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Africa's Indigenous People: Who Are They, What Are Their Concerns?

Lucy Mulenkei, a Masai from Kenya, is the executive director of a Nairobi-based NGO called the Indigenous Information Network. The organization works primarily with east African countries. Voice of America's Cole Mallard reached Mulenkei at UN headquarters in New York to find out more about Africa’s indigenous people; who they are, where they live, and about their primary concerns.

She says the word “indigenous” is considered contentious “because Africans believe that all people are indigenous.” But she says it primarily means “people who still live in their traditional way of life on their own land.” Mulenkei says Africa’s indigenous peoples share many of the same characteristics of other indigenous peoples worldwide.

The executive director says their governments – and even aid agencies -- often ignore or overlook them. She says Africa’s main indigenous groups are nomadic pastoralists who move from place to place in search of a better life. They are found in sub-Saharan eastern Africa but can also be traced to countries in North Africa, like Algeria. Examples of indigenous peoples include the Tuareg in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad; the Fulani in Nigeria and Cameroon; and the Masai in East Africa.

Besides pastoral nomads, some of Africa’s indigenous peoples are hunter-gatherers, including the San people of southern Africa, who are known as “bush people” in Namibia, Angola and Botswana. The hunter-gatherers in the Great Lakes region include the pygmies, or Twa, located mainly in the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda. Other indigenous groups are found in Kenya, Uganda, Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon, and Gabon.

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