20 August 2012

Southern Africa: Promoting Indigenous Bio-Cultural Rights


Slowly but surely indigenous people across southern Africa are starting to assert their bio-cultural rights, which are critical to securing their right to self-determination and to protecting the biodiversity on which they depend for food security, fuel and income.

The campaign will receive a major boost this week with a workshop on San Values and Bioculutural Protocols, which is taking place in the Bwabwata National Park in Namibia from 20th-24th August.

Funded by the Indigenous Rights Programme of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the workshop is being run in partnership with Natural Justice, Kyaramacan Association, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation and the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

The cutting edge workshop aims to exploit the synergies between on-going work on San values and on Bio-cultural protocols to help empower poor and marginalised indigenous communities.

In particular, the workshop is important for two reasons:

It will contribute to the establishment of a Khwe custodian committee for maintaining and promoting traditional knowledge, skills and values amongst the youth and residents; and,It will serve as a planning session for the proposed bio-cultural community protocol (BCP) in Bwabwata National Park.

The San peoples, such as the Khwe in Namibia, have had long standing customary norms, values and laws which establish clear rules on how to manage, share and benefit from their natural resources and traditional knowledge. In the work that OSISA has been doing with the Letloa Trust's Custodians Committee on the San values project, it is absolutely clear that access to, and the utilisation of, natural resources is key to ensuring the maintenance of the San way of life, which is intricately connected with, and dependent, on the natural environment.

Working with Natural Justice, OSISA has been developing the capacity of indigenous communities to develop Biocultural Protocols (BCP), which provide communities with a set of tools that will allow them to articulate their own vision about how natural resources can best be managed - all within the framework provided by the values that are inherent in the San culture.

In August 2011, OSISA brought together San communities and the organisations which work with them in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, to explore whether the country's San communities could see any benefit in adopting BCPs as a potential tool for their own, people centred and San-driven, development.

At the conclusion of that meeting, both the Kyaramacan Association, the Khwe community association in Bwabwata, and the Ju/'oan from the Nyae Nyae Conservancy indicated that they would like to explore the use of BCPs as a means for them to advance their development goals.

In parallel to this, the San custodians, through the San Values Project, had also been working with these communities on documenting and integrating San values into their community leadership structures and their natural resource mamangement.

Working with Natural Justice, OSISA then supported the participation of the Letloa San Custodians Committee in a meeting of the African BCP Initiative held in Ghana. The meeting brought together African indigenous peoples - including Thadeus Chedau, the San leader and community representative of the Khwe community in Bwabwata National Park - endogenous development experts and civil society actors to share experiences and lessons learnt on the development of BCPs as a key tool in advancing bio-cultural rights of indigenous communities.

The meeting proved to be a real eye opener and an inspiration for the Custodians team and the Kyaramacan Association, who immediately saw the synergy between the work OSISA has been doing on BCPs and the work of the custodians.

The current workshop in Bwabwata takes all this work forward - and is another key step in an extremely important campaign.

"I am doubly excited about this event because this work will be taking place at the community level, and will begin to bridge the gap between high level policy instruments and the needs and struggles of communities to protect, manage and benefit from their natural resources," said Delme Cupido, OSISA's Indigenous Rights Programme Manager. "That the communities have seen the value of this work has also been very rewarding."

Speaking before the start of the workshop, Cupido added, "I truly believe that this groundbreaking and cutting edge work is in the best OSISA traditions and that it is something we will be able to look back on with pride."

Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation


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