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Ugandan Constitution must include all ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples

23 March 2023

Minority Rights Group (MRG) welcomes the call by the Equal Opportunities Commission of Uganda for an amendment to the state’s 2005 Constitution to legally recognize eight indigenous peoples: Benet/Mosopishek, Bakingwe, Bagabo, Maragoli, Haya, Basese, Bagaya and Meru. This is an important step towards their legal recognition for these communities.  

While it is important for the government of Uganda to implement this amendment, legal recognition for these eight indigenous peoples alone is not enough. MRG calls on the government to repeal the Third Schedule to its Constitution, which only recognizes 65 indigenous communities that have the right to citizenship in Uganda. The schedule is not representative of all ethnic minority and indigenous communities in Uganda, does not reflect the fluidity of ethnicity in the African context, and does not consider the impact of colonial boundaries on ethnic compositions in bordering states.  

The lack of formal recognition of indigenous peoples has played a pivotal role in the historical injustices that they have endured. For many, the risk of statelessness has resulted in forced assimilation, loss of language and cultural erosion as well as the denial of social, economic, civil and political rights. Legal recognition of ethnic groups facing statelessness will pave the way for indigenous communities living without any recognized legal existence to enrol in schools, access health services, seek lawful employment and access banking. 

Most importantly, legal recognition will allow them to preserve their distinct culture and identity and enhance greater inclusion. For those belonging to unrecognized communities, for example, the requirement to state one’s tribe when applying for identity documents results in forced assimilation into other communities. This must change to be truly inclusive of all ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples in Uganda. 

MRG also calls on the government to endorse the adoption of the Draft Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa and to ratify it. Further, Uganda must fulfil its promise to ratify the United Nations 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, having made a formal pledge to do so in 2010. 

Photo: A cross section of the Maragoli community attending a meeting with members of committee on legal and parliamentary affairs of the Ugandan parliament. The meeting was a key step before a constitutional amendment process which will consider officially recognising the Maragoli as one of Uganda’s indigenous communities. May 2021. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo/MRG