Uganda's indegenous minorities - some basic facts


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A paper developed by CCFU in 2017 for the coalition of indegenous minority groups

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Uganda’s indigenous minorities – some basic facts Prepared for the Coalition for Indigenous and Minority Groups 2017


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a. Indigenous minorities – who are they? The Government of Uganda currently uses the term “indigenous minority groups” as opposed to “ethnic minority groups” or “ethnic minorities”. What do these terms mean?  Ethnic group: A group of people whose members identify with each other through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, common culture (which can include a religion) and/or an ideology which stresses a common ancestry.1 An ethnic group has also been defined as a group of people of a particular race or nationality living in a country or area, where most people are from a different race or nationality.2  Minority group: There is no internationally agreed definition as to which groups constitute minorities, although a commonly quoted definition is “any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.”3 It is often stressed that the existence of a minority is a question of fact and that any definition must include both objective factors (such as the existence of a shared ethnicity, language or religion) and subjective factors (including that individuals must identify themselves as members of a minority). Note that being in a numerical minority is therefore not a characteristic of being a minority group (or at least not the only one sometimes larger groups can be considered minority groups due to their lack of power). Wagley and Harris (1958), distinguish five characteristics of minority groups: (1) unequal treatment and less power over their lives, (2) distinguishing physical or cultural traits, such as language, (3) involuntary membership in the group, (4) awareness of subordination, and (5) high rate of in-group marriage4. The United Nations Minorities Declaration refers to minorities as based on national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity, and provides that States should protect their existence.  Indigenous people: People5 who retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. The UN estimates that there are more than 370 million indigenous people across 70 countries. They have a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means6. They are also defined in international legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant7.There is however no rigid definition of what makes a group indigenous, but the UN and the ILO have outlined a few 1 Wikipedia 2 Cambridge dictionary 3 Wirth, L. (1945), The Problem of Minority Groups. In: Linton, Ralph (ed.), The Science of Man in the World Crisis, New York; p. 347-372 4 Wagley, C., and Harris, M. (1958), Minorities in the New World. New York: Columbia University Press. 5 Also called indigenous communities, peoples, and nations; “tribes”; “tribals”; “aborigines”; hill people, hunters-gatherers, etc. 6 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 7 2


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characteristics that usually define an indigenous group8 (descended from the precolonial/pre-invasion inhabitants; maintaining a close tie to land in both cultural and economic practices; suffering from economic and political marginalisation as a minority group; defines itself as indigenous). Indigenous groups stress that they are sustainable managers of natural resources. They have a special relation to and use of their traditional land9. Defining minority groups is therefore not straightforward and a numerical definition does not in itself adequately describe indigenous minorities. The difficulty in arriving at a widely acceptable definition lies in part in who defines a minority, and in part in the variety of situations in which they live. Some exist together in well-defined areas, separated from the dominant part of the population. Others are scattered throughout a country. Some minorities have a strong sense of collective identity and recorded history; others retain only a fragmented notion of their common heritage10. It may therefore be the use of subjective criteria, such as the will on the part of the members of the groups in question to preserve their own characteristics and the wish of the individuals concerned to be considered part of that group, combined with certain specific objective requirements that should be taken into account. If this is so, minority status is not solely for the State to decide! b. Indigenous minorities in Uganda The Equal Opportunities Commission (2014) states that that there is no clear definition of ethnic minorities in Uganda and notes that there is no documentary source that provides a comprehensive list of all ethnic minorities. In 2008, the local NGO CDRN however proposed the following definition: “Non-dominant groups of individuals who share certain national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics which are different from those of the majority population and share certain characteristics which single them out of any given society, often as marginalised groups.”11 According to the 2014 Census, 17 ethnic groups have fewer than 25,000 people: these are the Aliba, Bahehe, Banyabindi, Banyabutumbi, Basongora, Batwa, Gimara, Ik, Lendu, Mening, Mvuba, Ngikutio, Nyangia, Reli, Shana, Tepeth and the Vonoma. Other groups that have not been listed in either the Census or in the Constitution (but claim a status as a minority group or have been listed as such by researchers) include the Benet, the Barundi, Bagangaizi, Bayaga, Basese, Meru, Mwangwar, Bakingwe and Banyanyanja (CDRN, 2007) If we include communities with fewer than (or close to) 100,000 people, these represent more than 1 million fellow Ugandans: 8 9 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 10 UN Commission for Human Rights 11 Community Development Resource Network, 2008, “Ethnic Minority Groups in Uganda”, mimeo. 3


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Aliba Baamba Babukusu Babwisi Bagungu Bagwe Bahehe Bakenyi Banyabindi Banyabutumbi Banyara Banyaruguru Barundi Basongora Batagwenda Batuku Batwa Chope 18,296 42,559 37,117 101,112 83,986 99,884 4,023 99,913 16,331 10,113 47,699 48,995 92,570 15,897 56,151 35,350 6,200 34,327 Ethur Gimara Ik (Teuso) Kebu (Okebu) Kuku Lendu Mening Mvuba Napore Ngikutio Nubi Nyangia Pokot Reli Shana So (Tepeth) Vonoma 98,348 11,182 13,939 54,109 46,497 18,919 2,655 2,879 25,417 5,729 28,772 9,634 104,880 8,357 10,835 23,422 2,613 As we have seen, numbers alone however do not adequately define an indigenous minority group. “A contextually relevant definition of ethnic minorities and indigenous groups should recognise not only the numbers but also the power and control issues at play between the various groups in the community” 12(Asiimwe et al, (2012) It may indeed be argued that, in Uganda, indigenous minorities share a number of common characteristics:  being a non-dominant group (often dominated by majority attitudes and practices),  with common ethnic, religious, socio-economic or linguistic characteristics  which are distinct from those of the majority population. These characteristics often single them out as marginalised groups, frequently living in a remote geographical location, in small communities, poorer than the average population, with limited political representation and lacking access to basic social services. Although there have been some efforts by NGOs and government to promote their welfare and to recognise their social and economic rights, indigenous minorities generally suffer from an unequal distribution of national resources. Many have lost land and other means to survive, due to civil strife or to government policies on forest and wildlife conservation, while very limited alternatives have been provided. 12 Asiimwe et al, 2012 “Ethnicity and Human Rights in Uganda: A Desk Study of Human Rights issues faced by Ethnic Minorities and Indigenous Groups” (For Global Rights) 4


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Some of Uganda’s Indigenous Minorities (numbers in brackets refer to map location) The 2002 Census lists 19 ethnic groups with fewer than 25,000 people: Tepeth(1), Banyara(2), Batuku(3), Paluo (“Chope”)(4), Babukusu(5), Banyabindi(6), Lendu(7), Basongora(8), Ik(9), Batwa(10), Bahehe(11), Dodoth(12), Ethur(13), Mening(14), Jie(15), Mvuba(16), Nyangia(17), Napore(18), Vonoma(19). The third schedule of the Uganda Constitution lists several other minority groups, including the Bamba(20), Babwisi(21), Bagwe(22), Bagungu(23), Bakenyi(24), Kebu(25), Nubi(26) and the Ngikutio(27). Some groups that have self-determined are yet to be included in the Schedule including the Basese(28), Bagangaizi(29), and the Benet(30). c. The rights of indigenous minorities The 1995 Constitution of Uganda recognises the importance of cultural identity and the existence of 65 “indigenous communities”, out of which 33 are small ethnic groups, with fewer than 100,000 people. It also mentions (Article 36) the “protection 5


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of rights of minorities” and the need for “affirmative action for marginalised groups” (Article 32. Uganda has signed up to The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), which, though not legally binding, sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to culture, identity and language. It also emphasises “the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations". The Declaration prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and protects their cultural heritage and manifestations of their cultures, including human and genetic resources. Uganda is also a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), which emphasises that all peoples have the right of selfdetermination and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) stipulates “the right of minorities to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language”. Uganda is however yet to ratify the 1989 ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. While government agencies may recognise the need for “special protective and corrective measures” (EOC, 2014), there is no comprehensive policy Key cultural rights issues (CCFU, 2015) Five key issues, common to the majority of ethnic environment for minorities, need to be addressed if their cultural indigenous minority rights are to be respected: groups. 1. Identity and recognition - Negative attitudes and stereotypes that affect ethnic minorities and their Ethnic minorities assert right to express their culture must be dispelled. that their cultural rights are 2. Education and language are major requirements poorly respected. for cultural preservation and identity: they must Following a consultation with representatives of 21 be comprehensively protected and enhanced. 3. Safeguarding cultural heritage – With changing indigenous minority groups modes of life, cultural knowledge, skills, beliefs, from across the country in values and ways of life that reflect positive aspects 2015, participants of the rich and diverse heritage of some ethnic identified 5 key issues minority groups are at risk and require urgent (box): for a start, they are often stereotyped by their safeguarding 4. Political representation – In part because of their neighbours and known by small population, limited exposure and relatively derogative names (the low levels of education, ethnic minorities suffer Tepeth in Karamoja, for from limited political representation, especially at instance, are known as the So - meaning “poor”; the district and national levels - a situation that requires urgent affirmative action. Paluo are named in the 5. Access to land as a cultural resource - Ethnic Constitution as Chope meaning “the weak, who do not have men”). Their minorities have frequently been evicted and displaced from their ancestral land, resulting in grave loss of their tangible and intangible cultural heritage is also at heritage linked to physical spaces. This must be risk and poorly safeguarded; their political corrected in a respectful, just and consistent way. 6


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representation is still limited, usually to the local, as opposed to the district or national levels; and, in several cases, access to cultural sites (such as within national parks) is still restricted. Further, they are often at risk of having their culture assimilated by more numerous neighbouring groups. Key issues facing Ethnic Minority Groups (Global Rights, 2012) There has nevertheless  The issues of EMGs are not well appreciated at been a gradual awakening the national level and have largely been that the cultural rights of marginalised in the Poverty Reduction Support indigenous peoples must Strategies and now the National Development be respected. Some (such Plan. The baseline undertaken by the Equal as the Batwa) are now Opportunities Commission in 2009 further allowed regulated access established that issues of ethnic minorities in to their ancestral homes in Uganda are not regarded to be of utmost Bwindi forest to collect importance at a policy level. forest products. Other  Several structural and root causes of ethnic minorities - the Ik and the tensions remain unresolved hampering national Tepeth- have seen their reconciliation and integration in Uganda. political representation  Uganda lacks a coherent legal and policy enhanced by the recent framework to implement international human creation of parliamentary rights provisions for the protection of ethnic constituencies. minorities.  There is little effective representation within With regard to social decision making structures, both at the central services and economic and local government levels. rights, indigenous minority  Other key issues affecting EMGs include the groups also are still at a limited access to services and control of disadvantage: In Ik land, productive assets; high conflict and security for instance, there is no concerns; non-recognition and violation of single secondary school. women’s rights; limited avenues to access justice The Batwa complain and remedies for breach of EMG rights; low that,when attending a awareness of rights and mechanisms to enforce health centre, they become them; and no participation in local and national such anobject of governance structures and processes. discrimination, that access to health is seriously compromised. All ethnic minority representatives met have therefore argued that considerable effort is needed by Government and other stakeholders to prevent their marginalisation on the basis of their cultural identity and - at worst - their cultural elimination. The urgency of affirmative action is often stressed by minority groups and their allies CCFU, June 2017 7



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