The Indigenous World 2023: Cameroon
Among Cameroon’s more than 20 million inhabitants, some communities self-identify as Indigenous. These 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 developments in international law, civil society, Indigenous Peoples and the government are increasingly using 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 Bagyéli or Bakola, who are estimated to number around 4,000 people, the Baka – estimated at around 40,000 – and the Bedzang, estimated at around 300 people. The Baka live above all in the eastern and southern regions of Cameroon. The Bakola and Bagyéli live in an area of around 12,000 km2 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 north-west of Mbam in the Ngambè Tikar region.
The Mbororo people living in Cameroon are estimated to number over one million and they make up approx. 12% of the population. They live primarily along the borders with Nigeria, Chad and the Central African Republic. Three major groups of Mbororo are found in Cameroon: the Wodaabe in the Northern Region; the Jafun, who live primarily in the North-West, West, Adamawa and Eastern Regions; and the Galegi, popularly known as the Aku, who live in the East, Adamawa, West and North-West and North Regions.
Cameroon voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 but has not ratified ILO Convention 169.
The 10th session of the Inter-ministerial Committee on Oversight of Indigenous Peoples’ Projects (CISPAV)
The 10th session of CISPAV was held on 3 August 2022 in the Merina Hotel and saw the participation of Statutory members such as governmental sectorial administrations that conduct work in relation to Indigenous Peoples, technical and financial partners, representatives from programs and projects, civil society organizations working on Indigenous issues, representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and the technical secretariat of the CISPAV. The general objective of the session was to continue making the National Plan for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (PNDPA) known to the principal social actors to ensure that they anchor all their activities in favor of Indigenous Peoples in the PNDPA. It was also an opportunity to encourage funding institutions working in the field of promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples to orient their funding towards the PNDPA, evaluate the actions carried out in favor of Indigenous Peoples in 2021-2022 and conduct advocacy for the mobilization of resources with which to implement the PNDPA. The proposed budget for implementation of the five-year plan stands at some USD 21 million.
The Minister of Social Affairs, Mrs. Pauline Irene Nguene, welcomed the participants. She outlined various reforms and initiatives on the part of the government and its partners to promote the development of the human capital and well-being of Indigenous Peoples, among which is the adoption of the National Plan for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (PNDPA), which is a reference document for Indigenous Peoples’ development. She expressed her concern to ensure the socio-economic inclusion of Indigenous Peoples based on an integrated vision of their development and by placing the Indigenous Peoples themselves at the heart of their own development. All of which needs a real synergy of action between the different actors working to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is in this light that she pleaded with the representatives of government departments to carry out advocacy within their departments to take the PNDPA on board. She also called on the technical and financial partners present to align their programs and projects on Indigenous Peoples within the framework of the PNDPA. This was followed by a presentation of actions carried out in the area of promoting Indigenous Peoples by the various stakeholders in 2022. These actions were in the field of education, health, agriculture, intercommunity dialogue, citizenship, conservation and the sustainable management of resources. Difficulties faced included the poor involvement of Indigenous Peoples in projects involving them, a lack of collaboration between the various actors and insufficient communication.
Future priority areas identified were the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in the management of local affairs, taking into account their specific needs in regional development plans, the production of a guide for the inclusive development of Indigenous Peoples and a scaling up of the distribution of civil status documents.
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon was celebrated in Batouri, in the Kadey Division of East Region on 9 August 2022 under the theme “The role of Indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge”.
Cameroon also celebrated the day under a second theme of “Promoting inclusive education in a post-COVOD-19 context: the place of the Indigenous child”.
The event was a moment for socializing between Indigenous groups, showcasing their knowledge such as their pharmacopoeia, colorful dress and hairstyles, artifacts such as calabashes for milk conservation, culinary and colorful dances.
In her speech, Minister Nguene stressed the role of the Indigenous woman and called for the inclusion of women in decision-making spaces. She also emphasized the important role education plays, especially for Indigenous girls, in fighting prejudice and gender-based violence, which are a cause for exclusion. She stressed that, in order to leave no one behind, Indigenous Peoples should place more emphasis on education, and that of the girl child in particular, blending universal education with traditional knowledge as Cameroon does not yet have special education programs for Indigenous Peoples like some other countries.
Indigenous Peoples and protected areas
The protected areas of Cameroon include national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, faunal reserves, and one floral sanctuary. With the support of international conservation societies and other international development organizations, the Cameroonian authorities have set up several programs since 2017 to continue to strengthen the protection of natural resources and biodiversity in the fight against climate change.
In 2022, Cameroon once again recorded practices of injustice against Indigenous Peoples in relation to conservation issues and protected areas. These acts included the granting of concessions without consulting Indigenous Peoples. As a result, the allocation of large portions of land for conservation has had negative consequences for Indigenous Peoples, who are continuously impoverished on a daily basis.
In the case of the Far North region of Cameroon, for example, the situation of the Indigenous Peoples living in the vicinity of the Waza, Benue and Bouba Djidda parks deteriorated in 2022 given that the three protected areas cover more than 40% of the total area of the region thus increasing the vulnerability of Indigenous people such as the Mbororo whose lifestyle entails moving in search of pastures for their cattle. For a region like the Far North, this marked reduction in the size of accessible arable land for Indigenous people brings about an automatic shortage of natural resources – something which is especially serious given the region’s high demographic growth and growing desertification. These issues were key factors behind the ongoing intercommunity crisis between the Arab Choas and Mbororos pastoralists, and the Kotokos and Mousgoun who are farmers and fisher people’s communities in 2022, who continued to fight over land and natural resources. These conflicts led to the massive displacement of people fleeing the conflict to other parts of the country and into the neighboring countries of Tchad and Nigeria.
Nevertheless, over the past ten years, due to strong advocacy from human rights and development organizations, the increasing problems and escalating costs associated with traditional conservation models and the growing realization of the potential benefits to conservation of working with communities, and Indigenous communities in particular, some conservationists have begun to accept the need to involve communities in their conservation plans. Since the 1990s, conservation projects have begun to involve Indigenous Peoples and local communities; however, few have involved communities fully in the development and implementation of their management plans for conservation areas, the so called “co-management option”. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has supported a dozen conservation projects in the Congo Basin, home to numerous forest-dependent communities, to explore different approaches to co-management. However, recent works highlights that less than one per cent of Africa’s forest estates is under community-based or State/community-based management and it is likely even lower in Central Africa.
Indigenous Peoples and climate change (COP27)
Over 13 representatives of the Network of Indigenous and Local Populations for the Sustainable Management of Central African Forest Ecosystems (REPALEAC) Cameroon were present at COP 27. Many side events were organized and many of the participants from Cameroon were on panels, such as the side events organized by UNESCO, Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platforms, Global Alliance for Territorial Communities, FIMI, International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, IPACC, GEF Small Grants, FSC and REPALEAC.
Human rights violations in 2022
On 23 April 2022, Mr. Issa Djauoro was killed by an officer of the gendarmerie of Mayo Baleo in the Faro and Deo Division of Adamawa Region. Mr. Issa, a Mbororo pastoralist from the area, was stopped by gendarmes for a routine control. It was said he had all his identification papers but the gendarmes threatened him and insisted on taking him to their brigade to lock him up. He was scared and tried to run but one of the gendarmes shot him at short range. The gendarmes then ran, abandoning him while he was in agony. A truck of the Rapid Intervention Unit that was on patrol found him and took him to hospital but he died upon arrival. The family launched a complaint with the government’s Commissioner for Military Justice. The perpetrator, Mr. Mukete, was arrested and is in custody awaiting trial. His arrest came as a result of advocacy by Indigenous organizations and media publicity of the killing.
Still in the Adamawa Region, Hamadou Bello, Garba and Mallam Ali were fleeing threats of hostage takers from Mbe Division so they hurriedly asked for a transhumance permit to move their herds of animals with their families to a more secure locality. They were some 23 family members in total, and they were moving their herds of around 500 cows, and 200 sheep, goats and donkeys. They moved out of the transhumance corridor that was on their official permit in order to escape the hostage takers, who threatened to follow them. However, they were arrested by the gendarmerie brigade commander of Ngan-ha on 19 March 2022 and accused of theft and trespass. On the transhumance permit, they had declared fewer animals than they had in their possession, which is a common practice because of the exorbitant amounts of money they have to pay for each service from the authority in charge of livestock.
The family heads were detained in the Ngaoundere Central prison awaiting trial while their wives and children stayed in the locality not knowing where to go to. Their animals were losing condition as they were crammed onto council premises without feed. The Mayor who had the responsibility of keeping the animals sold some to buy feed but it was not sufficient as heavy rains were falling. He attempted to auction the cows but retracted due to pressure from the media, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) and the regional office of the Cameroon Human Rights Commission.
The local council of Ngan-ha finally allowed the family members to help look after the animals. They registered losses as the animals died because of hunger. Kind individuals and MBOSCUDA gave the families assistance in the form of food and security. Finally, the high media coverage of the affair made the authorities of the area and even the central government find a quick solution. After several adjournments, the court gave its decision on 20 April 2022 sentencing the accused to 15 days’ imprisonment and a fine of USD 8 each. The court asked the Mayor of Ngan-ha to return all their animals, and they finally got back 400 cows. The rest could not be accounted for by the Mayor.
Insecurity remained a concern in the North-West, South-West and East regions and in the three northern regions of Cameroon throughout 2022.
In the North-West and South-West regions, there were serious confrontations between the defense and security forces and the different factions of armed groups claiming secession.
Schools and businesses in the two regions remained closed in 2022 in many rural areas. Although schools are open in the major cities of the regions, the smooth running of the academic year is still nevertheless negatively impacted much of the time by long curfews, often imposed by the armed secessionist groups who control most of the hinterland.
Movements are highly limited in the two regions, particularly because of the declaration by the secessionists of days known as “ghost town days”. This means that the population is warned and ordered to stay indoors on those days. Disobeying these orders has led to people losing their lives and is used by the secessionists as one of their main methods of operation in the ongoing conflict.
In 2022, Mbororo children continued to be the victims of school closures, especially in remote, isolated areas with difficult access. Cattle markets were likewise affected (closed) because of the imposed “ghost town days”. In addition to the closure of the cattle markets on such days, cattle owned by the Indigenous Mbororo peoples, in particular, are also regularly rustled.
Insecurity remains high in the northern regions. The pastoralists are losing their livelihood base, which is cattle, due to kidnapping, ransom-taking and killings. The phenomenon is less talked about by the media and the authorities despite the magnitude it is taking every year. In 2022, there were many raids carried out by the hostage takers who kidnap to demand heavy ransoms. Many lives were lost during 2022 in the course of kidnapping. One such case is Alhadji Yedi Kaou and Boukar, who were brothers living in Boubjo in the Rey Bouba Division and who, in an attempt to resist the kidnappers, were shot and killed in their homes in December 2022. There are so many cases of raids and killings, and most of these cases are not documented. One of the few cases that was brought to our attention shows that the ransoms paid out by three Mbororo pastoralists in Rey Bouba Division amounted to USD 60,000. These crimes are impoverishing the Mbororo pastoralists and many have lost their lives. The insecurity is forcing them to move – and sometimes to even more insecure places like the Central African Republic and Nigeria.
Hawe Hamman Bouba is Commissioner for Human Rights at the Cameroon Human Rights Commission. She is an expert member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities and Minorities in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and she is Executive President of the African Indigenous Woman Organization Central African Network (AIWO-CAN).
This article is part of the 37th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2023 in full here.
Notes and references
 The concerns of Indigenous Peoples are examined within the framework of the Inter-ministerial Committee on the oversight of Indigenous Peoples’ Projects (CISPAV). It was created through a Ministerial Act in 2013 to coordinate and harmonize all the actions of various stakeholders involved in the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
 Borrini- Feyerabend, Grazia., Ashish Kothari., Gonzalo Oviedo., and Adrian Phillips. “Indigenous and Local Communities and Protected Areas: Towards Equity and Enhanced Conservation.” January 2004, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242302211_Indigenous_and_Local_Communities_and_Protected_Areas_Indigenous_and_Local_Communities_and_Protected_Areas_Towards_Equity_and_Enhanced_Conservation
 Alden-Wily, Liz. A qui appartient cette terre? Le statut de la propriété foncière coutumière au Cameroun. (Ed Fenton, 2011), https://nelga-ca.net/elibrairie/a-qui-appartient-cette-terre/
 Jugement No. 560/COR. 20 April 2022.
 Interview with Abdoulaye Sabani, focal point of AIWO-CAN for the North Region.
Tags: Global governance