An alternative conceptualization of indigenous rights in Africa under the international human rights law framework

  • Ruwadzano P. Makumbe
Keywords: human rights, ethno-cultural diversity protections, indigenous rights, Africa


This article is a practice-based elucidation of how indigenous rights can be securely protected and implemented in the broader human rights discourse. The concept of indigeneity is contested in many African countries with the primary question being: Who is indigenous? The ‘politics of recognition’ have stalled the work of the African indigenous rights movement thus far and this paper builds upon the discourse on Indigenous rights, making a proposition towards an effective machinery to facilitate their protection. Therefore, the focus is to construct a different perspective which emphasizes the need to utilize, develop and improve the existent human rights machinery. This is done through the reconceptualization of indigenous rights by utilizing the ethno-cultural protections machinery. In the last part of this article I look at the San peoples in Zimbabwe as a representative case study to bring into perspective the lived realities of indigenous peoples in Africa.

Received: 28 June 2018
Accepted: 23 October 2018
Published online: 11 December 2018


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Ruwadzano P. Makumbe
Ruwadzano is a qualified Zimbabwean lawyer. She holds a Bachelor of Laws honors degree from the University of Zimbabwe and the Joint Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in Human Rights Policy and Practice from Deusto University (Bilbao, Spain), Gothenburg University (Gothenburg, Sweden) and Roehampton University (London, Uk).


African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. 2000. “51: Resolution on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ Communities in Africa”. African Union on Human and Peoples Rights. October. Accessed March 1, 2018.

African Commission’s Working Group Of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communties. 2005. Report of the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities. African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, Banjul, The Gambia: African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, 119.

Barnard, Alan. 1992. Hunters and herders of Southern Africa: A comparative ethnography of the Khoisan peoples, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barume, Albert K. 2009. “Responding to the concerns of the African States”. Making the Declaration Work: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 170-183.

Battiste, Marie. 2002. “Decolonising University Research: Ethical Guidelines for Research Involving indigenous Populations”. In Justice Pending: Indigenous Peoples and Other Good Causes, edited by Gudmundur Alfredsson and Maria Stavropoulou, 33-44. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

Bojosi, Kealeboga, N. 2010. “The African commission working group of experts on the rights of indigenous communities/populations: some reflection on its work so far”. In Perspectives on the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples in Africa, edited by Solomon Dersso, 95-140. Cape Town: Pretoria University Law Press.

Cobo, Martinez, R, Jose. 1985. Study on the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations Final Report. United Nations, Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, United Nations.

Coltart, David. 2018. “After Mugabe: Mnangangwa’s choice”, Policy: A Journal of Public Policy and Ideas, 34(1): 51-54.

Cultural Survival. 2016. Observations on the State of Indigenous Human Rights in Zimbabwe Prepared for United Nations Human Rights Council: 2nd cycle of Universal Periodic Review of Zimbabwe 26th session of the Human Rights Council. Cambridge, MA: Cultural Survival, 1-8.

Daes, Erica. 2001. “Indigenous peoples and their relationship to land: Final working paper prepared by the Special Rapporteur”, UNHCR.

Dersso, A, Solomon. 2010. “The Socio-historical and Political Processes leading to the Emergence and development of norms on minorities”. In Perspectives on the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples in Africa, edited by A, Solomon Dersso, 43-72. Cape Town: Pretoria University Law Press.

Eide, Asbjorn, and Irene, Erika Daes. 19 July 2000. Prevention of discrimination against and the protection of minorities: Working paper on the relationship and distinction between the rights of persons belonging to minorities and those of indigenous peoples. Commision on Human Rights. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, United Nations, Economic and Social Council, United Nations, Economic and Social council, 11.

European powers. 1648. “The Peace of Westphalia”, Osnabrück and Münster, Germany.

Freeman, Michael. 2011. Human Rights. 2. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Gaventa, John. 2006. “Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis”. Institute of Development Studies Bulletin, 37(6): 23-33.

Hays, Jennifer. 2009. “Learning Indigenous Knowledge Systems” 194-207.

Hays, Jennifer, and Megan Biesele. 2011. “Indigenous Rights in Southern Africa: International mechanisms and local contexts”, The International Journal of Human Rights, 15(1): 1-10.

Hitchcock, Robert K, and Ben, Murwira, Ashton Begbie-Clench. 2016. The san in Zimbabwe. Livelihoods, Land and Human Rights. IWGIA Report 22, Copenhagen: IWGIA-OSISA-University of Zinbabwe, 69.

Hitchcock, Robert, Ben Begbie-Clench, Ignatious Mberengwa, and Davy Ndlovu. 2017. “Zimbabwe”. Edited by Wiben, Marianne Jensen. Indigenous World (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)) 534-539.

Hodgson, Louise, Dorothy. 2009. “Becoming Indigenous in Africa”, African Studies Review, 1-32.

International Labour Organisation. 2009. A Guide to ILO Convention No. 169. International Labour Standards Department, Indigenous and Tribal Peopls’ Rights in Practice, ILO, 201.

International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs. 2016. “Report on Zimbabwe-Indigenous World”.

Internet Archive. 2011. The literature and culture of Zimbabwe. Accessed May 16, 2018. .

Kenrick, Justin, and Jerome Lewis. 2004. “Discussion: On the Return of the Native”, Current Anthropology 45(2): 263.

Kipuri, Naomi. 2005. “The Working Group of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the situation of indigenous Populations and Communities in Africa”, IFAD Governing Council Metting. Rome: United Nations.

Kuper, Adam. 2003. “The Return of the Native”, Current Anthropology, 44(3): 389-402.

Malloy, H, Tove. 2006. “Towards a New Paradigm of Minority Law-Making: A Rejoinder to Palermo and Woelk’s Law of Diversity”, European Yearbook of Minority Issues (Koninklike Brill NV) 4: 5-28.

Musamba, C. 2015. “Cultural Diversity and Democratic Global Cooperation: A perspective from Africa”, Global Dialogues.

Nabudere, Wadada, Dani. 2005. “Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in Africa”, Conference on The Fusion of Legal Systems and Concepts in Africa. Entebbe: Association of Law Reform Agencies of eastern and Southern Africa (ALRAESA). 8.

Parliament of Zimbabwe. 2017. “Constitution of Zimbabwe (Ammendment No. 20)”, Constitute Project. November 23. Accessed March 12, 2018.

Pelican, Michaela. 2009. “Complexities of indigeneity and autochtony: An African Example”, American Ethnologist, 36(1): 52-65.

Pentassuglia, Gaetano. 2017. “Introduction: The Unpacking of Ethno-Cultural Diversity”. In Ethno-Cultural Diversity and Human Rights Challenges and Critiques, edited by Gaetano Pentassuglia, 1-24. Leiden: Brill | Nijhoff.

Pheage, Tefo. 25 May 2015. “Mugabe, Basarwe clash over civilization diatribe”. Available online at,, Weekend Post, 1.

Quane, Helen. 2005. “The Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Development Process”, Human Rights Quarterly, 27: 652-682.

Raz, Joseph. 1988. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reference Re Secession of Quebec. 1998. [1998] 2 S.C.R.217 (Supreme Court of Canada, Supreme Court of Canada Judgments August 20).

Robins, Steven. 2003. “A comment to Adam Kuper’s «The Retirn of the Native»”, Current Antropology 44(3): 398-399.

Ruiz Vieytez, Eduardo. 2014. “Cultural Diversities and Human Rights: History, Minorities, Pluralization”, The Age of Human Rights Journal 3: 1-31.

Suzman, James. 2003. “A comment to Adam Kuper’s «The Return of the Native»”, Current Anthropology 44(3): 399-400.

Sylvain, Renee. 2017. “Indigenous Peoples in Africa”. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History (Oxford University Press USA) 31.

Szpak, Agnieszka. 2017. “Human Security of the Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. The Sami Case”, Interdisciplinary Political and Cultural Journal 20(1): 75-96.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 28th ordinary session. 2005. Report of the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities. Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, ACHPR , ACHPR, 119.

Ughi, Cristina. 2012. “The «Right to Development» of Indigenous Peoples: A Critical Approach Through a Comparative Study of Cases Brought Before the Inter-­American Court of Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights”. The BSIS Journal of International Studies (Brussels School of International Studies at the University of Kent) 9: 1-27.

UNESCO General Conference . 2005. UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Paris, October 3-21.

UNESCO. 2001. Universal Declaration on Cutural Diversity. Paris: UNESCO.

United Nations General Assembly. 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Paris:

United to End Genocide. n.d. The Rwandan Genocide. Accessed May 10, 2018.

Venkatasawmy, Rama. 2015. “Ethnic Conflict in Africa: A Short Critical Discussion”, Transcience 6 (2): 26-37.

Viljoen, Franz. 2010. “Reflection on the Legal Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Africa”. In Perspectives on the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples in Africa, edited by Solomon Dersso, 75-93. Cape Town: Pretoria University Law Press (PULP).

Webb, Jill. 2012. “Indigeous Peoples and the right to self-determination”, Journal of Indigenous Policy 75(13): 75-102.

World Conference on Human Rights. 1993. “Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action”. Vienna.

Yacoub, Joseph. 2010. “Cultural diversity and international law. In the field of human rights and identities”, Revue internationale: International Webjournal (Sens Public) 1-12.

How to Cite
Makumbe, Ruwadzano P. 2018. “An Alternative Conceptualization of Indigenous Rights in Africa under the International Human Rights Law Framework”. Deusto Journal of Human Rights, no. 3 (December), 143-72.