According to international standards, indigenous peoples are those who have preserved their traditional organisation systems, their ways of life and their own cultures through ages, despite the wearing effect of time and external influences. For this purpose, their needs, demands and designs are specific and unique to their peoples, and especially different from those of their respective national societies.
Following this differential and this gap, indigenous peoples shall have the right and ability, like others, to participate in public life and to effectively control their destiny and all actions that affect them. Thus, they will be able to guarantee their right to make decision, to maintain and develop their different ways of life, while participating in the development of their communities and thus the nation.
These populations are also characterised by their vulnerability due to marginalisation and discrimination they are generally subject because of their specificity and also the special relationship they have with their lands and territories.
An international movement to defend the rights of indigenous peoples has been initiated since 1970 by the United Nations Organisation (ONU) with significant actions implemented, including:
- The creation of a Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982 by the Economic and Social Council, which is a subsidiary body of the Sub-Commission for the fight against discriminatory measures and protection of minorities;
- The creation in 1985 by the General Assembly of the Voluntary Contribution Fund of the United Nations in favour of Indigenous Peoples, which helps indigenous community representatives and indigenous organisations to attend sessions of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, by providing financial assistance;
- The proclamation of the year 1993 by the General Assembly in its resolution 45/164 of December 18, 1990, the International Year of Indigenous Peoples;
- The proclamation by the General Assembly in its resolution 48/163 of December 21, 1993 of the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004), in order to strengthen international cooperation in solving problems faced by indigenous communities and the creation by the General Assembly of a special fund, the Voluntary Contribution Fund for the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples, in a bid to help fund projects and programmes of the Decade ;
- The institution of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples (9 August) by the General Assembly through its resolution 49/214 of December 23, 1994 (para. 8) ;
- The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has also worked for the recognition of indigenous peoples' rights since its creation by for instance, the adoption in June 1989, of Convention N°169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
As concerns Africa, the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights by the African Union (AU) has been a key moment in the consideration of indigenous peoples' rights in Africa. The African Union like the United Nations, has also instituted, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights as well as a Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Peoples / Communities.
Situation in Cameroon
Cameroon is characterised by the extraordinary diversity of its populations, with more than 250 ethnic groups. Since independence, government policy has worked to ensure national unity and one of the strategies put in place for this purpose consisted of promoting “national integration”. This is an effort of mixing populations in order to improve the understanding among them and reduce particularities.
The Constitution of January 18, 1996 of the Republic of Cameroon, in its preamble, states that "the State shall ensure the protection of minorities and preserves the right of Indigenous Peoples in accordance with the law".
In the absence of a universally accepted definition of the term “indigenous peoples” and subject to the findings of the ongoing study on this matter, reference to international standards of identification like those contained in Operational Directive 4.20 of the World Bank, enables to establish the existence of those communities in Cameroon. We can thus include two main categories:
• Mbororos communities: nomadic breeders distributed throughout the country, with high concentrations in the northern and southern parts of Cameroon. They are part of a large group that the British called the Fulani or Peul in French. They live in some parts of Adamawa, East, Northwest and the Far North Regions and the border with Nigeria, Chad and Central African Republic. They are divided into three main groups, namely Jafun, Woodabe and Aku. They are more numerous in the Northwest Region, with a population estimated at over 38 000 persons.
• Pygmy communities, distributed into three distinct groups :
- The Baka, who is the largest group with an estimated population of nearly 40 000 persons and they occupy 75 000 square kilometres in the east and the south of the country. In the Southern Region, they are particularly found in Djoum, Mintom and Oveng subdivisions in the Dja and Lobo division. In the Eastern Region, they are found in Boumba-and-Ngoko, Upper Nyong and Kadey divisions. A part of the Baka live in border sphere, in the Sangha Tri-National, specifically among Boumba-and-Ngoko, Dja and Lobo and Upper Nyong divisions in Cameroon, Sangha division in Congo and Sangha Mbaere division in Central African Republic. They have their own language, "Baka." They live in 327 hamlets distributed in 10 subdivisions: Messok, Lomie, Ngoyla, Dja Mindourou, Dimako, Mbang, Gari Gombo, Moloundou, Salapoumbe, Yokadouma.
- Bakola/Bagyelis, whose population is estimated at 3,700 persons and occupy 12 000 square kilometers in the southern part of the coastal region. They are neighbours of various Bantu tribes including Elog Mpoo, Bassa, Bulu, Ewondos, Ngoumba, Fang and others. Bakola or Bagyeli speak their own language and all the languages of their Bantu neighbours. They live in 120 hamlets distributed in 12 subdivisions: Lolodorf, Bipindi, Kribi, Campo, Niete, Akom II, Ma’an, Djoum, Mintom, Meyomessi, Oveng, Bengbis.
- The Bedzan, which would be less than a thousand, located in the transition area between savannah and forest in the centre of Cameroon (Ngambe-Tikar area, Centre Region.) They live in about 19 hamlets.