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Congressional Hearing a First on Indigenous Peoples of Africa

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Critics of an Ethiopian dam they say threatens the water supply of Indigenous tribes traveled halfway round the world to request a hearing in Washington, D.C., succeeded. Their hearing is set for May 12, in the second of a series of meetings hosted by the U.S. Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

And in a congressional first, the second meeting is dedicated solely to the Indigenous Peoples of Africa, and in particular Kenya and Ethiopia.

“The meetings are an unprecedented airing of issues of essential justice by the U.S. government for Indigenous Peoples,” said Jerry Reynolds, a consultant to the Fredericksburg, Virginia-based First Peoples Worldwide. “Indigenous Peoples in Africa are just emerging into the social consensus of several African countries after their very existence was denied for decades.” The groundbreaking decision by several African states to include Indigenous Peoples for the first time in the lawful social consensus is high on the agenda.

The Central African Republic, Kenya, and the Republic of Congo have taken legal steps to reclaim Indigenous Peoples as original citizens. It signals a clear break from the post-colonial regimes throughout Africa that spent decades denying that Indigenous Peoples existed, as did the colonial powers before them, Reynolds said. “If you look at the injustices against Native peoples closer to home, including Native Americans, you see they were often committed simply because Native peoples were not part of the social consensus.”

Speakers will describe the continuing human rights abuses and the challenges that climate change poses to Indigenous Peoples of Africa. African leaders will outline Indigenous-controlled economic development models.

At the risk of retaliation, Ethiopia’s Gilgel Gibe III dam critic Phillemon Nakali Loyelei is now set to testify to its devastating impacts to indigenous tribes in the Omo River Valley. Few tribespeople have full information about the dam, and not a one was consulted during its planning stages, and construction. In a FPW news release, Reynolds said that the Ethiopian government has repressed criticism of the project. The World Bank halted its own review of the project’s funding application due to a lack of transparency.

“This dam is a real threat to the several Indigenous tribes of the so-called South Omo region,” Reynolds said. “As the dam narrows and dries the river, the traditional river tribes fear a revival of hostilities in their communities over a dwindling water supply and less food.”

The commission’s first hearing on April 29, 2010 looked at the serious challenges that threaten Latin America’s indigenous communities, health and property, as well as their culture and traditions.