African Development Bank Still Lags in Protections for Indigenous Peoples

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by Nick Pelosi on Making the Business Case

On February 12, the African Development Bank (ADB) hosted an Indigenous Peoples’ forum at the bank’s headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia.  The forum convened Indigenous organizations, bank staff, and government officials to discuss how Indigenous Peoples’ rights and interests could be better integrated into the bank’s policies and development initiatives.

The forum’s speakers included Berina Kawandami, Zambia’s Deputy Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, who discussed the challenges faced by her government in addressing the unique economic needs for each of the country’s 73 Indigenous groups.

Kahinda Otafire, Uganda’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, advised the ADB to “look at acquisition, creation, and distribution of wealth as the single most important question when we are talking about minorities and Indigenous Peoples.”  When asked about the importance of establishing a formal definition of Indigenous Peoples, Otafire replied “we are all Indigenous Peoples from somewhere.”

Mthuli Ncube, the ADB’s Vice President and Chief Economist, emphasized the need for Indigenous Peoples to be viewed as equitable partners, rather than victims, in development.

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Attendees to the ADB’s Indigenous Peoples’ forum (Source: ADB)

The ADB’s social and environmental safeguards differ from those of other multilateral financial institutions in that they contain no explicit protections for Indigenous Peoples.  As of 2005, the World Bank requires borrowers to engage in free, prior, and informed consultation leading to broad community support from Indigenous Peoples relocated by its projects.  The Inter-American Development Bank and the European Investment Bank adopted Indigenous Peoples’ policies in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

Private sector banks are adopting protections for Indigenous Peoples as well.  As of January 2012, the International Finance Corporation (the private sector lending arm of the World Bank) began requiring FPIC from Indigenous Peoples affected by development in certain circumstances, including relocation and impact on lands and natural resources subject to traditional ownership or under customary use.  The Equator Principles, a social and environmental risk management criterion developed by private sector banks and adopted by 79 financial institutions, include Indigenous Peoples’ policies based on those of the World Bank and the IFC.

The ADB’s Indigenous Peoples’ forum indicates increasing responsiveness to pressures from civil society for strong Indigenous Peoples’ policies in its safeguards that is in line with those of other multilateral lenders and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  These policies provide an additional leveraging point for Indigenous Peoples affected by development, and companies seeking access to bank funds may be compelled to bolster their own protections for Indigenous Peoples’ rights.