Africa is home to a large proportion of the world’s indigenous peoples. These peoples identify themselves, and are identified by others according to a range of criteria, which may vary from country to country, as well as within countries. However, despite the great diversity of situations and characteristics of indigenous peoples in the Africa region, they also have many commonalities between themselves, as well as with indigenous peoples the world over. Many indigenous peoples in Africa exercise traditional occupations such as pastoralism and hunting-gathering. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult due to pressure on their lands, non-recognition of their ways of life and traditional occupations, and discrimination, among other things.
To date, the concept of indigenous peoples in the African region has been relatively controversial. However, recently, a number of countries in Africa have begun to address indigenous peoples as a specific group with specific needs and rights, demonstrating that indigenous issues are highly relevant for the African continent. Whereas the debate on definition is still ongoing, many consider that it is neither necessary, nor desirable, to attempt to define indigenous peoples within the regional context. Where there is no specific law detailing the rights of indigenous peoples as a specific group - which is the case in most African countries - entry points can often be identified in the form of specific provisions of broader legal frameworks for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. Building capacity to address indigenous issues at all levels remains a great challenge.
In recent years, PRO 169 work in the African region has focussed primarily on capacity building, documenting the situation of legal protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, and addressing indigenous issues in PRSP processes. The programme’s focus on substantial issues has served to demonstrate that indigenous peoples – regardless of terminology or definition – are groups that have particular needs and rights that need to be addressed in a specific manner.