Yaounde—Indigenous peoples’ rights activists in Cameroon have hailed the government for recent strides in ensuring the aboriginal forest people (Baka, Bagyeli pygmies) and indigenous Mbororos, who are traditionally nomadic herdsmen, take part in the country's electoral process especially the 2013 municipal and legislative elections.
The representatives of the traditionally underrepresented and historically marginalised minority groups were speaking in Yaounde on the occasion of the 2017 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples last August 9; month to the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) adopted on September 14, 2007.
Statistics by the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) show that 17 indigenous forest peoples (Baka, Bagyeli pygmies) and 48 Mbororos are municipal councillors in the 360 municipal councils nationwide with 30 of them in the Northwest region alone, and a pastoralist Mbororo Mayor in the Adamawa Region.
Though activists admit there has been a marked improvement in the political representation of the minority groups within the last ten years, they say it can be improved upon should government put if government plays her role.
“There has been some improvement since 2011, but while we appreciate the efforts of the government, we still call on them to increase their efforts towards strengthening the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Basiru Isa, secretary general of the Network of Indigenous Peoples and Local Populations for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems (REPALEAC).
Section 151 (3) of the electoral code stipulates that “each list shall take into consideration the various sociological components of the constituency concerned. It shall also take into consideration gender aspects.”
Indigenous peoples’ rights defenders however think for the minority groups to fully take part in the electoral process they need certain preconditions such as possessing valid citizens’ documents like birth certificates and National ID cards, and most especially getting registered into the voters’ list.
“These services for now are not at the reach of all indigenous peoples in Cameroon because of their geographical locations,” Basiru Isa said, further urging that authorities have to ensure such services within the reach of aboriginal Baka and Bagyeli forest pygmies as well as nomadic Mbororos.
The constitution of the country uses the terms ‘indigenous’ and ‘minorities’ in its preamble; however, it unclear to whom this reference is being made. Nevertheless, with developments in international law, the civil society and government are increasingly using the term indigenous to refer to the above-mentioned groups.
Nothing for us without us
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) highlights the importance of ensuring effective participation by indigenous peoples in decision-making at all levels and urges states to ensure effective implementation of the rule, but in Cameroon, activists say challenges are legion and so are cracks that need to be filled especially relating to political participation.
Cameroon voted in favour of the UN declaration in 2007 and according to the Ministry of Social Affairs, the country has also adopted a Plan for the Development of the “Pygmy” Peoples within the context of its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Yet, vulnerable indigenous peoples say they are yet to be represented in decision-making bodies, both at local and national levels in the country.
“Our appeal to the government and decision makers in this country is that indigenous people should be given a space in political and decision making structures like the National Assembly, the Senate, local and regional councils by creating special constituencies for these people,” said Musa Usman Ndamba, first vice National President of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association(MBOSCUDA).
The first vice National President of MBOSCUDA expressed fear that indigenous people may not emerge when mainstream Cameroonian communities become emergent by the year 2035 according to a government growth and employment strategy plan.
“It is often said nothing for us without us, but the government is taking decisions for all Cameroonians without the presence of the representatives of indigenous people. Indigenous people might not emerge with other Cameroonians by 2035,” Usman Ndamba said.
Positive discrimination recommended
‘positive discrimination’ in favour of the minority groups who may not contest
and win a classical election with mainstream candidates.
Samuel Nguiffo, Secretary General of CED said the government of Cameroon can adopt laws that favour indigenous people like in the case of Burundi.
“Indigenous people cannot run for elections like mainstream candidates because they don’t have the same financial means, they are not as well-known as other candidates. So, the government can decide to create seats in parliament and the senate for them,” Samuel Nguiffo said.
The director of CED which advocates for the rights of vulnerable indigenous people said as Cameroon prepares for the 2018 set of elections, government can replicate the example of Burundi where “two indigenous people are represented at the senate.” In order to do that, Nguiffo said it is important to define a national policy for indigenous peoples, which will require a comprehensive census of indigenous communities.
“The announced general census could allow the state to acquire the means to know the exact number of indigenous people in Cameroon as their representation in local and national elective positions can help ensure that their rights are protected, and their unique interests are heard and translated into relevant policies, while at the same time preventing conflict,” Samuel Nguiffo explained.
According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world's population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, indigenous representation in parliament can also benefit society at large, because indigenous practices and knowledge can provide solutions to complex environmental, developmental and governance problems that all societies face today.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi/First Published in NewsWatch Newspaper No 013 of August 21, 2017