photo: Numbi Connie Samantha, Project Officer Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)
Indigenous people also known as “aborigines” are those who have retained their social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. There is however no rigid definition of what makes a group indigenous, but a few characteristics that usually define indigenous groups include; maintaining a close tie to the land in both cultural and economic practices; suffering from economic and political marginalization as a minority group; and a group that defines itself as indigenous.
Defining minority groups is therefore not straightforward and a numerical definition does not in itself adequately describe indigenous minorities. Some exist together in well- defined areas while others are scattered throughout the country.
The Third Schedule of the Ugandan Constitution recognizes all tribes who were in existence at the end of colonization as indigenous. According to the 2014 Census, 17 ethnic groups have fewer than 25,000 people: these are the Aliba, Banyabindi, Bahehe, Banyabutumbi, Basongora, Batwa, Gimara, Ik, Lendu, Mening, Mvuba, Ngikutio, Nyangia, Reli, Shana, Tepeth and the Venoma. However, there are other groups that have not been included in neither the Census nor the Constitution but claim a status as minority groups or have been listed as such by researchers and these include the Benet, Barundi, Bayaga, Bagangaizi, Meru, Basese, Mwanngwar, Bakingwe and Banyanyanja.
On 9th August 2017 the world will be celebrating the World Day of Indigenous People, under the theme: Celebration of the10th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), of which Uganda is a signatory. It is important to recognize that special measures are required to address the many issues which are common to the majority of the ethnic minorities namely; identity and recognition, political representation which is limited usually to the local as opposed to the district or national levels, education and language, safeguarding cultural heritage, and access to land as a cultural resource especially when the cultural sites are within national parks which are restricted.
Article 36 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda specifically mentions the “protection of rights of minorities” and the need for “affirmative action for marginalized groups” Article 32. As a member of the Coalition for the Rights of the Indigenous and Minority Groups (IMGs) in Uganda, considerable efforts are needed by Government and other stakeholders to prevent the marginalization on the basis of their cultural identity and – at worst – their cultural elimination; ensure access to justice for IMGs by providing free legal representation through public interest litigation, and translating existing legislation into local indigenous languages and providing information in user friendly formats. The urgency of affirmative action is needed.
By: Numbi Connie Samantha, Project Officer Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)