Congo's Pygmies: Can they be 'made equal'?

*Recommended Reading: Edward B. Rackley's Blog "Across the divide: analysis & anecdote from Africa" (critique from within the international aid industry; political commentary from a number of African countries).

Extended excerpt from Congo's Pygmies: Can they be 'made equal' posted Tuesday, November 07, 2006:

"...For 2007 UN agencies are considering intensive programming aimed at establishing the equal rights of Congolese Pygmies (Bambuti and other groups) long denied by the Bantu groups dominating Congolese society, politics and administration. There is little to romanticize in the Pygmy's remote and rustic lifestyle, whose perpetuation is largely the direct result of relentless discrimination by the Congolese majority....Within the last five years, I have had the occasion to work directly with Pygmy groups outside Isiro, Orientale, and in the Mai Ndombe region of northern Bandundu. In both instances I was struck by the automatic and fierce prejudice with which they were treated by the surrounding Bantu Congolese, people who were living at basically the same level of extreme indigence and dispossession as the Pygmies themselves. The other primary characteristic of their misery was the degree to which they had internalized the Bantu discourse of their inferiority and ignorance...They were at such a nadir that they actually believed the racist slander to which they were constantly subjected; their inferiority complex was total and all-consuming. Every aspect of their lives was to them proof not of the injustice of the discriminatory discourse around them but of their own failure, their incompetence, their baseness. Their identity as they expressed it in focus group discussions consisted precisely of the very insults they heard throughout their lives from their Bantu neighbors. It was stunning and tragic—they were totally brainwashed. I would not be surprised if the majority of Pygmy communities in the DRC suffered this same degree of self-abnegation, the result of the extreme prejudice and humiliation to which they are constantly subjected...I am curious to see how the UN approaches this issue: clearly Congolese society is at fault, rife as it is with profound racism and prejudice towards its original inhabitants. Project proposals I have seen base themselves on UN legal precedents recognizing and protecting the rights of indigenous groups, based on the principle of 'autochthony'...I’m not convinced that in a Congolese context the autochthony argument is the most appropriate to defend/restore their rights and equality. Autochthony as the right to equal treatment of oppressed indigenous groups has its role in international law, although I'm quite sure no such precedent exists in Congolese law..."

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