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Africa’s growing cities must serve all who live in them, including the most vulnerable, a new annual report warns

2 July 2015

In the midst of unprecedented urbanization across Africa, in order to flourish, the continent’s cities must address the concerns of minorities and indigenous peoples, warns Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in its new annual report.

The organization’s flagship State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015, focuses on cities, and explores the many challenges minority and indigenous communities face in urban areas across Africa, from segregation and lack of services, to targeted violence and exclusion.

East Africa is one of the fastest urbanizing regions in the world, with a projected urban growth of 5.35 per cent between 2010 and 2020. Between 1960 and 2010, the population living in cities increased from 6 million to more than 77 million.

“While African cities are vital economic powerhouses right across the continent, this urbanization comes at a cost – especially for minorities and indigenous peoples,” notes MRG’s Executive Director Mark Lattimer.

In Kenya, Nairobi is expected to grow by almost 80 per cent between 2010 and 2025. Maasai who are indigenous to the lands of the city have suffered displacement, as their traditional pastoralist livelihoods have become untenable in an urban setting. Nairobi is also marked by more than 200 informal settlements with very high population densities, extreme poverty and lack of services. The Nubians who have long been settled on the site of the Kibera slum continue to struggle to have their title recognized.

Urbanization is also driven by displacement. The indigenous Endorois had inhabited Lake Bogoria for centuries when, in the 1970s, the Kenyan government forcibly removed them from their ancestral land. The Endorois who move to larger cities report that they face discrimination based on their minority status, and often are only able to find temporary menial employment. Young Endorois who seek out educational opportunities in urban areas risk losing contact with their ancestral heritage and values.

While Somalia has long been wracked by conflict, Mogadishu has also undergone tremendous population growth over the last century. Urbanization has followed clan structures, with residence in neighbourhoods determined by clan affiliation. Minority women living in informal settlements often find themselves excluded from livelihood opportunities by majority groups, and tend to work in informal sectors such as domestic work, where they are frequently subjected to gender-based violence or denied payment.

Exclusionary practices have also had an impact on urban areas in Nigeria, where groups of established residence in each region have preferential treatment over ‘settler’ or ‘immigrant’ groups – many of whom may have been based for two generations in the areas. While Lagos State now offers a relatively open system of registration to all residents, in practice the city center is largely controlled by ‘indigenous’ Lagos-dwellers, while informal settlements are generally populated by migrants from other regions.

The cultural dislocation caused by rapid urban growth is a particular concern for minorities and indigenous peoples. In Namibia, land redistribution and the expulsion of the San from their traditional hunting and grazing lands have led many San to seek new livelihoods in nearby towns. With skills that may no longer be useful in an urban setting, many San have to rely on food donations both from the Namibian government and NGOs, as well as state pensions.

At the same time, the situation is not totally bleak. African cities provide educational and employment opportunities, as well as a chance for minority and majority communities to join forces in grassroots activism.

The World Heritage Site city of Timbuktu in Mali received a devastating blow in 2012 when it fell under the control of the extremist Ansar Dine movement. Aside from the severe human toll, considerable damage was done to the city’s invaluable collections of ancient manuscripts and Sufi shrines. The conflict also led to severe tensions between the city’s communities, with Arab and Tuareg minorities being subjected to reprisals following the ouster of Ansar Dine. Now, the Timbuktu Renaissance Action Group seeks to rebuild social cohesion by reviving what the city came close to losing during its occupation – Timbuktu’s rich and multifaceted culture.

“African cities are ultimately about the people who live in them,” concludes Lattimer. “And city governments must ensure that all residents have access to the opportunities and vital services that urban areas provide. Otherwise, urbanization can generate tensions that can quickly spiral out of control.”

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International (English)
    • Kenya
      Wilson Kipkazi, Chairman of Council of NGOs (English, Swahili)
      T: (00254) 72 15 49 649
      E: [email protected]
      Sheik Issa Abdulfarah, Chairman of Kenyan Nubian Council of Elders (English, Swahili)
      T: (00254) 72 27 04 000
      E: [email protected]
    • Somalia
      Mariam Yassin Hagi, Executive Director at IIDA (Women’s Development Organisation) (English)
      T: (00254) 733900423
      E: [email protected] OR [email protected]
    • Namibia
      Khumbulani Maphosa, Communication Manager, Working Group of Minorités in Southern Africa (Africa)
      T: (00263) 73339033
      E: [email protected]
    • Mali
      Musa Amadou, Advocacy Manager, Association Malienne pour le Développement (AMADE)
      T: +223-229-59-09
      E: [email protected]
    • Nigeria
      Lazarus Tamana, Coordinator of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)
      T: +234-840-233-907
      E: [email protected]
  • State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015 is available for free download on MRG’s website on 2 July 2015
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

To arrange interviews or request a copy of the report, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected] .