Minority Rights Group International released its annual report Thursday in which six of the top 10 countries listed in its Peoples Under Threat index are located in Africa. Group members say discriminatory government policies and long-standing rivalries over resources are the major factors that make particular ethnic groups and communities targets of violence and neglect on the continent.
The London-based human rights organization uses statistical analysis in its index to identify ethnic groups and other minority communities around the world most at risk of mass killings.
Topping the list of this year's Peoples Under Threat index is war-torn Somalia, where the Bantu minority group is particularly vulnerable.
Mohamed Hassan Daryeel is head of the Somali Minority Rights Forum. He says the Bantus, who are agriculturalists (farmers), are considered to be second-class citizens whose physical features are distinctive.
"Socially, they are a segregated community," said Daryeel. "Their ethnicity is different from our features. [Somalis] traditionally looked to them as slaves."
Second on the list is Sudan, which is in the process of splitting into two countries following a recent referendum. The report identifies communities in the south and the Darfur region as being most at risk.
Marusca Perazzi, spokesperson for Minority Rights Group International, says that it is not only the north-south process that is affecting pastoralists, who support themselves primarily by raising animals),such as the Dinka and Nuer.
"There are a number of issues, not only just related to the more political aspect and element of things, but also to the natural resources in the country - the fight of different communities over the resources and the economic well-being of the southern part of the country," said Perazzi.
The last four countries on the top 10 list are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast.
Uganda, Ivory Coast, and Guinea were among the 10 countries identified as having the greatest changes since last year’s index.
Minority Rights Group International says that ethnic and other minority communities are most at risk in countries that have poor governance, are prone to conflict, and have a record of previous targeted killings.
In Africa, many of the vulnerable communities are pastoralists. Conflicts affecting these groups are made worse by their exclusion from national development programs.
Africa Regional Information Officer Mohamed Matovu says most African governments refuse to accept pastoralism as a way of life.
"From that denial, then, it also contributes to the reason why these groups have perennially remained marginalized," said Matovu.
He calls on African governments to recognize how pastoralists contribute to the national economy through livestock rearing and ensure that those groups have enough access to water and land.