As the Chairperson of Community Leaders Network of Southern Africa, I participated in the recent 22nd Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held in New York, USA. It was a real eye opener for me, as I started to appreciate the challenges, abuse and human rights infringements that over 6.7 million indigenous peoples around the world have had to endure.
Indigenous people include the Khoisan communities of South Africa, the San people of both Botswana and Namibia and the Maasai people of Tanzania, who live in Southern Africa and are therefore part of CLN’s constituency.
Although as Africans we consider ourselves to be indigenous to Africa, the UN Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples has set certain characteristics that distinguish between what is considered indigenous and local communities. The governments in Southern Africa define the people groups that fit the UN’s definition of indigenous as ‘marginalised communities’.
Reflections from the UNPFII conference
The issues of indigenous peoples are well entrenched in the UN system and is backed by an internationally recognised global movement. Thus far, CLN has mainly focused on the rights and roles of local communities but has not paid much attention or advocated for the respect of indigenous peoples and their rights within our region. If CLN can adopt and create a portfolio for indigenous people within our structure, it will create an opportunity to become an active member of the global indigenous people’s movement.
Thus, we will better advocate for the rights of both indigenous peoples and local communities. CLN would do well to fight for and recognise the struggles of indigenous peoples in the same way that we advocate for local communities to benefit from the sustainable use of our natural resources.
The way forward for CLN
CLN should position itself as a regional voice not just for the rights of local communities but those of self-defined indigenous peoples found in Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, and South Africa.
We should immediately consider employing an IPLC officer to coordinate the issues of indigenous peoples and to explore opportunities for our participation on related platforms. CLN should consider convening a regional IPLC conference to bring together the IPLC communities, governments, civil society organisations, and all interested parties to deliberate on and advance the rights of indigenous peoples.
CLN should consider registering itself with the UNPFII while continuing to support our local communities and community-based natural resource management programmes. CLN should become a regional champion to engage SADC and our respective governments on issues that affect both indigenous peoples and local communities.
By Dr. Rodgers Lubilo
Note: CLN appreciates and recognizes the role that Jamma International played in sponsoring the participation of the CLN Chairperson and representatives of indigenous peoples from our membership.