• Indigenous peoples in Cameroon

    Indigenous peoples in Cameroon

    In Cameroon, the hunter-gatherers and the Mbororo constitute the biggest groups of indigenous peoples. Cameroon adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
  • Data

    2007: Cameroon adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2008: The government of Cameroon passed a decree to officially recognise the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 1,000 Mbororo pastoralists celebrated the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples 9 August 2016
  • Land rights

    Our partnerships with local organisations engage and empower indigenous peoples. We support network building and knowledge sharing. We provide financial support and capacity development to indigenous peoples’ organisations and institutions.
  • Climate

    We advocate for indigenous peoples rights at the local, national, regional and international level. The aim is to bridge the gap between international declarations and principles and local legislation and policy processes.
  • Governance

Indigenous World 2019: Cameroon

Cameroon’s population is just over 24 million. Although reliable statistics are difficult to find, a number of communities accounting for approximately 14% of the population self-identify as indigenous. These indigenous peoples include the hunter/gatherers (Pygmies), the Mbororo pastoralists and the Kirdi.

The Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon uses the terms indigenous and minorities in its preamble; however, it is not clear to whom this refers. Nevertheless, with recent developments in international law, civil society and the government are increasingly adopting the term indigenous to refer to the above-mentioned groups.

Together, the Pygmies represent around 0.4% of the total population of Cameroon. They can be further divided into three sub-groups, namely the Bagyeli or Bakola, who are estimated to number around 4,000 people, the Baka – estimated at around 40,000 – and the Bedzan, estimated at around 300 people. The Baka are primarily found in the eastern and southern regions of Cameroon. The Bakola and Bagyeli live in an area of around 12,000 square km in the south of Cameroon, particularly in the districts of Akom II, Bipindi, Kribi and Lolodorf. Finally, the Bedzang live in the central region, to the northwest of Mbam in the Ngambè Tikar region.

The Mbororo people living in Cameroon are estimated to number over 1 million people and they make up approx. 12% of the population. The Mbororo live primarily along the borders with Nigeria, Chad and the Central African Republic. Three groups of Mbororo are found in Cameroon: the Wodaabe in the Northern Region; the Jafun, who live primarily in the NorthWest, West, Adamawa and Eastern Regions; and the Galegi, popularly known as the Aku, who live in the East, Adamawa, West and North-West Regions.

The Kirdi communities live high up in the Mandara Mountain range, in the north of Cameroon. Their precise number is not known.

Cameroon voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 but has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

Legislative changes

No major legislative changes took place in 2018. All the laws that are under revision including those laws on the forest and fauna, land tenure and the pastoralist code – to which indigenous peoples and civil society organisations (CSOs) made important contributions – are still pending.

Programmes and policies

In 2018 indigenous peoples through their respective organizations participated in the activities of CISPAV (Comité de Suivi des Programmes et Projets Impliquant les Populations Autochtones Vulnérables).1 The objectives of CISPAV are:

  • The identification and centralisation of the needs for the socio-economic inclusion of indigenous peoples of Cameroon;
  • The identification and evaluation of the human, technical and financial resources available and required to put into action major development activities in favour of indigenous peoples;
  • The coordination and supervision of all programmes within the different sectorial administration bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and CSOs in favour of indigenous peoples;
  • Make proposals on how to improve all the actions that can better serve indigenous peoples.

The Committee held its 5th session in the form of a workshop on 7 August 2018 in Yaoundé as a prelude to the celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to take stock of what the government and its technical partners have done in form of actions towards indigenous peoples. Indigenous leaders from the forest and pastoralist communities attended. During the one-day workshop, the technical partners (Plan Cameroon, FEDEC, UN agencies, PNDP, WWF and the National Institute for Human Rights, etc.) gave their reports on their promotional and protection activities relating to indigenous peoples. These organizations have worked mostly with the hunter gatherer communities in the South and East Regions, and their actions have centred on providing water, schools and birth certificates.

Indigenous peoples, REDD+ and climate change

In June 2018 Cameroon validated the REDD+ National Strategy. The validation of the Strategy was preceded by a broad consultation with stakeholders from all five agro-ecological zones of the country.

Self-assessments related to the REDD+ Readiness Package were also carried out. Indigenous peoples did the self-assessment in two groups: the forest people did theirs in Mbalmayo in the Centre Region, while the pastoralists did the self-assessment in Bafoussam in the West Region of Cameroon. The results of the assessments were good and qualified Cameroon for additional funds. In multi-stakeholder meetings in the month of November 2018 an additional grant of USD 5 million was accorded to the government of Cameroon. It was agreed that two envelopes will be made to civil society and indigenous peoples to continue capacity building efforts to reinforce their participation in the REDD+ process.

In January 2018 in a workshop organised by the African Indigenous Women Organization Central African Network (AIWO-CAN), indigenous organisations created the Platform REDD+ and Indigenous Peoples of Cameroon (PREPAC) through which they can better participate in the REDD+ process with AIWO-CAN as the lead organisation.

Celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

In 2008, the Government of Cameroon passed a decree to officially recognise the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In August a number of activities were carried out by the government and indigenous peoples which culminated in the celebration of the day. As is the tradition, the celebration in 2018 was officially launched on 7 August in Yaoundé. The celebration of the day itself was done in Nyabaka, a locality in the Adamawa Region, inhabited by Mbororo pastoralists. The Minister in charge of Social Affairs Mme Pauline Irene Nguene presided over the ceremony.

National dialogue on indigenous peoples’ rights and access to citizenship

The hunter gatherers through their platform GBABANDJI2 and the OKANI organization organized a dialogue from 10 to 12 December 2018 in Yaoundé. The main theme of the dialogue was a “National dialogue on indigenous peoples’ rights and access to citizenship”. The objective was to look at ways to push their civil rights so as to enjoy these rights and participate fully in the affairs of the state.

For many decades the forest peoples of Cameroon have organised themselves in various associations and networks to make their voices heard, and the following organisations participated in the dialogue: ASBAK, CADDAP, ABAWONI, ABAGUENI, ADEBAKA, ARBO, BACUDA, BUMA

BO KPODE, ASKOBAK, ADEPA, ASBANGO. Other indigenous organisations like the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) – and the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Reseau de Population Autochtones et local pour la gestions durable des eco-systeme forestiere en Afrique Central (REPHALEAC) were also present to share their experiences. The European Union, the Forest Peoples Program and important government departments were also present.

Among the many problems faced by the forest peoples, the question of the right to citizenship is the most serious. It is therefore urgent to find solutions and measures to resolve this persistent problem.

The results of a community study3 that was carried out in 2018, reveals that half of the forest peoples do not possess identity documents. This situation is very serious as it considerably limits the enjoyment of their rights of citizenship, the right to move around freely, to vote, to access education and to participate in the public affairs of their country.

At the end of the dialogue some practical resolutions were adopted:

  • To produce 6,000 birth certificates and national identification cards to the indigenous communities;
  • To technically accompany indigenous peoples to access birth certificates and national identification cards;
  • To facilitate indigenous peoples’ access to public services;
  • To put in place systematic measures for the registration of births in indigenous communities;
  • To train traditional nurses to follow up on rights to citizenship in their communities;
  • To sign agreements between indigenous organisations and sectorial services like local governments, health centres, police services and courts to facilitate services for the indigenous

Civil strife and its effects on the Mbororo pastoralist

Une crise à caractère ségrégationniste couve en marge de la crise du nord Ouest et du sud ouest, ou le Mbororo font les frais de la violence aveugle, sous fond de xénophobie, des combattants sécessionnistes, à l’insu des toutes communications. 4

The civil strife in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, the North-West and the South-West, remains a cause of great concern for the Mbororo pastoralists. In 2016, lawyers’ and teachers’ associations from these two regions began a strike aimed at improving their socio-economic and civil rights. This situation has degenerated into civil war with a demand for total secession of these two regions from the republic of Cameroon. All attempts at negotiation have failed and the situation has escalated into total chaos. This violence has taken the form of abductions, killings, looting and the burning of public and private properties. The abductions and killings in early 2018 targeted mainly the military and government officials in the two regions.

Towards the last quarter of 2018 civilians were caught in between the military and the separatist groups with each accusing the other of excessive use of force and human rights violations on the civilian population. Mbororo pastoralists were targeted particularly during this period. This is partly because they live in dispersed and remote areas due to their economic activity of cattle herding. The leaders of the separatist groups living abroad, and those on the ground, have used social media to call for attacks on the Mbororos. They also believe that the Mbororos are strangers and don’t belong in the new state that they want to create. This feeling has given rise to generalised attacks on the Mbororo pastoralists in the form of hostage taking, demands of ransoms, killings, maiming of cattle, looting and burning of their homes and properties. This has caused displacement of about 2,500 Mbororo people from the two regions to other parts of the country and to Nigeria in the last quarter of the year. Over 1,000 of their cattle have been stolen and maimed. In the last quarter of 2018, 48 Mbororo pastoralists were killed by the separatist’s groups in the North West Region.5

Mbororo children whose enrolment in schools has otherwise for the last decades been on the rise, in the North-West Region has dropped considerably, thus thwarting all of the MBOSCUDA’s efforts in promoting education over the last two decades.

Support to displaced pastoralists

The MBOSCUDA and other NGOs carried out humanitarian assistance to Mbororo pastoralists fleeing attacks and killings from the two English-speaking regions of the country. In 2018 the conflict degenerated into unprecedented violence and the pastoralists who survived fled to the city centres and the neighbouring regions and to Nigeria (Taraba State) to seek refuge. Assistance in the form of food, first aid and sleeping bags were distributed in Douala, Baffoussan town, and the Noun Division, Adamawa and the North West Region itself. More aid is being collected and will be channelled to these localities. The pastoralists of Nigeria returned the hospitality that was extended to them in 2017 by giving their brothers refuge, food and clothing.

The insecurity in the Adamawa Region

Another region affected by insecurity is the Adamawa Region, which is plagued by what can be termed a silent war. The hostage taking in exchange for heavy ransoms 6 is more disastrous than any normal war. This phenomenon has been going on for many years and has affected the population of the Region in a dramatic way. The Mbororo pastoralists have been particularly affected since their cattle is wealth that is attractive to the kidnappers.

Three hundred and eleven Mbororo pastoralists (women, children and men) have been taken as hostages in the region from 2015 to 2018. Twenty-nine persons were liberated by the forces of law and order while 212 persons were freed because they sold their cattle and paid the ransoms. Seventy persons were killed either because they couldn’t pay or because intervention was inefficient and often late. More than 5,000 cattle have been stolen and about 2,157,400,000 CFA franc (around 3.8 million USD) were paid out as ransom by the Mbororos people within the period.

Many wonder if these colossal amounts of stolen money are just armed robbery or rather a phenomenon entertained at some higher levels of society. What is glaring are the socio-economic consequences. Poverty has set in and juvenile delinquency is on the rise with the risk to prolong the cycle of conflict.

Notes and references

  1. Created by Ministerial Order n° 022/A/MINAS/SG/DSN of 6 August 2013 by the Ministry of Social Affairs
  2. The objective of the GBABANDJI network is to carry out actions to lobby the Government of Cameroon for a better implementation of the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and for a better integration of the rights of indigenous peoples in the actions to implement the Sustainable Development
  3. Citoyenneté: La situation des peuples autochtones de la foret au cameroun (sources: platform Gbabandi 2018).
  4. A release from the service of Communication of the Ministry of
  5. Statistics from Mboscuda north-west Regional Office
  6. Statistics from Mboscuda Adamawa Regional Office

Hawe Bouba is an expert in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. She is the National Vice President of MBOSCUDA, member of Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, member of the Cameroon National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms and President of the African Indigenous Women Organization Central African Network (AIWO-CAN).

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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