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Scramble for natural resources in East and Horn of Africa threatens minorities and indigenous peoples and fuels conflict – new global report

27 June 2012

The way of life of minorities and indigenous communities in East and Horn of Africa is under threat as governments and investors expand natural resource extraction on their lands, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in its 2012 annual report.

State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 documents the scale and severity of the impact on minorities of an unprecedented competition for scarce resources, prompted by the prolonged drought that wreaked havoc in the region and the knock-on effects of the global economic downturn. Across the region, but disproportionately in minority and indigenous areas, communities are struggling to access and gain control of the land and natural resources they depend upon for their livelihoods and culture.

‘Sustainable natural resource development has to benefit all communities and should not come at the expense of minorities and indigenous peoples,’ says Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG. ‘Natural resource extraction that affects minority and indigenous groups should be pursued only with their participation and in a way that does not erode cultural or religious identity.’

The report highlights cases showing how the rush for the remaining resources in the region has thrown communities into conflict, leaving tens of thousands displaced through land grabs and livelihoods threatened.

In Ethiopia, the government continues to commit gross human rights violations by uprooting thousands of indigenous people from the remote western region of Gambella, including Anuak and Nuer, through its controversial villagisation programme, in order to free up land for large-scale agricultural investment.

Since the start of relocation, estimated to target 45,000 households, there have been reports of armed violence, sometimes resulting in deaths, between Ethiopian forces, indigenous Anuak and Nuer, highlanders (Ethiopians who are non-indigenous to Gambella region) and foreigners working on agricultural estates.

In western Uganda, the Basongora, a pastoralist community in Kasese district, have never recovered their land lost under colonial rule to pave way for the Queen Elizabeth National Park. This is despite successive post-independent governments promising to resettle them and address the social injustice suffered by the community.

For over a decade, the Basongora have had running battles with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, mandated to protect the park, whenever the community tries to access the park. This hostility prompted President Museveni in April 2012 to warn the Uganda Wildlife Authority against arbitrarily evicting people from national parks, urging them to instead convince communities of the benefits that conserving national parks and tourism can bring.

In South Sudan, Africa’s newest state, a history of cattle raiding between the Lou Nuer and the Murle, as well as other groups, has developed into inter-communal violence on a highly organised scale in Jonglei state, affecting some 120,000 people. Competition over oil and other resources between the Khartoum government and South Sudan including a series of conflicts escalating along the border areas between the two countries has escalated the formation of militia groups and a breakdown of traditional structures of authority.

In the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo, the Buela, a forest community, signed an agreement in 2011 with a subsidiary of a European company to allow forest areas used by the community to be logged. However, the company did not inform the community of its rights and responsibilities before the agreement and the presence of military personnel at the signing ceremony was intimidating to a community that had previously suffered torture, killing and rape at the hands of the army.

The report sets out for the first time corporate responsibility in relation to minority rights, and provides evidence of companies’ ongoing disregard for minority and indigenous peoples’ rights (even when their Corporate Social Responsibility policies say otherwise).

In Kenya, the government’s ambitious Vision 2030, meant to transform parts of the country into modern cities, looks set to be implemented at the expense of the livelihoods and cultures of minority and indigenous groups who live there. For instance, the government is set to develop Lamu, the largest town on Lamu Island and one of the oldest and best preserved settlements among Swahili towns in East Africa, into a port, airport and a refinery.

The proposed railway line between Lamu Port and Addis Ababa will pass through northern Kenya, affecting communities such as Bajuni, Boni and pastoralists who reside in Isiolo area.

‘For any development or investment project that would have a major impact within the community’s territory, the government and investors have a duty not only to consult with the community, but also to obtain their free, prior and informed consent,’ says Mark Lattimer.

Notes to the editor

  • Interview opportunities in Africa available with:
    • Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director
    • Mohamed Matovu, East and Horn of Africa Section Author
    • Ethiopian minority activist – name withheld for security reasons
    • Mr. Amos Isimbwa, Founder, Basongora Group for Justice and Human Rights – +256704777007
  • Download the report in full here.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries

To arrange interviews, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].