The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, said today that indigenous communities in Namibia are demanding greater inclusion in decision-making at levels, increased educational opportunities and full recognition of traditional authorities representing minority communities. "Like many other countries around the world that have experienced European colonization and waves of migration, indigenous groups that are in the minority in Namibia have suffered injustices in the past that leave them disadvantaged, to varying degrees, in the present", Mr. Anaya said at the end of his nine-day official visit to the country.
The Indigenous Peoples of Namibia include the San, the Ovatjimba, Ovatue and Ovahimba, and potentially a number of other peoples, including the Damara (ǂNūkhoen) and Nama. Although the Constitution of Namibia prohibits discrimination on grounds of ethnic or tribal affiliation, it does not specifically recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples or minorities, and there is no national legislation that deals directly with Indigenous Peoples.
Namibia voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on September 13, 2007, but has not ratified ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument that specifically addresses the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Namibia is a signatory to several other binding international agreements that affirm the norms represented in UNDRIP, such as the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Convention on the Elimination of of all forms of racial discrimination (ICERD) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Indigenous Peoples of Namibia
The Indigenous Peoples of Namibia include the San, the Ovatjimba, Ovatue and Ovahimba, and potentially a number of other peoples, including the Damara (ǂNūkhoen) and Nama. Taken together, these Indigenous Peoples represent some 8% of the total population of the country, which was 2,630,073 in 2020. The San (Bushmen) number between 28,000 and 35,000, and they represent slightly more than 1% of the national population.
They include the Khwe, the Hai||om, the Ju|’hoansi (and related ‡Kao||’aesi), the !Xun (comprising of four or more distinct populations), the Naro and the !Xóõ (and related N|oha). Each of the San groups speaks its own language and has distinct customs, traditions and histories.
The San were mainly hunter-gatherers in the past but, today, many have diversified livelihoods. Over 80% of the San have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands and resources, and they are now some of the poorest and most marginalised peoples in the country. The Ovatjimba and Ovatue (Ovatwa) are largely pastoral people, formerly also relying on hunting and gathering, residing in the Kunene Region, in the semi-arid and mountainous north-west of Namibia. Together, they number some 27,000, representing 1.02% of the total Namibia population.
Challenges for Indigenous Peoples in Namibia
The year 2016 was marked by a significant slowdown in the economy of Namibia, which resulted in considerable budget cuts for many line ministries, including those that support Indigenous Peoples.
It is expected that the effect of these cuts will affect geographically remote communities to a greater extent, due to reductions in operational scope.
Advances in participation and political representation of the Indigenous Peoples of Namibia
In March 2015, the San Development Division under the Office of the Prime Minister was renamed the Division of Marginalized Communities and moved to the Office of the Vice President. The office is mandated to focus on San, Himba, Tjimba, Zemba and Twa, with the main objective of integrating marginalized communities into the mainstream of the economy and improving their livelihoods.
The representatives of the Division of Marginalized Communities in the Office of the Vice President and the Vice Minister of Marginalized Communities, Kxao Royal Ui | or | oo, who is the only San in the national government, encountered many of the marginalized communities in Namibia during 2016.
The Division participated in the 15th annual meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (FPCIU) in New York from 9 to 20 May 2016. The Division of Marginalized Communities accepted a work program with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations.
Mr Kxao Moses ‡Oma was Councillor for Tsumkwe East and a prominent Ju/’hoansi leader. While manager of the Nyae Nyae Farmer’s Cooperative, Baraka, Namibia, Kxao Moses ‡Oma participated in the IWGIA conference on Indigenous Peoples in Africa (1993). He later became the manager of Nyae Nyae Conservancy and was also for some years, Chairperson of the WIMSA Board.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, will visit Namibia from 20 to 28 September 2012, to examine the situation of indigenous peoples in that country. This will be the first mission to Namibia by an independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples.