Speaking out at Rio+20

Africa's indigenous peoples call for Green Economy

Delme Cupido's picture


Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

June 20th, 2012

As the world's attention focusses on Rio De Janeiro for the United Nations Conference On Sustainable Development, popularly known as Rio+20, Africa’s indigenous peoples are making sure that their concerns are heard. 

In preparation for Rio+20, OSISA, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) and Natural Justice, supported a meeting of Indigenous peoples from nine African countries, including Namibia, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to consider the release by UNEP of the Green Economy Initiative (GEI) policy document.

The meeting in August 2011 was organised to “develop a critical understanding of its recommendations, assumptions and purpose, articulate a response, and issue a formal statement and a response document to be submitted to UNEP.”

The report which emanated from this meeting, The //Hui!gaeb Statement, noted that " The current economic model of growth, consumption and a lack of wisdom and accountability is not sustainable and is placing life on Earth at grave risk."

This statement will form the basis of submissions by Africa’s indigenous people at Rio+20.  As Nigel Crawhall, the Director of the IPACC Secretariat recently wrote: "The main issue which IPACC is raising concerns about is the need for checks and balances in infrastructure and extractive industries 'development', which are alienating land from indigenous peoples, destroying biodiversity, and making people poorer or pushing them into urban slums."

Some examples include the trans-Kalahari highway development in Botswana, mining in CKGR, the threat of the Epupa Dam on the Kunene river and so forth.

The Green Economy Initiative has a very valuable section on how valuations need to be based on local natural resource users and ecosystems, and not justified solely against the benefit to the national GDP, i.e. you can justify any destructive development against national GDP, but if the poor's interests and economics are measured, many projects would need to be reassessed, adjusted or just cancelled, as they create poverty rather than alleviate it.

There is also an argument that valuation can be monetary, but it does not have to be monetary. Many indigenous peoples in Africa live partly outside the wage economy, hence they have non-monetary valuations of natural resources and ecosystem services. This has to be recognised in state policies and practices, and indigenous peoples need help to conduct such alternative, user-based assessments to protect the environment and their livelihoods.

It remains to be seen whether the voices of Africa's indigenous people are listened to at Rio+20 or simply ignored by the world's more powerful voices - be they developed nations or corporations.

About the author(s)

Delme is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer. Delme was the APM in OSISA’s HIV programme from 2006-2010. Prior to joining OSISA, he was the Coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, a public interest law centre based in Namibia. Delme was active in the international HIV Treatment Access movement, was a founding trustee of the AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, a founding member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the Pan African Treatment Access Movement and the Collaborative Fund for HIV. Delme holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town, and obtained a bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Western Cape.


  • 1 Hood Avenue/148 Jan Smuts; Rosebank, GP 2196; South Africa
  • T. +27 (0)11 587 5000
  • F. +27 (0)11 587 5099