The Indigenous World 2021: Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) lies at the heart of the African continent, far from any coastline. It straddles the equator and thus enjoys a tropical climate. Its ecosystem comprises savanna woodland and steppe in the north, gallery forest in the centre and dense tropical rainforest in the south.
There are three Indigenous groups living in the CAR: the M’bororo Fulani, the Aka and the Litho.
The M’bororo Fulani are generally nomadic herders. They live in the prefectures of Ouaka in the centre-east, M’bomou in the south-east and Lobaye in the south-west. The 2003 census estimated their population at 39,299 individuals, or around 1% of the total population. They have a strong presence in rural areas, accounting for 14% of the global population, as opposed to 0.2% in urban areas. However, the constant military and political crises in the CAR since 2013 have profoundly disrupted their pastoralist way of life. The Mbororo are becoming increasingly drawn to a sedentary lifestyle and are opting for agriculture to survive.
The exact number of Aka Pygmies is unknown but they are estimated to number in the tens of thousands. Around 90% of them live in the forests, which they consider to be their heritage and where they live by their traditional activities of hunting, gathering and fishing. The Aka live in the prefectures of Lobaye, Ombella Mpoko and Sangha-Mbaéré in the south-west, and Mambéré Kadéi in the west.
The Litho are a minority group located in the north of the country. They are semi-nomadic and practise farming, hunting, gathering and fishing.
CAR voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007 and ratified ILO Convention 169 in August 2010. It was the first and only African State to ratify this Convention. On 11 August 2011, under the terms of the ILO Constitution, the Convention entered into force.
The consequences of the 2013 crisis
In 2013, an armed rebellion broke out in the CAR that seized power from the state. This resulted in a period of multiple and serious human rights violations including, among other things, looting, robbery, killings and ransoms. Much of the geographical area occupied by the Mbororo was the theatre of war for the armed groups at that time, who kidnapped and ransomed the Mbororo.
The consequences of the 2013 crisis can still be seen today. The Mbororo are overwhelmingly displaced groups, known as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). They have lost virtually all their livelihoods, including their livestock. They live in total vulnerability, either on sites for the displaced, in their villages where they are called “returnees”, or in new villages where they have chosen to settle in order to protect themselves from the armed groups and other bandits who continue to ransom them and loot their livestock.
The same is true of the Aka who traditionally live in forest areas but who have been forced to leave the forest to join other communities. The situation is difficult for them and they also find themselves vulnerable without the resources of the forest to rely on.
With this in mind, the World Food Programme (WFP) commissioned a study in 2020 to assess the living conditions of Indigenous populations in CAR generally with a view to drawing the attention of the international and national community to their plight. The report of this study has yet to be published.
The 2020 elections
In 2020, all national and international eyes were on the presidential and legislative elections in CAR. Financial, political and legal priorities therefore revolved around these elections and very little attention was paid to issues of Indigenous rights. Unfortunately, there was no electoral mobilisation of Indigenous Peoples by the government, donors, or other actors working with them, and no initiatives were taken to encourage Indigenous people to register as voters and candidates.
COVID-19 was one of the major events of the year in CAR but, once again, the particular concerns and rights of Indigenous communities were largely overlooked. No specific measures were taken by the government with regard to Indigenous communities. There is still no national plan for the care or protection of Indigenous populations if COVID-19 were to spread among them and this is of great concern.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – such as Centre for Environmental Information and Sustainable Development (CIEDD), Global Ecovillage Network- Central Africa Republic (GEN-RCA) and House of the Pygmy Child and Woman (MEFP) – were the first to advocate for Indigenous communities to be included in the national disease response plan. These same organisations have mobilised resources to conduct field visits to inform the Indigenous populations about the disease, particularly its symptoms and preventive measures. This has enabled the communities to have a better understanding of the pandemic, to better comply with preventive measures and to obtain protective equipment and handwashing kits.
These actions targeted the Aka located in the forest zone in particular. The Mbororo were not really targeted by NGOs because of their mobility during certain seasons and the remoteness of their sites or villages, with poor insecurity.
A few highlights for Indigenous communities
Despite this situation, significant progress has been made by the Indigenous populations of CAR. The Wildlife and Protected Areas Management Code was adopted by the National Assembly in 2020 and Indigenous communities’ rights were prominently included. Work to revise the Environmental and Forestry codes began in 2020 and will continue into 2021. These revisions will be important for Indigenous communities. Finally, a national forestry policy that incorporates the concerns of Indigenous Peoples should have been discussed in the National Assembly in 2020. The parliamentary session at which the draft could have been adopted did not take place, however.
Jean Jacques Urbain Mathamale is a lawyer by training and a human rights activist who has been working since 2008 to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in CAR. He participated in the publication of the “Report on the Situation of Indigenous Peoples in the Forests of the CAR” in 2009. He is a member of the Drafting Committee for the bill on the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and a consultant for the International Labour Organization (ILO) to the CAR’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Good Governance with the aim of developing, among other things, a draft national action plan for the implementation of ILO Convention 169. He has made several interventions within the context of legal reforms. In 2020, he acted as WFP consultant to the study on Indigenous (Fulani) communities’ livelihoods in CAR. He is coordinator of the Centre for Environmental Information and Sustainable Development (CIEDD), one of the objectives of which is to advocate for Indigenous communities to implement projects, programmes and policies in their communities.
This article is part of the 35th edition of 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 2021 in full here
Notes and References
 Presidency of the Republic, Central African Republic. “Portant Code de Gestion de la Faune et des Aires Protegees en Republique Centrafricaine.” https://www.apvrca.org/index.php/225-code-de-la-faune/file
 Journal Officiel de la Republique Centrafricane. “Edition Speciale Loi Portant Code de l’Environnement de la Republique Centrafricaine.” March, 2008. http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/caf105925.pdf
 Droit Afrique. “République Centrafricaine Code forestier.” 17 October, 2008. http://www.droit-afrique.com/upload/doc/rca/RCA-Code-2008-forestier.pdf