics” is in keeping with the position of the ACWGIP and international organizations. This, however, leaves the matter of identifying appropriate rights-bearing agents largely unsettled, a matter that continues to be the focus of ongoing debate.

Defining Indigenous Peoples

The only definition of “indigenous peoples” outlined in an international instrument that is legally binding on its signatories is the one outlined in the ILO Convention 169 (1989). In 2010, the Central African Republic became the first (and so far the only) African country to ratify the Convention. According to Article 1(1), the Convention applies to:

  1. (a) tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations;

  2. (b) peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.37

Article 1(2) states that “Self-identification as indigenous or tribal shall be regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to which the provisions of this Convention apply.”

The definition adopted by the ILO is similar to one proposed in 1986 by José Martinez Cobo, UN Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which states:

Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.

An indigenous person is, according to Cobo, a person who “belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group).”38 Cobo thus provided what was eventually adopted as the working definition in the UN system.

In 1999, Miguel Alfonso Martinez, Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, addressed the “Afro Asian problematique,” noting the blurred distinction between ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples. The claims that have been brought to the UN-WGIP were better referred, in his opinion, to the UN Working Group on Minorities.39 The UN ultimately did not adopt Martinez’s conclusions, but his position was recapitulated almost a decade later during the debate surrounding the vote on the UNDRIP.

In 2004, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues reiterated the official view of the UNWGIP that had been outlined in 1995 by Chairperson–Rapporteur, Erica-Irene Daes, who argued that no single definition of “indigenous peoples” could adequately capture the diversity and complexity of the category, and, thus a definition was “neither possible nor desirable.”40 The UNDRIP contains no definition of indigenous peoples. Nonetheless, standard characteristics used in international forums to identify indigenous peoples emphasize (i) prior occupancy, (ii) historical continuity, (iii) connections to territory, (iv) distinct cultural identities, (v) non-dominance, and (vi) self-identification.

In the African context, the criterion of prior occupancy has been the most problematic. References to “pre-invasion” and “precolonial” societies introduce additional problems—under colonial rule, all Africans are “indigenous.” But the difficulties are compounded by the complex history of migrations prior to the arrival of European colonists. Hodgson describes how this is especially relevant to the Maasai, who arrived in Tanzania and Southern Kenya about three hundred years ago, and for whom their early migration is significant to their cultural identity.41 Similarly, migrating and mobile pastoralist and foraging groups in Cameroon are considered migrants and newcomers by sedentary communities.42 The Khoisan (San and Nama) groups of Southern Africa are the only communities widely accepted as prior occupants of the region. Problems with identifying indigenous peoples led the ACHPR to insist that the term “indigenous” in Africa does not refer to “first inhabitants,” and so any African can legitimately consider themselves “indigenous”—in the sense of firstcomers—to the continent.43

Many African indigenous activists themselves do not claim to be “first people.” Their claims to indigenous status rely on “structural similarities” they share with indigenous groups in Australia and the Americas, especially in their relationships with state governments and the dominant sectors of their societies, all very much in keeping with Parkipuny’s original arguments. A structural emphasis was echoed by UN Special Rapporteur, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, in his report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Kenya, in which he claimed that the issue was not who came first, but shared experiences of dispossession and marginalization.44 The ACHPR emphasizes numerous such structural similarities, especially the dispossession of land and natural resources. The AC Working Group summarized the significant characteristics of indigenous peoples as follows:

  1. (1) Their cultures and ways of life differ significantly from the dominant society.

  2. (2) Their cultures are under threat, in some cases in risk of extinction.

  3. (3) Survival of their particular way of life is dependent on rights to their traditional land and natural resources.

  4. (4) They suffer forms of discrimination resulting from the view that they are less developed and less advanced than dominant members of society.

  5. (5) They often live in geographically isolated and inaccessible regions, and suffer from various forms of marginalization.

  6. (6) They are subject to domination and exploitation within national political and economic structures.45

The ACHPR insists that “discrimination, domination and marginalization” are the most significant characteristics of indigenous peoples in Africa, and are the important experiences shared in common with indigenous peoples throughout the world.46 According to the ACHPR, the term “indigenous” is internationally recognized as a concept used to “understand and analyze certain forms of inequalities and oppression.”47 And so, the term “indigenous peoples” refers to “a global movement fighting for rights and justice for those particular groups who have been left on the margins of development and who are perceived negatively by dominating mainstream development paradigms, whose cultures and ways of life are subject to discrimination and contempt and whose very existence is under threat of extinction.”48 Along with non-dominance, the ACHPR also emphasizes self-identification and a special attachment to the land. Cultural distinctiveness is also significant and connected to particular land-use patterns, which are considered “backward” by dominant sectors of society. Cultural distinctness is significant not only because it constitutes indigenous peoples as a unique subset of ethnic minorities, but also because it is their cultural distinctness that makes them the targets of discrimination.

While international and regional rights forums emphasized “structural” characteristics, some influential local NGOs emphasize the significance of distinct cultural identities, understood largely in terms of subsistence strategies and historical continuity. IPACC, for example, includes among the “cluster of characteristics” of indigenous peoples political and economic marginalization, resulting from the dominance of agricultural groups, and emphasizes the “particularities of culture, identity, economy and territory” that connect people to their “home environments.” Furthermore, the organization retains the significance of “first people” and “autochthonous” status, noting that peoples, “such as the San and Khoe, the Hadzabe, and the various ‘Pygmy’ first peoples represent some of the oldest genotypes on the planet.” IPACC also insists that genetics reflects the distribution of power in Africa and “cannot be dismissed.”49

The distinction between indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities is morally and politically significant because claims to indigenous status are meant to justify substantial rights, such as land rights, control over natural resources, and local self-determination.50 The distinction between indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, however, is often unclear. On the one hand, substantive criteria for defining “indigeneity” emphasize cultural distinctness. For Parkipuny, pastoralism and foraging result in culturally distinct identities that are central to indigenous status. “Structural” criteria, on the other hand, emphasize non-dominance and unique injustices that indigenous rights are meant to redress.

Cultural distinctness in itself is not sufficient to justify rights, as was clearly illustrated when a community of white South Africans (“Boerevolk”) attempted to gain UN recognition as indigenous peoples in 1996 on the grounds that they are the only white nation in Africa. Responding to a similar appeal from members of the Boerevolk, UN Special Rapporteur Stavenhagen stated in his 2005 report on indigenous people in South Africa, that the Boerevolk “do not meet the criteria of ‘indigenity,’” largely because they are not a “non-dominant” community.51 Non-dominance, however, can be difficult to determine. The Griqua community in South Africa was among the first to send representatives to the UNWGIP. Members of this community are descendants of Europeans and Africans, and their claim to indigenous status relies on San ancestry. However, under apartheid rule, they were legally classified as “Coloured” and were accorded higher status than black Africans. Although many remain marginalized in the post-apartheid context, most Griquas enjoy significantly more affluence and influence than San people. They are, thus, not straightforwardly non-dominant.

Ambiguities surrounding non-dominance also complicate the significance of subsistence strategies. Pastoralists are often not the most disempowered and impoverished in their countries. Furthermore, communities engaged in small-scale farming may be vulnerable to the kinds of injustices that are commonly associated with the struggles of pastoralists and foraging peoples. For example, during the 1990s, the Ogoni people in Nigeria promoted their rights as indigenous peoples in order to mobilize international support in response to military repression associated with the exploitation of oil resources on their land. The leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ken Saro-Wiwa, addressed the UNWGIP in 1992. Because the Ogoni are small-scale farmers, there was some skepticism among NGO representatives and even the UNWGIP Secretariat about their status as indigenous peoples. Furthermore, the Ogoni are one of approximately 250 ethnic communities in Nigeria, and there are questions as to why the Ogoni people count as indigenous when similar injustices are faced by numerous other marginalized ethnic minorities.52

The African context presented unique challenges to defining indigeneity, especially where prior and first occupancy of lands, and thus potential rights to lands and resources, were concerned. Emphasis was securely placed on the special patterns of marginalization and oppression that specific African groups shared with indigenous peoples elsewhere. But this redirection of emphasis was not utterly irrelevant to land rights, as can be seen from several important legal cases that further refined African understandings of indigenous peoples.

Important Indigenous Peoples’ Legal Cases

Indigenous peoples in Africa face significant common problems. First, many suffer the effects of land loss associated with colonial alienation of their territories and more recent government development initiatives. Postcolonial states pursue development strategies that promote commercial agriculture, mining, and the establishment of game parks, often resulting in forced relocation and sedentarization. The lack of recognized land rights makes the livelihoods of indigenous peoples precarious and leaves them vulnerable to state-sponsored dispossession, and to land-grabbing and encroachment on the part of commercial enterprises and other ethnic groups. Once they are dispossessed of their traditional territories and unable to practice traditional subsistence strategies, indigenous peoples are vulnerable to economic exploitation as casual laborers. They therefore also experience extreme deprivation: they tend to have the lowest income, health standards, and education levels; and high rates of unemployment, illiteracy, and mortality. Given their marginal status, indigenous peoples throughout Africa are vulnerable to human rights abuses; however, those in war zones are especially at risk, as were the San in Angola and Namibia during the anticolonial and anti-apartheid liberation struggles and as the Batwa are now in the Great Lakes region.

Much of the vulnerability indigenous peoples experience is owed to their political disempowerment. To date, the Central African Republic is the only country in Africa to have ratified ILO Convention 169 (in 2010) and its new constitution, adopted in 2015, includes protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. In 2015, a referendum in the Republic of the Congo resulted in the inclusion of provisions for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in its constitution. The Constitution of Cameroon mentions indigenous peoples and minorities specifically in its preamble, although it is not clear if the term refers to groups that are “indigenous” in the sense developed through international discourse.53 While there is progress being made in national political forums, many gains have also been achieved through major court cases.

The ≠Khomani San: First Peoples Mobilized

One of the first significant victories for a group claiming indigenous status was the successful land claim of the South African ≠Khomani San. The initial phase of the settlement was signed in 1999 and was finalized as the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement in 2002. The Agreement awarded 36,900 hectares of land to the ≠Khomani, along with an additional 25,000 hectares within the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park (KTP, formerly, the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park). The Agreement established a “contract park,” and gave the San the right to engage in cultural practices, such as hunting and gathering and a right to develop tourism ventures.

The San had been gradually dispossessed of their traditional territories after the establishment of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP) in 1931. They were initially displaced through the revocation of hunting rights and by reduced access to land and subsistence resources. Many of the San went to work on the farms of nearby white Afrikaners and members of the “Coloured” (mixed-race) community, and others moved into squatters’ villages in urban and peri-urban areas.54 One group of San, the Kruiper clan, worked at a “Bushman” tourist village in the private Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve.55 In the early 1990s, a South African lawyer, Roger Chennells, while investigating labor conditions at Kagga Kamma, discovered that the San who were resident there had a viable claim under the Restitution of Land Rights Act (1994). The Restitution of Land Rights Act was designed to redistribute land that had been alienated from local communities by the 1913 Natives Land Act.56 With the assistance of Chennells and the South African San Institute, a ≠Khomani “community” was pulled together from the now scattered population; a Communal Property Association was formed (in compliance with the terms of the Restitution Act); and legal documents were prepared for submission to the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, which has the power to investigate and settle claims, and to refer them to the Land Claims Court. The ≠Khomani claim was ultimately settled out of court.

The Restitution of Land Rights Act did not specifically target indigenous people, and the indigenous status of the ≠Khomani was not relevant to the legal case; however, the San’s image as an “ancient” community and as “first peoples,” shaped the arguments for the land claim and influenced development programs in the post-claim context.57 The ≠Khomani explicitly mobilized around an indigenous identity and their doing so was a significant factor in their ability to draw support and funding from NGOs.

Richtersveld: Under Indigenous Law

In December 1998, the Nama Khoisan group of the Richterseveld area of the Northern Cape Province in South Africa launched a land claim that traveled through the Land Claims Court (LLC), the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), and ultimately to the Constitutional Court (CC). The result was a landmark 2003 decision in the Nama’s favor. The court’s decision granted rights to land ownership to the Richtersveld community, along with the rights to minerals in the diamond-rich region.58 Richtersveld, and the surrounding land, had been annexed by the British Crown in 1847, but the Nama continued to reside and herd livestock in the area. After diamonds were discovered in 1925, access to land for subsistence activities was increasingly limited. Between 1989 and 1994, ownership of the land was transferred to the diamond-mining corporation, Alexkor. In 2000, the Richtersveld community launched a land claim under the Restitution Act and on the grounds of aboriginal title. The LCC avoided the issue of aboriginal title by shifting jurisdiction to other courts, likely out of concern that extending the scope of land claims to the period of colonial settlement would be prohibitively complicated and might exacerbate ethnic tensions. The LLC found that the Richtersveld case did not satisfy the condition in the Restitution Act that dispossession be a result of “past racially discriminatory law or practice.” The court thus dismissed their claim.

In 2003, the Richtersveld claimants appealed the decision to the SCA. The court concluded that the Richtersveld community had occupied and subsisted in the Richtersveld area until at least the mid-1920s and that they had a “right in land” based on a “customary law interest.” Alexkor appealed the ruling to the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The Richtersveld respondents argued that they held title according to a principle of “indigenous law ownership.” The CC eventually concluded that the Richtersveld community held a right to communal ownership of the land “under indigenous law,” and had maintained their land rights up until they were dispossessed of the land in 1925. The court also concluded that the process of dispossession was racially discriminatory. Thus, the Richtersveld community’s claim satisfied the conditions of the Restitution Act. As T. M. Chan notes, there is no substantial difference between the notion of “indigenous law ownership” and aboriginal title, and so the CC’s decision should be seen as establishing a principle of aboriginal title in South African law.59

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve: From Remote to Indigenous

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve was established in 1961, to “protect wildlife resources and reserve sufficient land for traditional use by hunter-gatherer communities of the Central Kalahari.”60 At this time, the CKGR was home to approximately 4,000 San and Bakgalagadi agropastoralists.61 After Botswana achieved independence in 1966, the state pursued an assimilationist strategy to “develop” the San. The Remote Area Development Programme (RADP) was established in 1978, and San and poor Bakgalagadi were classified as ethnically neutral “Remote Area Dwellers” (RADs).62 From 1970 to 1980, 15 boreholes were sunk in the CKGR, and San and Bakgalagadi began moving to permanent settlements inside the reserve.63 By the mid-1980s, however, the government of Botswana decided that human and livestock populations in the reserve were threatening wildlife and that it was too difficult to deliver development resources to remote settlements. The government thus began to pressure the San and Bakgalagadi to leave the reserve. Three waves of forced removals in 1997, 2002, and 2005 ultimately relocated over 2,000 San from the CKGR to the settlements outside the reserve.64 In April 2002, a coalition of NGOs brought an application to the High Court of Botswana. Survival International eventually took over the case, creating tensions with local NGOs and engaging in a controversial international “shame-and-blame” campaign.65

In December 2006, Botswana’s High Court ruled that the San had been forcibly removed from land they lawfully occupied in the CKGR. The victory, however, was only partial. The ruling restricted the right of return to 189 applicants and their children. The right to return was not extended to future generations. Furthermore, the ruling did not oblige the government of Botswana to restore services and water resources in the CKGR. Observers suggested that the government’s narrow interpretation of the High Court’s ruling was a punitive reaction to the interventions of Survival International.66

Although San claims in the CKGR were of only limited success, the argument they made was important for shifting emphasis to cultural distinctness, and in the process the contrast between ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples was further sharpened and clarified.

Endorois: Cultural Integrity

In 2003, a Kenyan NGO, the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE) and its partner, the international NGO, Minority Rights Group, filed a complaint to the ACHPR on behalf of the Endorois community. The complaint alleged violations against the Endorois resulting from their earlier expulsion from ancestral territories around Lake Bogoria in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The Endorois were displaced as a result of the establishment of the Lake Bogoria Game Reserve in 1973. Further marginalization and displacement followed the building of game lodges, roads, and the granting of mining concessions. Displacement meant the loss of grazing and water resources as well as the loss of culturally significant sites. After meeting with no success in national courts, the Endorois took their case to the African Commission. They claimed that removal from their land undermined their pastoral way of life, jeopardized their economic well-being, threatened their cultural integrity, and that the development ventures undertaken on their land violated their right to be involved in development initiatives that affected them. In their submission to the ACHPR, the Endorois claimed to be a “people,” according to the terms of the African Charter, and thus entitled to benefit from provisions of the Charter that protect collective rights. The specific rights they alleged that the Kenyan state had violated were: the right to practice their religion (Article 8); the right to property (Article 14); the right to culture (Article 17); rights to free disposition of natural resources (Article 21); and the right to development (Article 22).67 In its deliberations, the Commission drew from the ACWGIP Report, and regarded a spiritual attachment to a particular territory as a key distinguishing feature of indigenous peoples. After reviewing the case, the Commission concluded that the Endorois are, indeed, an indigenous community because they are “distinct” and they are a “people,” entitled to protection of their collective rights. The Commission ultimately found that the Endorois’ rights had been violated and recommended that the Kenyan government recognize Endorois ownership rights, restore their ancestral territories, grant title to their lands, provide compensation for losses, and take measures to allow the Endorois to receive benefits from ventures within the game reserve. On February 4, 2010, the African Union adopted the decision of the ACHPR in favor of the Endorois.

Indigenous Peoples in AfricaClick to view larger

Figure 1. Endorois Elders Perform a Ritual on March 20, 2010, on the Shores of Lake Bogoria in Kenya to Celebrate Finally Returning to Their Ancestral Lands, Thanks to a Landmark Decision by the African Union.

Photo credit TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images, #97895834.

This landmark ruling represents the first time that the Commission recognized the rights of indigenous peoples to land, religious freedoms, and development, which amounts to an acknowledgment of the right to cultural integrity.68 Gabrielle Lynch notes, however, that so far the ruling has not resulted in concrete benefits to the Endorois, and so the case also illustrates the importance of recognition by national governments to the process of securing rights and resources.69

In the brief period from the success of the ≠Khomani San claim in 1999 to the 2010 decision on behalf of the Endorois, we see the idea of African indigeneity becoming increasingly robust, and serving as an increasingly effective tool in land right claims.

Discussion of the Literature

The literature on indigeneity in Africa has long been dominated by a passionate debate in Kalahari hunter-gatherer studies that erupted around the same time that the indigenous peoples’ movement gained momentum in Africa. The “Kalahari debate” was triggered by the publication of Edwin Wilmsen’s book, Land Filled with Flies in 1989. In fact, academic and public debates developed in conversation with each other as activists, lawyers, and government officials drew from scholarly work to support their claims, and as academics increasingly dedicated attention to indigenous identity politics.

Very broadly, there were two sides to the Kalahari debate: On the one hand, the “traditionalist” view, with its roots in cultural ecology, focused on how hunting and gathering cultures evolved by adapting to ecological conditions in relative isolation from other groups. On the other hand, the “revisionist” side argued that Kalahari foragers—and the San as an ethnic group—were created when various groups of Bantu-speaking pastoralists moved into the Kalahari and marginalized and dominated the people now called “San.” According to revisionists, the racial-ethnic category “Bushmen” was constructed when foragers and serfs became the subjects of colonial discourse about “primitive tribes.”70 Revisionists adopted a social constructionist approach and saw San ethnic identity as an imposed fiction that masks class distinctions.71 Social constructionist arguments have their roots in Marxist scholarship and the “invention-of-tradition” approach that emerged to challenge apartheid by deconstructing essentialist notions of culture and ethnicity.72 While social constructionism is useful for analyzing class-like injustices, its deconstructionist program is hostile to indigenous claims. Thus, proponents of the revisionist position were highly critical of indigenous activism, and accused the movement of nativism, tribalism, and neo-racism. The traditionalist view I was essentialist, and regarded foraging as essential to San ethnic identity. Essentialist arguments lend themselves more readily to indigenous rights agendas; however, they are also perceived as associated with the Volkekunde School of anthropology in South Africa, which provided racialized conceptions of culture as ideological support for the apartheid system.73 The Kalahari debate transformed into the “indigenous peoples debate” when the anthropologist, Adam Kuper, launched a critique of the indigenous peoples’ movement. In his article, “Return of the Native,” Kuper argued that the indigenous peoples movement adhered too closely to apartheid notions of identity and “separate development.”74

While some scholars specializing in Southern Africa challenged the notion of indigenous rights on the grounds that they resonate too closely with apartheid policies, specialists of others regions of Africa examined how indigeneity cohered with local notions of rootedness and belonging. Numerous scholars working with communities in Eastern and Central Africa engage with the perspectives advanced by Jean-François Bayart, Peter Gerscheire, and Francis Nyamnjoh on autochthony and citizenship.75 Following Bayart, Igoe sees indigenous activism in Tanzania as a “strategy of extraversion,” because activists utilize global sources of moral, political, and legal support.76 Gabrielle Lynch’s studies of the Endorois, Ogiek, Sengwer, and Pokot examine how indigenous “strategies of extraversion” contributed to ethnic tensions in Kenya.77 Michaela Pelican describes the complexities of indigeneity and autochthony for Mbororo pastoralists and Bagyeli and Baka foragers in Cameroon. She argues that the global discourse on indigeneity is vernacularized in relation to local conceptions of “autochthony” such that Mbororo, Bagyeli, and Baka, who are regarded as “indigenous” according to global perspectives, are seen as migrants by more sedentary and established ethnic groups.78 Alec Leonhardt makes similar arguments in the case of the Baka in Southern Cameroon. He notes that, because they are mobile foragers, the Baka are not regarded as having “roots in the soil,” and so they may be “indigenous” according to international standards, but they are not “autochthonous” from the point of view of other local ethnic groups.79

Recent studies have also produced nuanced “institutional ethnographies,” and examine the ways in which local struggles for justice become entangled in globally connected institutional infrastructures, which then reframe the meaning and significance of these local struggles. Since indigeneity in Africa is largely a product of global discourse, networks, and international donor programs, many researchers examine how local groups “become” indigenous through engagement with these institutional contexts. Ethnographic studies of donor agencies, NGOs, and activism at the UN have been produced by scholars working in Southern and Eastern Africa in particular. Sidsel Saugestad’s ethnography, The Inconvenient Indigenous, examines donor interventions and the rise of indigeneity among San in Botswana. Megan Biesele and Robert Hitchcock’s The Ju/’hoansi of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence provides a detailed history of an important San NGO and the rise of San activism in Namibia. Maria Sapignoli’s recent research offers multisited perspectives on San struggles, covering the issues they face in the Kalahari, their experiences with the Botswana legal system, and their participation in UN forums.80 Renee Sylvain’s work examines the impact of NGO engagement with San farmworkers and domestic servants in Namibia, and analyzes how the emphasis that NGOs place on “cultural survival” coheres and conflicts with the San’s class-based identities and priorities.81

Similar ethnographies have been written about communities in East Africa. Dorothy Hodgson’s ethnography, Being Maasai: Becoming Indigenous, offers a sophisticated and sympathetically critical account of Maasai activism as a collective response to local inequalities, national political shifts, neoliberalism, and globalization. Igoe and Lynch similarly argue that particular groups “become” indigenous through engagement with global movements, but they are more critical of NGO politicking and focus on the potential for indigenous activism to contribute to ethnic tensions. Recent work by Daniel Huizenga in South Africa examines how indigenous identities get constructed through engagement with bureaucratic and legal processes.82

One area that is conspicuously underresearched is indigenous gender relations, with the exception of Hodgson’s books, Rethinking Pastoralism in Africa, and Once Intrepid Warriors about Maasai; and studies by Sylvain and Heike Becker on gender relations among San.83 Compared to earlier research on foraging San conducted by members of the famous Kalahari-Harvard Research Project (from 1963 to 1976), there is a striking scarcity of gender-centered studies in the current literature. The growing concern about gender issues within the activist community, however, may inspire more research that adopts gendered perspectives on indigenous issues in Africa.

Primary Sources

Information on the views and activities of indigenous activists and NGOs in Africa can be found online. An extensive collection of documents detailing debates and discussions in international forums can be found at the UN website and especially the website of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Decisions and resolutions are posted on the website of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and case law can be found at the website for the African Legal Information Institute and the Southern African Legal Information Institute. Insights into the perspectives and strategies of important advocacy organizations can be found in the documents posted on the websites of the IWGIA, Survival International, Minority Rights International, and Cultural Survival. Regional and local African NGOs also often post annual reports and reports on special topics on their websites. Currently, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee and the South African San institute are keeping their reports up-to-date and publicly available. Hardcopy reports of smaller NGOs are kept at their office headquarters.

Further Reading

Biesele, Megan, and Robert Hitchcock. The Ju/’hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence: Development, Democracy, and Indigenous Voices in Southern Africa. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013.Find this resource:

Crawhall, Nigel. “Africa and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” International Journal of Human Rights 15.1 (2011): 11–36.Find this resource:

Guenther, Mathias. “The Concept of Indigeneity.” Social Anthropology 14.1 (2006): 17.Find this resource:

Hays, Jennifer, and Megan Biesele. “Indigenous Rights in Southern Africa: International Mechanisms and Local Contexts.” International Journal of Human Rights 15.1 (2011): 1–10.Find this resource:

Hitchcock, Robert, and Diana Vinding, eds. Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Southern Africa. Copenhagen: IGWIA, 2004.Find this resource:

Hitchcock, Robert K. “‘We Are the First People’: Land, Natural Resources and Identity in the Central Kalahari, Botswana.” Journal of Southern African Studies 28.4 (2002): 797–824.Find this resource:

Hodgson, Dorothy. Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Hodgson, Dorothy. Once Intrepid Warriors: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Cultural Politics of Maasai Development. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Igoe, Jim. “Becoming Indigenous Peoples: Difference, Inequality, and the Globalization of East African Identity Politics.” African Affairs 105.420 (2006): 399–420.Find this resource:

Kenrick, Justin, and Jerome Lewis. “Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and the Politics of the Term ‘Indigenous.’” Anthropology Today 20.2 (2004): 4–9.Find this resource:

Kuper, Adam. “The Return of the Native.” Current Anthropology 44.3 (2003): 389–402.Find this resource:

Lynch, G. “Becoming Indigenous in the Pursuit of Justice: The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Endorois.” African Affairs 111.442 (2011): 24–45.Find this resource:

Ndahinda, F. Indigenousness in Africa: A Contested Legal Framework for Empowerment of “Marginalized” Communities. The Hague: T.M.C. Asser Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Niezen, R. The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Pelican, Michaela, and Junko Maruyama. “The Indigenous Rights Movement in Africa: Perspectives from Botswana and Cameroon.” African Study Monographs 36.1 (2015): 49–74.Find this resource:

Sapignoli, Maria. “Indigenous Mobilization and Activism: The San, the Botswana State, and the International Community.” In Handbook of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Edited by D. Short and C. Lennox, 268–281. New York: Routledge, 2016.Find this resource:

Saugestad, Sidsel. The Inconvenient Indigenous: Remote Area Development in Botswana, Donor Assistance, and the First People of the Kalahari. Uppsala, Sweden: Nordic Africa Institute, 2001.Find this resource:

Solway, Jacqueline. “Human Rights and Ngo ‘Wrongs’: Conflict Diamonds, Culture Wars and the ‘Bushman Question.’” Africa 79.3 (2011): 321–346.Find this resource:

Sylvain, Renee. “‘Land, Water, and Truth’: San Identity and Global Indigenism.” American Anthropologist 104.4 (2002): 1074–1085.Find this resource:


(1.) D. Hodgson, Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 6; M. Sapignoli, “Indigenous Mobilization and Activism: The San, the Botswana State and the International Community,” in Handbook of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, eds. C. Lennox and D. Short (London: Routledge, 2016), 268–281; and F. M. Ndahinda, Indigenousness in Africa: A Contested Legal Framework for Empowerment of “Marginalized” Communities (The Hague: T.M.S. Asser Press, 2011).

(2.) Hodgson, Being Maasai, 25.

(3.) Hodgson, Being Maasai.

(4.) J. Dahl, F. Wilson, and E. Waehle, eds. “Never Drink from the Same Cup”: Proceedings of the Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Africa, Tune, Denmark, 1993 (Copenhagen: IWGIA and the Centre for Development Research); and N. Crawhall, “Africa and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” International Journal of Human Rights 15.1 (2011): 11–36.

(5.) Hodgson, Being Maasai, 62.

(6.) IWGIA, “Indigenous World: Africa.”

(7.) S. Saugestad, The Inconvenient Indigenous. Remote Area Development in Botswana, Donor Assistance, and the First People of the Kalahari (Uppsala, Sweden: Nordic Africa Institute, 2001), 183.

(8.) B. le Roux and Axel Thoma, Project Proposal for the Establishment of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (June 1995), 17–18.

(9.) A. Thoma, Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa: Report on Activities, 1996.

(10.) N. Crawhall, “Africa and the UN Declaration.”

(11.) K. N. Bojosi, “The African Commission Working Group of Experts on The Rights of Indigenous Communities/Populations: Some Reflections On Its Work So Far,” Perspectives on the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in Africa, ed. S. Dersso (Pretoria, South Africa: Pretoria University Law Press, 2010), 95–137, 97.

(13.) African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Report of the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities (Banjul, The Gambia, 2005).

(14.) ACHPR, Report, 13.

(15.) ACHPR, Report, 97.

(16.) ACHPR, Report, 79, 111, 112, 213.

(17.) ACHPR, Report, 5.

(18.) Crawhall, “Africa and the UN Declaration,” 22.

(19.) Human Rights Council, Resolution 2006/2. Working Group of the Commission on Human Rights to elaborate a draft declaration in accordance with paragraph 5 of the General Assembly Resolution 49/214 of December 23, 1994.

(20.) Draft Aide Memoire African Group: United Nations Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous People (New York, 2006).

(21.) African Union, Decision on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Doc. Assmbly/AU./9(VIII) ADD.6.

(23.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 4–5.

(24.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 4.

(25.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 5.

(26.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 6.

(27.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 7.

(28.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 7.

(29.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 8.

(30.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 9.

(31.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 9.

(32.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 10.

(33.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 11.

(34.) Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “Draft Aide Memoire” of the African Group: A Brief Commentary (2007).

(35.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 3–4.

(36.) P. Oldham and M. Anne Frank. “‘We the Peoples …’: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Anthropology Today 24.2 (April 2008): 7.

(37.) International Labour Organization (ILO), Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, C169, June 27, 1989, C169.

(38.) J. R. Martinez Cobo, Study of the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations (1986), E/CN.4/RES/1986/35.

(39.) M. A. Martínez, “Second Progress Report of the Special Rapporteur on Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples” (1995), UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/27.

(40.) E. I. Daes, The Concept of Indigenous Peoples. Background paper prepared by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (New York, 2004).

(41.) Hodgson, Being Maasai, 65.

(42.) M. Pelican, “Complexities of Indigeneity and Autochthony: An African Example,” American Ethnologist 36.1 (2009): 149–162; and A. Leonhardt, “Baka and the Magic of the State: Between Autochthony and Citizenship,” African Studies Review 49.2 (2014): 69–94.

(43.) ACHPR, Advisory Opinion, 4.

(45.) ACHPR, Report, 89.

(46.) ACHPR, Report, 90.

(47.) ACHPR, Report, 86.

(48.) ACHPR, Report, 87.

(50.) G. Lynch, “Kenya’s New Indigenes: Negotiating Local Identities in a Global Context,” Nations and Nationalism 17.1 (2011): 148–167; and Bojosi, “The African Commission Working Group of Experts on The Rights of Indigenous Communities/Populations,” 111.

(51.) R. Stavenhagen, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People: Mission to South Africa. UN Doc. E/CN.4/2006/78/Add.2, December 15, 2005, 19; and M. Ndahinda, “Indigenousness in Africa,” 90.

(52.) Stavenhagen, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, 81.

(53.) IWGIA, “Indigenous World: Africa.”

(54.) H. White, In the Tradition of the Forefathers: Bushman Traditionality at Kagga Kamma: The Politics and History of a Performative Identity (Rondebosch, South Africa: UCT Press in association with the Centre for African Studies), 32.

(55.) S. Robins, E. Madzudzo, and M. Brenzinger, Regional Assessment of the Status of the San in Southern Africa. Windhoek, Namibia: Legal Assistance Centre, 2001, 96.

(56.) W. Ellis, “The ≠Khomani San Land Claim against the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park,” in Requiring and Acquiring Authenticity. Land, Memory, Reconstruction, and Justice: Perspectives on Land Claims in South Africa, eds. C. Walker and A. Bohlin(Athens: Ohio University Press 2010), 181–197; and D. Huizenga, “Documenting ‘Community”’ in the ≠khomani San Land Claim in South Africa,” 181–197; PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 37.1 (2014): 145–161.

(57.) S. Robins, “NGOs, ‘Bushmen’ and Double Vision: The ≠ Khomani San Land Claim and the Cultural Politics of “Community” and “Development” in the Kalahari,” Journal of Southern African Studies 27.4 (2001): 833–885.

(58.) R. Chennells and Aymone du Toit, “The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in South Africa,” in Indigenous Peoples Rights in Southern Africa, eds. R. Hitchcock and D. Vinding (Denmark: Springer, 2004), 98–113.

(59.) T. M. Chan, “The Richtersveld Challenge: South Africa Finally Adopts Aboriginal Title,” in Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Southern Africa, eds. R. Hitchcock and D. Vinding (Denmark: Springer, 2004), 114–133.

(60.) L. Cassidy, et al., An Assessment of the Status of the San in Botswana, (Namibia, South Africa: Legal Assistance Centre, 2001), 26.

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