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Ireland Aid 3 (IA3): Realising the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples in East and Central African Programme

Duration: July 2015 – June 2018

Communities: Batwa, Benet, Endorois, Ik, Maasai, Ogiek

What was this programme about?

This programme aimed to protect and advance the rights of highly marginalised and impoverished minorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

We wanted to strengthen the voices of these communities in national, regional and international human rights systems, undertake strategic legal cases on minority rights issues, and build the capacity of minority communities at the grassroots level to advocate for change.

Minorities in these countries face high levels of poverty, low access to basic services, low political participation, and suffer human rights violations on a daily basis. In order to create change, we worked with marginalised communities to greater understanding of their human rights and resource control issues, strengthen their ability to use the law effectively, and improve their advocacy skills. We wanted to engage commitment from local, national and international decision-makers to protect minority rights in the long term.

Why did we deliver this programme?

For many years, minority and indigenous communities in these countries have experienced loss of lands and livelihoods, lack of access to basic services, lack of accountability by decision-makers, loss of cultural spaces, and ongoing and pervasive social discrimination.

The communities we worked with fall into two traditional livelihood categories: pastoralists and hunter-gatherers.

Pastoralism, the practice of herding and raising livestock, directly supports an estimated 20 million people in East and Central Africa, yet policy making tends to marginalize pastoralist communities. Living in remote arid or semi-arid areas, they are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity and conflict. Their lands are appropriated for biofuel farming, tourism and other ‘investments’. Despite laws and policies to protect land rights, pastoralists suffer systematic land alienation, evictions, intimidations, and marginalisation. Across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, pastoralists are inadequately, if at all, consulted on policies which affect their lives.

Pastoralists experience entrenched poverty and persistent discrimination, with the majority population perceiving them as ‘sub-human’ and therefore devoid of rights. For example, long-standing racism is so internalised that Batwa (a pastoralist community) now effectively self-exclude.

Hunter-gatherers, who depend primarily on wild foods for subsistence, live across DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. Their cultural lives, and sometimes their economic lives, are closely intertwined with forests. However, governments have private interests have limited pastoralists’ access to forests, thereby threatening their very survival.

For example, the Benet in Uganda, a former hunter-gatherer community living on the side of Mt Elgon, have over the years been evicted from their ancestral lands through ‘conservation’ initiatives. In Kenya, the Ogiek (also hunter-gatherers) have an immense spiritual and cultural connection with their ancestral land. Over time, they have been dispossessed of their lands, first by colonial powers and more recently by the Kenyan government.

What did we do?

  • Providing paralegal training sessions as well as nine bursaries for paralegal trainees to undertake activities based on new learning from the paralegal/ refresher training.
  • Providing legal support on four legal cases involving violations of the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples to create a useful body of legal decisions which can both inform the mindset of decision-makers and provide a model for other indigenous groups in similarly challenging situations.
  • Advocacy sessions and country-level and cross-country networking meetings.

Who were our partners?


  • Réseau des Associations Autochtones Pygmées (RAPY)
  • Foyer de Développement pour l’Autopromotion des Pygmées et Indigènes Défavorisés (FDAPID)

In Uganda

In Kenya

In Tanzania

In Rwanda

What did we achieve?

The expected results of this IA3 programme were ‘To make IP voices stronger’ and ‘to keep decision makers accountable’. The programme objectives evaluated were ‘Programme effectiveness’ and ‘Recommendations for changes in methods or targets’.

This report encountered confidence from interviewees within and outside IA3 that indigenous land rights issues are gaining ground, even in an unfavourable global environment of closing borders and profit maximisation. The link to environmental stewardship by IPs – expressed in the Mid-Term Evaluation (MTE) – provides powerful potential for MRG partners to deepen global public understanding and create advocacy links to IPs. Continued support for regional litigation can ultimately provoke concrete national law changes.

The report demonstrates that completion of logframe activities have been effective in strengthening IP voices and gains in community understanding of human rights. Generally, the program should continue long-term its community level ‘discussion under trees’. Effectively trained Paralegals at community level, and community representatives through accountability mechanisms, have raised those voices to partners, MRGA, local political structures and even made some spectacular interventions at the highest national level decision makers and power structures. The research found that paralegals showed good understanding of a paralegal’s role conceptually and in their respective communities. Partners also knew what they wanted from capacity building in their job of making voices stronger; more can be done in planning with them on a strategic approach to the more difficult job of holding decision-makers accountable.

The programme overall was effective and provided Irish Aid with good value-for-money, with multiple activities sharing relatively small sums. It can only be seen as one stage in a long-term and expanded commitment; history teaches that the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples always have to be claimed in an arduous, painstaking manner, requiring long-term, concerted, expanded donor, MRG, partner and community commitment.