• 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.

The Indigenous World 2024: 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 Bagyeli 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 Bagyeli 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 favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 but has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

Legislative reforms

Some laws in favour of Indigenous Peoples have recently been enacted. Large infrastructure projects such as dams, roads, and extractive industries occur mostly on the territories of Indigenous Peoples and, for this reason, the government decided to give responsibility for monitoring social and environmental safeguards to the Department of Social Affairs, which is also responsible for Indigenous Peoples through Act No. 2022/ 5074 / PM of 4 July 2022,[1] thus replacing the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED), which is usually responsible for environmental issues.

Cameroon has internalized the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol by means of Law No. 2021 / 014 of 9 July 2021 regulating access to genetic resources, their derivatives and the traditional knowledge associated thereto and the benefit-sharing arising from their utilization. These texts have been developed in order to protect and promote Indigenous Peoples’ cultures and traditional knowledge. The law that transposed the Nagoya Protocol was emphasized during a workshop held during the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to sensitize, educate and inform the public, Indigenous Peoples and local communities on the advances that have been made in implementing the CBD and its related texts. The focal person said there was a need to build the capacity of Indigenous Peoples and re-enforce communication strategy at national and international levels so that Indigenous Peoples can better understand and be better able to negotiate benefit-sharing. These are some of the actions that will take place in the coming years.

The Inter-ministerial Committee on Oversight of Indigenous Peoples’ Projects (CISPAV)

The 11th session of the CISPAV[2] was held on 25 July 2023 in the run-up to the commemoration of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, under the auspices of the Ministerial Department of Social Affairs (MINAS). The sessions are held every year and serve to take stock of the achievements made towards the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon, in collaboration with technical and financial partners, sectorial ministries, civil society organizations (CSOs) and Indigenous people representing their organizations. The session was chaired by the Minister of Social Affairs, Mrs. Irene Pauline Nguene.

In her opening remarks, she highlighted the importance of the right to citizenship, noting the significant number of Indigenous people who do not have civil status documents, thus hindering their participation in the political life of the nation and constituting a setback to their self-determination. In relation to this theme, it was noted that there had been significant advances made during the year, such as the provision of birth certificates for Indigenous children in East and Adamawa regions through a mechanism of community participation for the registration of births, the promotion of Indigenous Peoples’ participation in party politics supported by Elections Cameroon (ELECAN), and work on the education of Indigenous children and income-generating activities for women.

The first presentation of the day was by the Director of Solidarity, Mr. Makita Georges, who also addressed the importance of citizenship for Indigenous Peoples and said that results of the evaluation of the National Plan for the Development of Indigenous Peoples show that actions that guarantee the rights of access to citizenship were particularly emphasized during the year. He also highlighted the importance of the protection and promotion of Indigenous Peoples, and how both the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and the CISPAV were central to carrying out this work.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

The 29th annual celebration of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which is the 15th time it has been held in Cameroon, was commemorated under the theme of “A strategic meeting on the Participation of Indigenous Peoples in inclusive sustainable development”. It took the form of workshops and the attendees included sectorial departments, technical and financial partners and Indigenous people from their different organizations along with CSOs working in the area.

The meeting was chaired by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Many themes were presented on the participation of Indigenous Peoples in inclusive sustainable development. Several presentations were given by three government officials, the Director of National Solidarity, the focal persons for the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol, on “The problem of the social inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon”, emphasizing the inclusion of Indigenous youth and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and two other presentations were given on the themes of “Environment and Natural Resources, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol” and “Benefit-Sharing for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in genetic resources in association with traditional knowledge”, highlighting Indigenous Peoples as custodians of traditional knowledge and genetic resources and placing them central to research, and noting the importance of benefit-sharing for and the effective participation of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

Presentations were also made by an Indigenous leader and a traditional leader from local communities.

Aissatou Manu, Secretary General of the Ministry of Social Affairs, showed how Indigenous Peoples use their traditional knowledge to preserve the environment and how they can be agents of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Indigenous leader, His Majesty Mvondo, gave a presentation on what is traditional knowledge (TK) and showed that all inventions have their origin in the TK of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, which therefore means that Indigenous Peoples are rich because they have right to share the benefits from their genetic resources.

In her closing remarks, the Chair reflected on the solidarity shown by the presence of several well-known figures from the government services. She called on Indigenous Peoples to be agents of sustainable development. She added that Indigenous youth are changing due to social mutations and the development of extractive industries on their territories. She also said that promoting the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, civil status registration and automation and self-determination were key to the survival of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous Peoples and conservation

The protected areas of Cameroon include national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, faunal reserves, and one floral sanctuary.

Over the past decade, due to strong criticism of the conservation societies’ gross human rights violations and strong advocacy from human rights organizations and development organizations, coupled with the increasing problems and escalating costs associated with traditional conservation models and the growing realization of the potential benefits to conservation from working with communities, and Indigenous communities in particular, some conservationists have begun to accept the need to involve communities in their conservation plans. It was in this light that, through its Forest and Wildlife department, the Cameroon government signed the first Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with Indigenous-led organizations in some of the parks.

In 2021, they signed an MoU with the Association Sanguia Bakabuma’a Kpode (ASBABUK), a Baka association based in Mouloundou District, Boumba-et-Ngoko Division in the East Region of Cameroon, to grant access for Baka communities living around the Lobeke National Park to carry out their traditional activities within the park. Other MoUs were signed for the Campo Maa’an to allow access to the Bagyeli communities. The MoUs did not yield the expected results, however, because of the fear that these communities have towards the well-trained forest guards, who have often used extreme brutality against these communities when they trespassed into the parks. There was also not enough sensitization to this important act, which will have immense benefits for the Baka and Bagyeli peoples, who have long been deprived of the resources of these parks.

A new MoU, No. 0077, was signed between the Ministry of Forest and Wildlife (MINFOP) and ASBABUK on 19 September 2023 granting access to Baka communities to spaces and resources within four national parks in the East of Cameroon: the National Parks of Lobeke, Nki, Boumna Bek, and Ngoyla fauna. This was a breakthrough that will transform the relationship between conservation and Indigenous Peoples from conflictual to inclusive and promote participatory conservation. There has been a great deal of mobilization among the Indigenous Peoples’ networks and other organizations working for the promotion and protection of Indigenous People’s rights to sensitize and educate the communities on this MoU. The conservators are also keen to see that the MoU is this time implemented and producing the expected results.

Indigenous Peoples mobilized through the general assemblies of their organizations and networks

The Réseau Recherche - Actions Concertées Pygmées (RACOPY) network held a consultation meeting in December in Lokomo East Region, in collaboration with the services of the MINFOP, the conservator of Lobeke Park and the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF).

The objective of the meeting was to discuss how to publicize the renewed MoU between MINFOP-ASBABUK and to draft an action plan to render the MoU effective in 2024 by giving access to spaces in the park to the Baka communities around the park so that they can carry out their traditional activities as well as contribute to the sustainable management of the resources. The Association of the Baka (ASBABUK) insisted on article 4, which talks about engaging stakeholders with Indigenous communities, and hoped that partners would respect the agreement. Some recommendations were made at the end of the consultative meeting, such as strengthening the capacity of the members of RACOPY and the Executive Bureau of ASBABUK around engaging the Baka community and sensitizing all the neighbouring communities, and women in particular, around the park as regards to how the MoU affects them.

RACOPY held its 75th General Assembly from 2-3 November under the auspices of the Bagyeli Cultural and Development Association (BACUDA). The President of the host association welcomed the participants, who came from all the regions where there are hunter-gatherers, and all three groups were represented. The major activities carried out during the year were presented and these included actions regarding the complaints mechanisms in cases of human rights violations; inquiries made by Indigenous organizations in relation to the evaluation of the MoU for the National Park of Campo Maa’an; the national validation of the layout plan for Lobeke National Park;[3] the training of 75 women in income-generating activities such as the harvesting of non-timber products in Yokadouma; supporting ASBABUK in the renewal of the MoU between themselves and MINFOP,[4] and raising awareness of and obtaining civil status documents such as identification cards and birth certificates.

The General Assembly of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) was also held in November. The national association for the Mbororo pastoralists holds its General Assembly every four years and it culminates in the election of a new executive committee for the next four years. Each committee is renewable just once. The incumbent Adamou Ahmadou was the only candidate and was re-elected with some changes to his former committee.

Human rights violations

There was a global backlash against gender-based violence generally in 2023 and, in Cameroon in particular, this manifested against femicides[5] from intimate partners and the armed groups in the North-West and South-West regions.

In Abong-Mbang and Mindourou local councils in the Eastern Region

  • Edwige Miloh and Jeannette Adie died following violent beatings by their alcoholic spouses in July and August 2023, respectively.
  • Christine Mami was killed by her drug-addicted partner after she refused to pay back his 200 FCFA (approx. EUR.03) on 28 October 2023.
  • Akade and Henriette Mowe were killed following stabbings by their spouses.
  • A 16-year-old youth arrested for stealing an Android phone died in his cell in the Abong-Mbang gendarmerie brigade in September 2023.
  • Céline Mboutou received a blow to her head with a pickaxe from her husband Jean-Pierre Ndondo and ended up in a coma on 26 November 2023.
  • Brigitte Kokosso, aged 20, was burned with a hot knife by her Bantu husband Victor Tsala on 20 January 2024.

In the Ocean Division, South Region

  • A young Bagyeli girl was killed by a Bantu in a rape attempt in October 2023.
  • In Dioula, a Baka woman died as a result of injuries inflicted by four Baka men in 2023.



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 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] The new act attributes responsibility for monitoring the conformity of social projects to the Department of Social Affairs, in accordance with dispositions of Article 2 of the said Act.

[2] The concerns of Indigenous Peoples are examined within the framework of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the oversight of Indigenous Peoples’ projects (CISPAV), created through a Ministerial Act in 2013 to coordinate and harmonize all actions of various stakeholders involved in the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[3] Report on the first consultation on the implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement between ASBAKUK-MINFOP, for the Lobeke National Park segment in Lokomo, Salapoumbe district; 28 December 2023.

[4] MOU No. 0077 between MINFOP and ASBABUK granting access to spaces and resources to Baka Communities within the national parks of Lobeke, Nki, Boumna Bek, and Ngoyla fauna and their surroundings to carry out their traditional activities; 19 September 2023.

[5] UN Office on Drugs and Crime & UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “Gender-related killings of women and girls (femicide/feminicide): Global estimates of gender-related killings of women and girls in the private sphere in 2021: Improving data to improve responses.” 2022. Accessed 17 February 2024. https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-11/Gender-related-killings-of-women-and-girls-improving-data-to-improve-responses-to-femicide-feminicide-en.pdf

Tags: Women, Human rights, Biodiversity, Conservation



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