Background Information

Historically indigenous people have always existed in Africa just like anywhere else in the world. However, during the colonial period the term was used to refer to the people that inhabited the continent when European colonialists came to conquer Africa. So, the term indigenous referred to native Africans as opposed to the new comers or colonialists. After independence, therefore, the common stand that seemed to be taken by most African leaders was that once the Europeans are gone there was no need of the use of the term ‘indigenous’ as all native Africans are considered to be indigenous.

Apparently this position was not a deliberate political strategy to suppress the interest and demands of indigenous people; rather it was a reflection of the general approach, perception or understanding of the general public and African decision makers on the question of indigenous people in Africa. It is against this backdrop that when the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) started functioning in 1987, the issue of indigenous people was far from being one of its priorities; and it had not been so for more than a decade.

It was only in 1999 that the question of the rights of indigenous people appeared in the agenda of the African Commission. In the next four consecutive Sessions of the African Commission, non-governmental organizations zealously lobbied and brought to the attention of the African Commission the plight of indigenous people in the continent characterized by, among others, marginalization, exploitation, dispassion, harassment, poverty and illiteracy.


The constant and concerted lobbying by NGOs did not only get the attention of the African Commission but also convinced the latter to adopt a resolution establishing a Working Group on the Rights of Indigenous Populations / Communities (the Working Group) at its 28th Ordinary Session in November 2000 held in Cotonou, Benin. This resolution mandated the Working Group to :
  • Examine the concept of indigenous populations / communities in Africa;
  • Study the implications of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter or the Charter) on the well-being of indigenous communities;
  • Consider appropriate recommendations for the monitoring and protection of the rights of indigenous populations/communities.
In May 2001 during its 29th Ordinary Session, the African Commission established the anticipated Working Group of Experts comprised of three Commissioners and three experts from indigenous communities in Africa and one independent expert on indigenous issues. The Working Group implemented its mandate by producing a report entitled “Report of the African Commission ’ s Working Group on Indigenous Populations / Communities ”, which was adopted by the African Commission in November 2003. One of the recommendations of this report was the establishment of a full time Working Group on Indigenous Populations / Communities in Africa.


As per the recommendations of the Working Group, the resolution which adopted the Report of the Working Group re-constituted the Working Group for a renewable two year term with a mandate to:
  • Raise funds for the Working Group’s activities, with support and cooperation of interested donors, institutions and NGOs;
  • Gather information from all relevant sources (including governments, civil society, indigenous populations and their communities) on violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous populations and communities;
  • Undertake country visits to study the human rights situation of indigenous populations/communities;
  • Formulate recommendations and proposals on appropriate measures and activities to prevent and remedy violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous populations/communities;
  • Submit an activity report at every ordinary session of the African Commission;
  • Cooperate when relevant and feasible with other international and regional human rights mechanisms, institutions and organizations.
Just like all other Special Mechanisms of the African Commission, the Working Group derives its existence and mandate from Article 45 of the African Charter, which elaborates on the promotion and protection mandates of the Commission. The explicit recognition of peoples ’ rights in the African Charter has also made the task of the African Commission in the establishment of this Working Group very easy and statutory based. Therefore, all the mandates stipulated in the resolution establishing the Working Group speak to and are traceable to the provisions of the Charter.


On the basis of its mandate the Working Group has undertook several activities that include country visits, sensitization seminars and researches. The major activities that the Working Group had undertaken so far are:
  • Publication in book format, both in English and French, of the 2003 Report : this document is a groundbreaking report on the conceptualisation of indigenous populations in Africa. The report has been widely distributed throughout Africa to various stakeholders. The report has provided indigenous peoples in Africa with arguments and a solid advocacy tool to request their governments to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples in their country particularly in relation to their economic and social development, their environment and land rights. 
  • Summary of the Report entitled “ Indigenous Peoples in Africa : the Forgotten Peoples ” : the Working Group prepared a summary of the Report due to the fact that the 2003 Report is bulky. This Summary has been so far translated into French, Tamacheq, Fulfude, Maa and Kirundi languages to make them accessible to the public and particularly indigenous people.
  • Publication of the “ Advisory Opinion of the African Commission on Human and Peoples ’ Rights on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ” This document was adopted by the African Commission at its 41 st Ordinary Session held May 2007 in Accra, Ghana. The Advisory Opinion was published in a book format in 2010.
  • 13 Country visits : with a view to discharge its mandate, the Working Group has also undertaken 14 country visits to Burundi ( April 2005), Botswana ( June 2005), Namibia ( July – August 2005), Libya ( August 2005), Congo Brazzaville ( September 2005 and March 2010), Niger ( February 2006), Uganda ( July 2006), Central African Republic ( January 2007), Gabon ( September 2007), Rwanda ( December 2008), Democratic Republic of Congo ( August 2009) and Kenya ( March 2010). The reports from these visits have been published in book format in English and French. In these reports the WGIP has highlighted, among others, the socio - economic environment and land related challenges indigenous people are facing in those countries, and recommended ways of improving the lives and wellbeing of indigenous populations.
  • Launching of the Report on the constitutional and legislative protection of indigenous peoples in 24 African countries : in October 2010 the WGIP launched this report in collaboration with the International Labour Organization ( ILO) and the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, wherein the socio - economic conditions, land and natural resources related, environmental, cultural, linguistic and educational rights of indigenous peoples was extensively covered and assessed. The report has also categorically set out recommendations addressed to African states, to concerned organs of the UN, AU and other international organizations; and to the civil society and the media.
  • A video film entitled 'A Question of Justice : The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa ’: the Working Group worked on a video film that depicts the deplorable situation indigenous people find themselves in different parts of Africa , the work that the Working Group has been doing to improve their situation and its achievements and some exemplary practices within Africa. The video film is being widely distributed to all stakeholders.
  • Three sensitization seminars : one of the strategies adopted by the Working Group in creating awareness on the rights of indigenous peoples and engaging States Parties and other stakeholders on the issue is through the organization of sensitization seminars like this one . So far the WGIP has organized three sensitization seminars in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 2006; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2008 and Brazzaville, Congo, 2011.
The Working Group, through its Chairperson, takes measures within its mandate when the rights of indigenous people have allegedly been violated such as by sending Urgent Appeals.
Members of the Working Group
Commissioner Soyata Maiga – Chairperson
Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor – member
Commissioner Pacifique Manirakiza – member
Dr Naomi Kipuri – Expert member ; Email - kipuri3000@yahoo.com
Dr Albert Barume – Expert member ; Email - nmkra@hotmail.com
Dr Melakou Tegegn – Expert member ; Email - melakoutegegn@yahoo.com
Mr Zephyrin Kalimba – member ; Email - z1kalimba@yahoo.com
Mr Mohamed Khattali – member ; Email - khattali2001@yahoo.fr
Ms Marianne Jensen – member ; Email – mj@iwgia.org  


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