Indigenous people in Africa are under increased threat, according to a 2019 Minority Rights Group International report. Numerous Indigenous communities across the African continent are being displaced because of political conflicts, natural resource extraction, large-scale infrastructure projects and tourism parks. For many communities, culture is intimately linked to access to their land so when that link is severed, their cultures are at risk.
In March 2019 (through support from the Wallace Global Fund), Land is Life held a week-long workshop in Kenya that convened over a dozen Indigenous leaders from eight Sub-Saharan African countries, many of whom have received support in the past through our Indigenous-Led Grantmaking initiative. The primary theme of the workshop was the security of Indigenous “defenders”, which builds off our ongoing efforts in the Amazon to develop Indigenous-approaches to ensure the safety of those working on the front lines to defend their lands and territories.
Security quickly became the focal point of the convening and participants echoed demand for a flexible fund (like Land is Life’s pioneering Indigenous-Led Grantmaking program) that could quickly deploy small funds to precisely address security concerns confronting Indigenous leaders, communities and organizations as a result of their work. Building on the momentum and recommendations coming out of the convening, Land is Life supported grassroots Indigenous partners’ research of existing funds and grantmaking methodologies currently responding to security threats. After conducting a market analysis, we found that support for Indigenous communities was largely underfunded, funds available were often at too large of a scale, and applications were overburdensome to those in greatest need. Using the findings of this research along with the expertise of our network we customized our own program to address the needs of our Indigenous allies. In August, Land is Life launched a pilot of our Indigenous-led Security Fund in Sub-Saharan Africa in order to respond quickly to the urgent needs of Indigenous defenders experiencing threats as a result of their work.
Our approach is unique in that it allows a group of trusted Indigenous leaders to collectively make funding decisions and transfer funds (up to $2,000) quickly with few bureaucratic requirements. Given the funding available, this pilot has already allowed Land is Life to address a limited number of threats since our launch last year. Longtime network partner and Indigenous-Led Granmaking and Security Fund Coordinator Jemimah Kerenge reflects on the program, sharing that, “Land is Life’s Indigenous-Led Security Fund is a very important tool that can be used to build the capacity of Indigenous leaders and communities in order for them to keep safe from security threats and to fight for their land and territories. The first thing that is very important for Indigenous people is to be safe physically, emotionally and by this, they will be in a position to protect their territories for the benefit of their future generations. It is one of the resources that is required by the indigenous rights defenders. Lack of this resource can instil fear among indigenous leaders leading to lack of courage to continue defending their work. They need this support dearly.”
With additional support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the pilot phase continues, and is a crucial opportunity for our team to gain important experience and understanding of the landscape of threats and strategic responses being used by our network, that will improve future rounds of grantmaking as well as inform the expansion of the funds to other high-need regions. While there is still much learning to come, we are already observing a trend of proposed responses that focus not just on response to imminent threats, but also resiliency and mitigation strategies. Unlike alternative approaches which might prioritize extraction or relocation, many of our recipients have prioritized mitigation strategies which allow those impacted to remain in their community and on their lands and territories – where we know Indigenous people often feel most secure. The security of Indigenous human rights defenders is Land is Life’s top priority and we are committed to cultivating new funding partners to expand this initiative.