AfDB’s Social Policy Update & Indigenous Issues [Published]

This article reviews the integration of indigenous rights within African Development Bank (AfDB) policies—focusing specifically on the AfDB’ Indigenous Peoples Safeguard Policy Update of 2012 (2012 SPU). The author discusses critiques and criticisms of 2012 SPU as well as potential ways to improve policy formulation and implementation.

Author: Caroline Guillet
Editors: Marcus Björkqvist and Aaron Dennis
Published 2014-June-18
©Cross-Cultural Consulting Services, PLCC. 2014.

Originally published on the Cross-Cultural Consulting Services Blog

The African Development Bank (AfDB) is a multilateral financial institution (MFI, also IFI) created in 1964 to finance the economic and social development of the African continent and to reduce poverty. At its inception, the AfDB’s vision was that Africa was “taking its destiny into its own hands” by helping to devise and implement public administration (PA) policies specific to the African continent.

Although a child of the decolonization movement seeking to lead African development economics on its own accord, much of the AfDB policy framework was written to parallel that of its Western institutional counterparts (especially The World Bank Group). This choice was made in part to build on international experience, and in part to facilitate the convergence of African and Western economies. Subsequent policy development has similarly followed Western and international trends, including the AfDB’s choice to re-draft its 2004 Policy on the Environment to better accommodate concerns for indigenous rights. In the African context, however, the Western notion of ‘indigeneity’ is politically and socially controversial. The approach taken in 2004, was to establish safeguards for ‘affected communities’ in order to “[a]void or, if avoidance is not possible, minimize, mitigate and compensate for adverse impacts on the environment and on affected communities” (AfDB 2013 ISS: 21).

Over the past decade, international attention to indigenous rights has continued to grow more acute. A watershed moment occurred in 2007 with the ratification of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) (2007), which sets forth key responsibilities and obligations of ratifying nations with regard to their interactions with Indigenous Peoples. The rights specified in UNDRIP imply calls for assurances rights to self-determination, special jurisdiction on land and natural resources as well as acknowledgement of the principle and right of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). In response to this changing international political environment, many multilateral financial institution — the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Bank of Reconstruction Development and (more recently) the World Bank — have opted to re-evaluate and re-formulate their safeguard frameworks for the protection of Indigenous Peoples. Criticized for ‘lagging behind’ in this regard, the AfDB initiated its 2012 SPU.

Creation of the Integrated Safeguard System

As noted, the AfDB created its first environmental and social safeguard policy in 2004. Faced with increasing international criticism, the Bank decided to revise its safeguard framework in 2012 by deploying a so-called ‘Integrated Safeguard System’ (ISS). The ISS encompasses several previous ‘stand-alone’ safeguard policies, namely ‘Involuntary Resettlement’ (2003) and ‘Environment’ (2004), as well as three cross-cutting policies: ‘Gender’ (2001), the ‘Climate Risk Management and Adaptation Strategy’ (2009) and the ‘Civil Society Engagement Network’ (2012). Moreover, the ISS encompasses four sector-specific policies: Health (1996), Integrated Water Resources Management (2000),Agriculture and Rural Development (2000, 2010), and Poverty Reduction (2004). Combining policies into a unified safeguard framework aligns the AfDB’s practices with those adopted by the other development banks.

The updated AfDB framework policy statement comprises five operational safeguards (OS) as well as Environmental and Social Assessment Procedures (ESAPs) and guidelines for Integrated and Social Impact Assessments (IESIA). The 2012 SPU makes an assessment of existing AfDB policies pertaining to Indigenous Peoples and reviews ‘best practices’ among other multilateral financial institution in order to improve the implementation of environmental and social safeguards in all Bank projects—encompassing public and private lending as well as non-lending activities (AfDB 2013 ISS: 6).

The five ‘operational safeguards’ (OS) defined in the 2012 SPU are:

  • Operational Safeguard 1: Environmental and social assessment
  • Operational Safeguard 2: Involuntary resettlement land acquisition, population displacement and compensation
  • Operational Safeguard 3: Biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Operational Safeguard 4: Pollution prevention and control, hazardous materials and resource efficiency
  • Operational Safeguard 5: Labor conditions, health and safety

The ISS focuses less on policy re-formulation, and more on integrating the observation of indigenous rights within a common ‘safeguard’ framework. That is, it mandates borrowers or clients to attend to indigenous issues as a matter of ‘operational safeguard’ compliance.

  • ‘Operational Safeguard 1 – Environmental and Social Assessment’ (OS 1) protects Indigenous Peoples as class of ‘vulnerable’ people (AfDB 2013 ISS: 16-17), and specifies that special safeguard measures are to be identified as part of ‘special screening considerations’, which apply also to the identification of ‘cultural heritage’ by learning from ‘indigenous knowledge’ (AfDB 2013 ISS: 27). OS 1 also stipulates the need to obtain ‘broad community support’ from Indigenous Peoples for Category 1 projects (AfDB 2013 ISS: 27).
  • ‘Operational Safeguard 3 – Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ acknowledges the need to “respect, conserve and maintain [the] knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities… [and] to protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements”, as provided under UN Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) (AfDB 2013 ISS: 10). It therefore defines specific provisions with regard to the commercialization of an indigenous knowledge system under its scope of applicability (AfDB 2013 ISS: 39-40) and associated OS requirements (AfDB 2013 ISS: 42).

In so doing, the AfDB does not define an explicit safeguard for ‘Indigenous Peoples’, but instead seeks to adapt its ‘Operational Safeguards’ to ensure client sensitivity to indigenous issues. It also displays the will of the AfDB to consider and protect Indigenous Peoples.

After being drafted in 2012, the ISS underwent a process of pan-African consultation, aimed at gathering advice from various stakeholders (experts, civil society organizations and national governments) in order to assess its relevance, enhance public understanding of it, and improve its formulation. All inquiries are available on their website.

Critical International Reception of the ISS framework

Since its inception, the ISS framework has been marked by controversy. The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), a civil society group gathering representatives of 155 Indigenous Peoples in 22 African countries and constituent of the African Development Bank’s Civil Society Coalition, reports that the criticisms they raised during the official consultation process were largely overlooked in the final ISS policy, adopted on December 17th, 2013. The main concerns include:

  • No dedicated policy mechanism is defined for the protection of Indigenous Peoples. The AfDB ISS seeks to address concerns for Indigenous Peoples within the context of social and environmental impacts assessment. This policy seeks to routinize the ‘impact assessment process’ across all AfDB-funded projects, which may result in the consequent weakening of the framework’s ability focus attention to indigenous concerns—especially those to be implemented over the lifetime of the project.
  • Indigenous Peoples issues are not integrated throughout the framework. In addition to OS1, protection of Indigenous Peoples is only provided for under OS3: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
  • The ISS definition of Indigenous Peoples is more restrictive than those employed by the UN and other multilateral financial institution. The UN acknowledges that there are “no universally accepted definitions” of Indigenous Peoples, but recognizes that an important aspect for most is maintaining “historical continuity with pre-colonial societies; strong link to territory; distinct language; culture and beliefs; form non-dominant sectors of society; and identify themselves as different from national society” (Ndobe and Durrell 2012: 8). Within the ISS, the only definitional statement is the categorization of Indigenous Peoples as ‘the most vulnerable communities’, restricting the definition to vulnerability (AfDB 2013 ISS: 16-17).
  • The free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples with regard to development projects is a fundamental principal of the as defined in UNDRIP as well as in the Indigenous Peoples safeguard policies of most multilateral development banks. This concept, however, is not included in the AfDB ISS framework. Instead, AfDB’s ISS calls for “free, prior and informedconsultation“—following language used in the (pre-UNDRIP) World Bank policy ofn Indigenous Peoples. The ISS also describes this as a guiding principle, and does not provide guidance on how free, prior and informed consultation is to be carried out.

Out of all civil society organizations consulted, the contributions from IPACC were the most comprehensive and critical. As a matter of priority, IPACC calls for a stand-alone Indigenous Peoples policy within the ISS. The coalition also recommends that the ISS work as a legal framework that gathers existing AfDB policies for the protection of indigenous rights, and that applicable provisions be designed for all AfDB projects instead of managing the indigenous safeguards via OS1 and OS3. Toward this end, IPACC recommends that the bank align its definition of indigeneity and standards of protection with those of other multilateral development banks.

Concluding Thoughts

Part of the critical public discourse prompting the AfDB 2012 SPU and resulting ISS was the Bank’s misalignment with other multilateral financial institutions in the matter of protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples. By not including IP safeguards as an stand-alone ‘Operational Safeguard’, however, the AfDB deviate from the structural model establish by the 2006 IFC Performance Standards. The implications of this deicision—the inclusion of only vague define parameters for identifying ‘Indigenous Peoples’ within the context of their ‘vulnerability’ coupled with fact that few distinctive ‘safegurds’ exist outside the context of OS3 protection of ‘indigenous knowledge’—contribute to the likelihood of uneven policy implementation. At the same time, the ISS framework should be acknowledged as a sincere an attempt to unite disparate and case-specific policies, and thus one intended to help systematize policy application. The extent to which it facilitates good practice standards of engagement and participatory development will be seen in time.

Hearking back to the hisotrical context, however, the policy design choices of the AfDB may be better appreciated. As noted at the outset of this article, the AfDB’s founding goal was to create financial services specific for the African context. Given the political controversy of defining ‘Indigenous Peoples’ on a continent where most ethnic groups have resided on the same lands and territories ab origine, the AfDB sought to forge a path specifically tailored for Africa. Ironically, the AfDB was met in this process by calls from powerful indigenous advocates to align with (Western) multilateral financial institutions. Ultimately, the AfDB policy makers concluded that their ‘new path’ made the most sense for Africa. It is unfortunate that in so doing the Bank is seen as dismissive of indigenous insights gained in the participatry process.



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