Indigenous World 2020: Cameroon
Among Cameroon’s more than 20 million inhabitants, some communities self-identify as Indigenous. These include the hunter/gatherers (Pygmies), the Mbororo pastoralists and the Kirdi.
The Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon uses the terms Indigenous and minorities in its preamble; however, it is not clear to whom this refers. Nevertheless, with the developments in international law, civil society and the government are increasingly using the term Indigenous to refer to the above-mentioned groups.
Together, the Pygmies represent around 0.4% of the total population of Cameroon. They can be further divided into three sub-groups, namely the Bagyéli or Bakola, who are estimated to number around 4,000 people, the Baka – estimated at around 40,000 – and the Bedzan, estimated at around 300 people. The Baka live above all in the eastern and southern regions of Cameroon. The Bakola and Bagyéli live in an area of around 12,000 km2 in the south of Cameroon, particularly in the districts of Akom II, Bipindi, Kribi and Lolodorf. Finally, the Bedzang live in the central region, to the north-west of Mbam in the Ngambè Tikar region.
The Mbororo people living in Cameroon are estimated to number over one million people and they make up approx. 12% of the population. The Mbororo live primarily along the borders with Nigeria, Chad and the Central African Republic. Three groups of Mbororo are found in Cameroon: the Wodaabe in the Northern Region; the Jafun, who live primarily in the NorthWest, West, Adamawa and Eastern Regions; and the Galegi, popularly known as the Aku, who live in the East, Adamawa, West and North-West Regions.
The Kirdi communities live high up in the Mandara Mountain range, in the north of Cameroon. Their precise number is not known.
Cameroon voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 but has not ratified ILO Convention 169.
In 2019, the human rights situation of Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon continued to be characterised by their entrapment in the conflicts in the South West and North West Regions, the recrudescence of the attacks from the Boko Haram terrorist group in the Far North Region, and the insecurity caused by armed groups with hostage taking in exchange for heavy ransoms in the Adamawa Region.
The year also saw the mobilisation of Indigenous Peoples and women through different events such as general assemblies of the Indigenous Peoples’ networks, workshops and conferences as well as the celebration of the International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Two important bills were adopted in late 2019: a bill on decentralisation for the regions and local councils to have more autonomy, and a second bill on the special status for the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon. The adoption of these laws was among some of the strong recommendations that came up during a Major National Dialogue held from the 30 September to 4 October 2019 intended to bring back peace to these regions and to Cameroon at-large.
Other laws, which have been undergoing revision (like the laws on the forest and fauna of 2004 and the law on land tenure of 1974) and to which Indigenous Peoples and civil society have made important contributions, are still pending.
Major National Dialogue
On 10 September 2019, the Head of State of Cameroon, Mr. Paul Biya, announced the holding of the Major National Dialogue (MND) with the objective to find a lasting solution to the crisis in the English-speaking North-West and South-West Regions of Cameroon. He gave the responsibility to the Prime Minister and Head of Government, Dr. Joseph Dion Ngute, to organise and preside over the MND.
The Prime Minister began by carrying out large consultations with major stakeholders in the conflict including Indigenous representatives. Mbororo pastoralist representatives regrouped under the Indig-
enous organisations “Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association” (MBOSCUDA) and “African Indigenous Women Organization Central African Network” (AIWO-CAN). The Mbororo people expressed their concerns to the Prime Minister in a statement that also included a number of recommendations for how they should be an important part of the national dialogue and how they can contribute to the process of restoring peace.1
In his response, the Prime Minister acknowledged the Mbororo community as follows:
“While I am pursuing the white talks on Cameroon Dialogue, I would like to thank the Mbororo community for their willingness to forgive and reconcile. I know how much you have suffered from the crisis. Together, we will restore peace and prosperity.”2
He asked that a list of names, which should include youth, women and victims, be submitted for participation in the Major National Dialogue to be held from 30 September to 4 October 2019. The dialogue brought together major stakeholders in the conflict, like armed secessionist groups, government institutions, religious bodies, civil society, political parties, Indigenous Peoples and people from the diaspora. A handful of Mbororo people and a representative of the hunter-gatherers took part in the dialogue, especially in the working groups for reconstruction, resettlement and the employment of youths.
Civil strife and its effects on the Mbororo pastoralists
The civil strife in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, the North-West and the South-West, remained a cause of great concern in 2019 for the Mbororo pastoralists. Killings, abductions, ransom taking and the ban on schools and businesses continued in 2019. Since 2017, going to schools has been forbidden by the secessionists in these two regions. Operating businesses and public transportation have also been banned on Mondays or on certain official days of the week.
All this has had severe consequences for the Mbororo people with about 272 people killed, 187 women raped, 6,000 children dropping out of school and about 187,430,000 CFA francs paid out by the Mbororo people as ransoms to separatist armed groups.3 Some Mbororo communities in some divisions resisted these armed groups and organised themselves into self-defence groups. This strategy helped these communities to stay in their homes and keep their properties. The death tolls continue to rise by sporadic killings of Mbororo people despite efforts to end the violence and return to peace through the organisation of the MND.
More families and individuals continued fleeing to other regions during the year – some with the rest of their cattle – especially to the West and Centre Regions where there are good pastures. However, there is fear of overstocking and fear that farmer/pastoralist conflicts can erupt. The general situation is precarious, poverty has set in and recrudescence of juvenile delinquency in the community is feared.
Nevertheless, there are hopes that the recommendations of the MND will be fully implemented so that peace will be restored in the NorthWest and South-West Regions in order to permit the return of displaced people to their homes – among whom thousands are pastoralists.
Indigenous Peoples, REDD+ and climate change
The REDD+ process in Cameroon is inclusive, with Indigenous Peoples, civil society organisations, government, research institutions, private sector and local communities as major stakeholders. It has a pilot committee, which is the highest body of the REDD+ process. This pilot committee includes an Indigenous representative. The platform “REDD+ et les Peuples Autochtones du Cameroun” (PREPAC) was created in 2018 to enable Indigenous Peoples to participate effectively and efficiently in the REDD+ process.
Cameroon finalised its REDD+ National Strategy in 2018 and the evaluation of the Readiness package was satisfactory. This made Cameroon eligible for an additional grant from the World Bank through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) of USD$5 million to finalise some important studies. These studies include one on benefit sharing mechanisms and conflict resolutions and another one on social and environmental safeguards. Part of the additional grant was allocated to the Indigenous Peoples Platform (PREPAC) and the Civil Society Platform.
In 2019, PREPAC held several meetings in partnership with GIZ (German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH) to prepare its action plan for the additional grant, which is to be executed within the next two years. The action plan of PREPAC provides for important activities such as the development of important tools that Indigenous Peoples can use to follow up and evaluate REDD+ pilot projects taking place in their lands or where Indigenous Peoples live. It also provides for the development of a tool to carry on the follow up and evaluation of REDD+ projects in accordance with the Environmental and Social Safeguards Policies (SESA).
Unfortunately, the World Bank announced in late 2019 that the funds have been cancelled due to delays blamed on the government. The Indigenous Peoples Platform and the Civil Society Platform convened a one-day meeting on 12 November to denounce the unilateral move by the World Bank to cancel the additional grant without the consent of the Government of Cameroon. A position note was written and sent to the General Assembly of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) requesting for the cancellation of the grant to be annulled. Following from this, the World Bank convened all stakeholders in a series of meetings by early January 2020. The Indigenous Peoples and civil society organisations platforms made it clear to the Bank that they disapprove of the move of cancelling the grant and that they will take part in writing yet another petition to the General Assembly of the FCPF, which will take place in April 2020.
Despite all this, Indigenous Peoples participated in workshops in relation to the Forest Investment Program, which is one of the REDD+ implementation programmes. The programme, which would be financed by the Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI), will have components that are of interest to Indigenous Peoples within the tourism sector and within the area of sustainable forest management.
Celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
On 9 August 2019, the Hilton hotel in Yaoundé served as the setting for the commemorative ceremony for the 25th edition of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This was marked by the holding of a national symposium on the development of Indigenous populations. The general objective of this symposium was to define the broad guidelines of the strategic framework for the development of Indigenous populations in Cameroon. The event started with an official ceremony where three speeches were delivered by the representative of the Government Delegate to the Yaoundé City Council, the representative of a leader of Indigenous populations (the national president of MBOSCUDA) and the Minister of Social Affairs, Mrs. NGUENE Pauline Irene. The participants in the event were representatives of public administrations, development partners, promoters of programmes and projects, civil society organisations and Indigenous populations.
Some of the recommendations from the discussions included:
- Finalisation and publication of the results of the study on the identification of Indigenous populations in Cameroon;
- Identification of mechanisms for improving access to good information for Indigenous Peoples;
- Sensitisation of Indigenous communities in their local languages so that information is more accessible to them; and
- Implementation of a national development plan for Indigenous Peoples around the eight axes identified, in particular: health, education, training and socio-professional integration, economic development, political participation and citizenship, access to land and natural resources, promotion of culture and promotion of access to
The celebrations of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples continued at a regional level hosted by the Regional Services of the Ministry of Social Affairs. They were carried out by Indigenous Peoples in collaboration with government agencies and CSOs, and took place in Abong-Mbang and Bertoua districts in the East Region, and in the Adamawa, West and Centre Regions.
6th session of the CISPAV
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was also marked by the holding of the 6th session of CISPAV4 (Comité intersectoriel de suivi des programmes et projets impliquant les populations autochtones vulnérables), which is the committee for the follow-up of programmes and projects implicating Indigenous Peoples. Taking part in this event were the statutory members who are public administrations, international and national development partners, civil society organisations, Indigenous Peoples’ organisations and the technical secretariat of CISPAV. The session took stock of what has been done towards the promotion of Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon in terms of programmes and projects in 2019.
The General Assembly of the hunter-gatherer network “Gbabandi”
The Indigenous forest peoples of Cameroon are organised within a platform that brings together Indigenous forest organisations and leaders to debate issues specific to Indigenous forest communities. This platform brings together the Baka, the Bagyéli, the Bakola and the Bedzang Indigenous communities. The main objective of the network is to harmonise and coordinate the work and gains of the organisations and Indigenous leaders to avoid duplication and conflicts of interest which can arise simply from lack of communication – as well as to speak with one voice so as to effectively represent the forest Indigenous communities at the national and international levels.
In 2019, the platform organised its second general assembly in the community of Nomedjoh, Lomie locality of the East Region of Cameroon. Some of the recommendations that came from the general assembly were:
- Indigenous Peoples’ organisations should manage projects involving their communities in a transparent manner;
- The platform should work more rigorously to raise issues specific to the Indigenous communities of the forests of Cameroon;
- Women and young people should be more involved in all stages of implementation of development activities for Indigenous communities;
- Effective representation of Indigenous Peoples in parliament should be effective; and
- The state should increase transparency and justice in the implementation of government initiatives in favour of Indigenous communities.
The General Assembly of MBOSCUDA
The Mbororo pastoralists, under their umbrella organisation Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), held their general assembly from 28-29 June 2019 in the economic capital Douala, following the principle of rotation of this important gathering. It is an event highly awaited by Mbororos all over the country as all Mbororos believe they are members of this organisation even if they have never registered or paid a contribution as members.
The general assembly is held every four years. It is a time to take stock of the organisation’s activities and achievements and to plan for the future. It also gives rise to changes in the executive bureau through elections or appointment through consensus. In 2019, five candidates went in for the highly contested election. It was the first time that a woman stood for the post of the National Executive President. However, she was not elected because of cultural and religious barriers. After two days of work and festivities, a new executive bureau headed by a young man was ushered in for the next four years.
Preparatory meeting for Beijing +25
From 3-6 December 2019, Indigenous women from 15 countries across Africa and Latin America met in Yaoundé, Cameroon for a regional conference in preparation for Beijing +25. They came together to discuss progress made on the Beijing +25 process and prepare for the second Indigenous Women’s world conference that will be held in 2020. The conclusions of the conference were that since 1995 to date, Indigenous women have made significant progress in advocating for their rights through capacity building and by participating in different national, regional and international meetings and processes, which have all enhanced the leadership and political participation of Indigenous women of Africa. Despite these achievements women and girls are still facing numerous challenges like discrimination and marginalisation, environmental injustice, gender-based violence, lack of access to education, lack of access to land ownership and rights, tribal killings, low political representation, lack of effective participation in decision making positions, insufficient and inaccessible social services and armed conflict. Strong recommendations were made to governments, the United Nations, the international community and Indigenous women and their organisations.
Notes and references
- NOSO Dion Ngute Cameroon TT237
- NOSO Dion Ngute Cameroon TT237
- Courier Confidentiel, Afrique Media23 Décembre 2019 : les Mbororo répondent au congrès Américain.
Created by Ministerial Order n° 022/A/MINAS/SG/DSN on the 6th of August 2013 by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Hawe Hamman Bouba is an expert in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. She is a member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Member of the Cameroon National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms and President of the African Indigenous Women Organization Central African Network (AIWO-CAN). Hawe Hamman Bouba has written this article with contribution from Oumarou Habane Deputy Secretary General of MBOSCUDA.
This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here