Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Go to menu with buttons for all pages on BC
Click here to go to the Home Page
Est. April 5, 2002
May 11, 2017 - Issue 698

Bookmark and Share

Indigenous Peoples are Threatened
Those Most in Peril are in Africa


"If an aroused citizenry in the U.S. can’t succeed
in stopping a couple of pipelines, imagine the
near impossibility that indigenous Africans face,
when they have little or no support in protecting
their lands and territories."

Indigenous people are in trouble all around the world and it’s something that does not make it into the news very often, but a new report published by an agency of the United Nations has reported that the very survival of indigenous Africans is at stake.

Although the plight of the world’s indigenous people is not regular fare on the mainstream television news or in most newspapers, anyone who is fighting for human rights anywhere should be aware of the condition of native peoples and the overwhelming forces, usually economic, that are sweeping them from their homes and territories with little regard for what happens to them once they are run off.

The release of the report last month by the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) noted that Africa is home to about 50 million indigenous peoples. They are among some 350 million indigenous peoples around the world, who speak an untold number of languages and dialects and live in groups ranging from groups of hunter-gatherers in central and southern Africa to large populations in East Africa, West Africa, and North Africa.

IWGIA’s report was released in this 10th anniversary year of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The question of what to do with or for indigenous peoples apparently was a thorny issue, since the world body began deliberating on the issue 25 years before the declaration was adopted. Even at that, some of the large, developed nations voted against and a number of nations abstained, although it was adopted by a vote of 144 nations. The four nations voting against were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Canada reversed its position and the other three have accepted the declaration in more informal ways, especially since it is not binding on the governments. It’s called an “aspirational” document.

Although indigenous (human) rights do not seem to be honored in any systematic way in most countries, there has been progress in some places, according to the experts. In Africa, however, the danger to peoples and their ways of life and their cultures are threatened by large developments, whether they are industrial (extraction industries such as metal mining) or agricultural to grow a cash crop on vast acreages, which requires industrial-sized operations and requires that the people who are there be moved somewhere else.

If they are farmers, their lands are taken and, if they are lucky, they might find jobs for wages on the industrial farms. But that’s not the way they wanted or want to live. Most of them have their way of life, possibly for hundreds of years and they wanted to keep it that way, but they had no choice. Those groups that remain on their lands are under constant threat of dispossession and removal, with their human rights and traditional land and territory rights ignored, as if they had no rights. Yet, the declaration promotes “their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.” Another goal of the Declaration, possibly the primary one, is that the indigenous groups are to be fully informed and consulted and to fully participate in any discussion of a proposed development. That seems to be ignored in most countries.

Even after 35 years of planning and adoption of the declaration, according to the InterPress Service (IPS), “large-scale dispossessions of indigenous peoples’ lands remain a significant challenge in several African states, says the report, adding that the global drive for raw materials, agro-business and building major infrastructure projects are pushing indigenous peoples to their last boundaries.” Marianne Wiben Jensen, IWGIA senior advisor on Africa and Land Rights, said that some African states have fully endorsed the concept of “indigenous peoples in Africa,” some states recognize and “are willing to redress the historical injustices and marginalisation suffered by certain sections of their national populations that self-identify as indigenous peoples,” but are uncomfortable with the term “indigenous peoples,” and prefer using “alternative concepts in their laws and policies.” Third are the African states that “continue to contest the existence of indigenous peoples.”

What this amounts to is that, as long as indigenous peoples are on land that the government, the head of state, foreign governments or foreign corporations want, there will always be the suppression of the rights of those indigenous communities. Such communities, with few exceptions, have been marginalized and ignored in most countries of the world. Africa is one of the prizes of agricultural transnational corporations and foreign governments, which have run out of the capacity to feed their growing populations. It does not matter to them that, in many cases, the people on the land need large amounts of it to pasture their livestock, to grow their own food, or to hunt the forests for their sustenance.

To most outsiders, vast parts of Africa are “wasted,” since the indigenous peoples do not build huge tracts of single-family housing or develop it in other ways. But that doesn’t mean that the land is not “occupied” by the people. The Cree in northern Quebec, Canada, for example, consider the vast lands that Hydro-Quebec has inundated for producing water-powered electricity as “The garden.” They pointed out over decades that, just because the land does not have houses and barns does not mean that the land is not occupied. When they are living in the bush, as they have for centuries, their dead are buried throughout the millions of acres of land. They have drawn their sustenance from it. It is not “vacant land.” So it is in Africa.

Outsiders do not view the land for parks, national preserves, and national forests as sacred. Most indigenous peoples do. They are right and the outsiders are wrong. The production of food in most countries is coming to be in the hands of a few giant transnational corporations and those corporations are interested in one thing: profits, regardless of the destructive effects on the people and the planet. In corporate agriculture throughout the world, the byword is “get big or get out.” That is the only ethic by which they exist. And, if you’ve used up the land in your own country, whether by destruction of the topsoil or through intensive development, take somebody else’s land. That’s what is happening in Africa and on most other continents, with the exception of Antarctica. For the powers that be, the easy pickings in their own countries are all done and, now, they are headed for the rest of the easy pickings in some other country for those whose land they would take are pretty much powerless in their own country.

The indigenous peoples of Africa should be viewed as the canaries in the coal mine for the rest of the world. Their lands, as are the lands of similar groups throughout the world, the last of the species, so to speak. Earth’s people, in general, running out of room to expand, are desperate.

Although most in the developed world do not think in those terms, we are at that point at which the makers of money are desperate to keep the people in the dark. After all, the supermarkets, where they exist, are full and the gadgets (especially electronic devices) that have become the lifeblood of a consumer culture just keep on coming. A quick look at the conditions of indigenous peoples will disabuse a self-contented mind of the idea that “things are just fine and we don’t need to do anything differently.”

Just to show that the same thing happens in the so-called developed world, the Standing Rock Sioux are just the latest and most publicized case of a government and its corporations riding roughshod over an indigenous people. American Indians have historically demanded that the U.S. government honor its treaties with the tribes and nations. But, despite months of protest by the native water protectors, the mass media continued to call them activists, as if they were not trying to protect their way of life. Under the Obama Administration, the Dakota Access pipeline was halted and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were directed to conduct a full environmental review. When Donald Trump became president, he ignored the agreement Obama reached and ordered an expedited completion of the project, as well as the Keystone XL pipeline, another project that was halted by the previous administration.

Hundreds of Indian tribes and nations came to the defense of the Standing Rock Sioux, as well as thousands of others from human rights groups, environmental groups, and many others. They braved the fire hoses in sub-freezing temperatures and, finally, the authorities, federal and local, had their way, as they usually do. The hundreds dispersed from the encampment after it was believed that an agreement was reached that the pipeline would not go forward to endanger the water supply of the Standing Rock reservation. It was pointed out that the question is not if the pipeline leaks into the river and the water supply, but when it will.

The Standing Rock Sioux had considerable support from many quarters of the U.S. population and were unsuccessful in protecting their water from the corporations and the government, and Donald Trump showed that he cares as little, or less, about treaties with the Indians than his hero, Andrew Jackson. But, they are just a few in a long line of presidents, governors, and other officials who had no respect for treaties or agreements with Indian nations. It’s a historical habit.

A recent Washington Post story was headlined: “We would need 1.7 earths to make our consumption sustainable.” That should be an alarming message to those who are concerned about the future of the planet and of humanity, because there is no 7/10 of a planet that we can tap for our “cost overruns.” We have just this one and the rich countries are moving into the “developing” countries and taking over. If an aroused citizenry in the U.S. can’t succeed in stopping a couple of pipelines, imagine the near impossibility that indigenous Africans face, when they have little or no support in protecting their lands and territories. Keep in mind the most vulnerable indigenous peoples, those in African countries, and at the same time, support indigenous peoples in the U.S., as they fight to force the government to honor treaties and agreements. Indigenous peoples need to know that the problems they face are universal and the time is now to make that commitment to offer support and help. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

Bookmark and Share




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

Perry NoName: A Journal From A Federal Prison-book 1
Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion by Jamala Rogers