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Down to business

22 November 2007

MRG’s Programmes Officer, Neil Clarke, prepares to make an intervention at the African Commission, gets to know MRG’s partner organisations and is inspired by their activism.

I was up like a flash this morning to catch what water was available for a warm shower and to ensure I get some cheese in my omelette… as Albert Finney famously said, “Don’t let the Hotel Exaunel grind you down.”

Today we are to make our intervention at the Commission. An intervention is a short statement under a thematic heading, in our case Indigenous Peoples. The intervention can address the Commission and attending governments directly, draws attention to specific issues and requests specific actions. It is one of the various actions you can take at such fora, alongside the opportunity to network, meet states directly and hold side events to raise awareness.

We are here with some of our partners from across Africa, who have each contributed their community’s experience and calls for action to the statement. I will briefly let you know which groups are here with us and their involvement in the statement, so you have an idea why this is such a pressing cause.

Ag Aly is from the Tuareg peoples, an indigenous pastoralist community spread across the desert borders of Mali and Niger. The Tuareg have become extremely marginalized and lack even basic services in their region. This in turn has lead to movements for greater autonomy from the Tuareg, to which the governments have responded with force. In Mali, the Tuareg region has now become militarised, prohibiting the free movement of these peoples and their access to schools and health services. In Niger, the situation is even more pressing. Under the cloak of a State of Emergency, Tuareg are subjected to arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings by the military.

Ibrahim is from the Mboro, an indigenous people of Cameroon. Again they find their community separated by national borders, across Chad and the Central African Republic. Lack of representation in government means their issues are ignored, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. It is becoming common for Mboro children to be kidnapped by armed gangs for ransom. Often the children are murdered regardless of payment and governing states are complicit by their inaction.

Benon, is a Batwa from Rwanda, the original indigenous people of the region. Batwa were caught in the middle of the tragic conflict between the dominant Tutsi and Hutu groups in Rwanda. Already marginalized, they have suffered more than any from the devastation caused by the conflict. Only 7% of Batwa have access to healthcare and 51% remain illiterate (the national figure being 25%), these are just a few of the examples.

But not all examples are negative, it is important to show that there are positive examples of good practice. Tezera from Ethiopia, has been working closely with the government and MRG for Ethiopia’s pastoralist communities. This has lead to Pastoralist representation in Parliament, a government standing committee and the recognition of Pastoralist Day as a National celebration – which all goes a long way to changing public perception of pastoralists.

So you see we are here for a greater purpose and struggle than surviving our accommodation. This is a very valuable exercise and for me a personal privilege to be in the company of these activists, regardless of the lizard in my toilet.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.