A frightening report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) brings into sharp relief the plight of indigenous people in Africa, our focus for this month. The February 20 report warns that, of Africa ’s 1,400 or so indigenous languages, between 500 and 600 are seriously endangered. AFRICANEWS staff writer Matthias Muindi, writes on the fate of Robert Oduol, a top Kenyan journalist whose mother tongue, Suba, has become extinct after his Suba community was assimilated by their more populous and aggressive Nilo-Hamitic neighbours, the Luo. He narrates the fears, concerns, and dilemmas of a man whose ancestors fled political persecution in Uganda in the 16th century as Bantus but within three centuries have become Nilo-Hamites. With Suba and 15 other languages on the death list, Kenya far surpasses neighbouring Uganda, where six languages are under threat, and Tanzania, where eight languages are soon to disappear. Other African countries that UNESCO has branded as "crisis areas" are Nigeria, Sudan, Cameroon, and Ethiopia.
Continuing with our theme, correspondent Rodrick Mukumbira reports that the future of one of Africa’s smallest ethnic groups, the San, will be very bleak if the government of Botswana goes ahead with its intended plan to cut off all community support for the San. He chronicles how, in recent weeks, Botswana has been retracting pledges it made to the San last year that it would set up social amenities to ensure the San’s survival. Botswana, which is one of the richest countries in Africa, claims it cannot afford the exercise, but has refused a financial offer from the European Union for programmes and services to uplift the San.
From Swaziland, James Hall describes the inconsistency of calls by donor nations that the traditionalist Swazi community renounce their king and adopt a Western model of democracy. He points out that if the industrialised world’s proclaimed respect for indigenous cultural beliefs is sincere, then such calls are misplaced and Swazis ought to be left alone to decide for themselves, picking and choosing what cultural traits they wish to retain or discard in their own good time.
People of the Tonga indigenous group face an unlikely adversary: the elephant. Rodrick Mukumbira highlights how 11 Tonga from Zambezi Valley 460 kilometres north west of Harare, Zimbabwe, have been trampled to death by elephants and as drought persists, the number is likely to increase as the elephants turn to homesteads for food.
In other news, Kenyans are eagerly awaiting their new constitution, which was supposed to have been delivered to them this coming October 4. However, the government-appointed body charged with the task of reforming the constitution has announced that it will miss its deadline, casting the whole constitutional reform process - and even the upcoming general election - into doubt, reports AFRICANEWS’ Managing Editor Cathy Majtenyi.
Old habits take time to die, says AFRICANEWS Matthias Muindi as he analyses how Sudan’s ruling Islamic generals seem to have resumed their commitment to the international Islamic movement by offering to set up camps to train Islamic fighters to wage a Jihad (holy war) in the Middle East. There is fear this move by Khartoum could have a dramatic aftermath since the US is not yet through with its anti-terror war and Osama bin Laden, who once lived in Sudan, hasn’t yet been found.
The push is on to finally bring peace to the troubled Great Lakes region. AFRICANEWS Editor Clement Njoroge reports on a recent meeting in Nairobi of more than 50 participants from peace groups in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, who expressed their frustrations at the lack of progress of initiatives to bring about peace in the troubled area. At the exact same time, delegates to a high-level meeting in Kampala discussing peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo were similarly discouraged, he reports. Correspondent Benedict Tembo reports on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit on the DRC, held in Lusaka April 3.