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Stephen Corry: Development must respect indigenous people's rights

From a speech to the Royal Society of Arts by the Director of Survival International

Survival International is here to help tribal peoples defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures. We work on dozens of places throughout the world. We are supporting the Gana and Gwi Bushmen of the central Kalahari, who have been evicted by the Botswanan government and want to return to their land.

Once upon a time the only peoples who lived in southern Africa were the many hundreds of tribes which have come to be known as Bushmen. The name doesn't really mean anything, it's like saying North American Indian or Australian Aborigine. There is no one Bushmen tribe, there were hundreds of them. Then a powerful cattle-herding people came down from the north, Bantus. Different Bantu-speaking peoples and white settlers came up from the south over the last couple of hundred years and the result was a genocide of the Bushmen, equivalent to what happened in Australia with the Aborigines or in the Americas.

The survivors were reduced to working as cheap or unpaid labour on cattle ranches or worse. About 100,000 survive today. They're spread over most of the countries of southern Africa, with about half the population remaining in Botswana.

The case of the Bushmen is particularly important for two reasons. It calls into question the idea that development can trample on peoples' rights. Peoples' rights are fundamental to development.

It also calls into question the idea of whether the indigenous peoples in Africa (in this case southern Africa) are going to get the special treatment that indigenous peoples throughout the rest of the world have - an acknowledgement that their lands have been stolen from them. There needs to be some attempt to stop that process happening and to hand them back their rights.