Among Cameroon’s more than 17 million inhabitants, some communities self-identify as indigenous. These include the hunter/gatherers (Pygmies), the Mbororo pastoralists and the Kirdi mountain communities.
The Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon uses the terms indigenous and minorities in its preamble; however, it is not clear whom this refers to. 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 Bagyeli or Bakola, who are estimated to number around 4,000 peoples, the Baka estimated at around 40,000 and the Bedzan estimated at around 300 people. These communities live along the forested borders with Gabon, the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The Mbororo people living in Cameroon are estimated to number over 1 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 of Cameroon; the Jafun, who live primarily in the North West, 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.
The country has adopted a Plan for the Development of the “Pygmy” Peoples within the context of its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. A Plan for Indigenous and Vulnerable Peoples has also been developed in the context of the oil pipeline carrying Chadian oil to the Cameroonian port of Kribi. Cameroon voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
Major legislative changes in 2011
Cameroon implemented many large infrastructure projects during 2011, such as the construction of dams and sea ports. The country’s social policies provide a certain level of protection for the social and economic rights of populations living in zones where infrastructure projects are taking place, including the protection of indigenous peoples. Such social protection was improved in 2011 as, on the instructions of the Prime Minister,1 the Minister of Social Affairs elaborated a draft law on the inclusion and management of the social and economic effects of large infrastructure projects. In relation to this law, decrees have been put in place which provide for:
The establishment of an inter-ministerial committee for the follow-up and monitoring of the application of the social and economic effects of large infrastructure projects;
The production of modalities for social impact studies related to large infrastructure projects and;
The establishment of a roadmap indicating the conditions, technical modalities and operational guidelines for managing the consequences of large infrastructural projects.
All these texts have been completed and submitted to the various bodies responsible for adopting them.
2011 also saw the revision of the 1994 Law on Forest and Fauna intensify, a law that limited the access of hunter/gatherer communities to non-timber products and produce from hunting – products which are their main source of livelihood. This revision was influenced by civil society, the international community and indigenous peoples’ organisations. The revised law will permit hunter/gatherers to sell some of the produce from their hunting activities, something that was prohibited by the 1994 law.
Another very important legal text that was completed last year was the Pastoral Code. This code has three main sections:
- A section on access to land, which deals with the demarcation of boundaries between pastoral land and farmland, and which provides for grazing corridors;
- A section on access to water;
- A section on access to roads.
The process of drafting a Pastoral Code was initiated by the Netherlands Centre for Development (SNV), in partnership with the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, and it enjoyed the active participation of Mbororo leaders and the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) Executive. This legislation will be the first of its kind in Cameroon and the Pastoral Code will go a long way to resolving the longstanding conflicts between farmers and pastoralists and to securing the rights of the Mbororo pastoralists to their grazing lands. Hopefully, the new legislation will be a useful tool with which to overcome the negative stereotyping of the Mbororo pastoralists in Cameroon, who are currently considered strangers wherever they are found.
Parliamentary dialogue on indigenous peoples
A parliament/government dialogue workshop on the issue of Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon was held on 1 and 2 September 2011 in the House of Parliament through the initiative of the “Network of Parliamentarians for the Protection of the Forest Ecosystem in Central Africa” (REPAR). This dialogue was prompted by the fact that the efforts made thus far in Cameroon on the question of indigenous issues are still confused and precarious. Indigenous peoples remain highly marginalised, their interests are not taken into consideration by public policies and they are at risk of assimilation and a loss of their distinct cultural identities. Unless proper action is taken, the fear is that their vulnerability will increase and that their spaces will be progressively reduced through increasing commercial exploitation.
The workshop was supported by international development agencies such as the UN Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa, ILO Central Africa and the German development agency (GIZ). The workshop saw the massive participation of government departments, indigenous representatives, civil society and parliamentarians. Indigenous representatives from Kenya, Latin America, Canada and New Zealand also participated.
Indigenous leaders were involved in the process from start to end, including the initial consultation phase, organisation phase, participation and follow-up. The workshop concluded with recommendations, and a follow-up committee has been nominated by the President of the Parliament. Two indigenous leaders have been appointed as members of this follow-up committee. This committee held its first meeting in November when it validated the roadmap for its forthcoming work.
Debate on the concept of indigenous peoples
The concept of indigenous peoples has, for several years, been at the centre of a debate and controversy between the government, UN agencies, indigenous organisations and civil society. In 2009, this controversy prompted the Ministry of External Relations to initiate a study2 on the question in order to identify and characterise indigenous peoples and their problems in a Cameroonian context and to arrive at an accepted appellation and definition. The study was completed in 2011 and validated in the coastal town of Kribi in the Southern Region of Cameroon at a workshop in which indigenous peoples’ representatives also participated. The study proposed that the groups to be considered as indigenous should include groups such as the Mbororo pastoralists and the hunter/gatherers (Pygmies); however, it was also suggested that the study should be expanded to allow for consultations with the groups recognised as indigenous peoples and with public administrations, the international community and civil society.
Celebration of the international day of the World’s indigenous People
The government celebrated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on 9 August 2011 in the southern town of Kribi. The Southern Region has a large Bagyeli population, and the ceremony saw the massive participation of this community and of the Mbororo people.
The presidential elections were another important political event that took place in October 2011. To ensure the effective participation of all components of Cameroonian society, the UN Centre for Human Rights and Democracy organised a workshop for civil society on electoral observation and respect for human rights before, during and after the electoral period. Indigenous representatives used the opportunity to present the problems they were encountering, and important resolutions were taken to ensure their effective participation in the forthcoming legislative and local government elections in 2012.
Access to land and resources
Indigenous communities continued to suffer from difficult access to land and resources in 2011, and to be treated like strangers on the lands they have occupied for more than a century. This situation was particularly bad in Adamawa Region of Djerem Division in northern Cameroon, where human rights abuses took place involving the expropriation of Mbororo land and the extortion of large amounts of money and cattle by the traditional ruler (Lamido) of Tibati, the main town in the area. With the assistance of MBOSCUDA, the Mbororo community has mobilised to denounce this unacceptable practice, which has gone on for far too long.
Cameroon is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Rio Protocol and it is a REDD pilot country. Consultations on how to effectively implement the objectives of the different conventions were held this year in a series of workshops organised by the Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection. Indigenous peoples were involved at all levels as the Ministry has an obligation to respect the fundamental UNDRIP principle of free, prior and informed consent.
During 2011, the “Dan Broadcasting System” television, a local TV belonging to Mr Ahmadou Baba Danpullo, ran a campaign against MBOSCUDA and its leaders. Mr Ahmadou Baba Danpullo is a multi-millionaire who has been abusing the rights of the Mbororo with impunity for the past two decades. Mbororo from home and abroad mobilised to counter this campaign through law suits and information campaigns via the Internet and human rights bodies.
In December 2011, MBOSCUDA mobilised Mbororo leaders in the town of Bertoua in the Eastern region of Cameroon during a seminar on “Regional and International Processes for the Promotion and Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights”. The seminar enjoyed the massive participation of Mbororo leaders as well as some leaders from the hunter/gatherer communities.
1 N˚ B70/d-2/SG/PM of 27 January 2011 2 N˚DIPL/D3/SDUN/ESH December 2009
Hawe Bouba is an Expert in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action. She is Vice national president of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Association (MBOSCUDA) in charge of indigenous issues and women affairs and President of the African Indigenous Women Organization Central African Network (AIWO-CAN).