Caste systems exist in pockets in some African countries. It is found in parts of Sahelian Africa, particularly in certain West African communities, and among populations in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Although significantly different in nature and scope, there are some common features between the caste systems of Africa and South Asia. Stigma is often attached to this problem, and as a consequence “low caste” communities in Africa suffer various forms of social exclusion and discrimination, particularly with regard to employment, political representation and inter-caste marriages. In a comprensive study by the former UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, this form of discrimination is termed discrimination based on work and descent.
Several African countries have adopted legislation guaranteeing freedom from discrimination, but laws have not been enforced and discrimination based on work and descent still occurs in different forms. A key challenge to address human rights problems related to caste-based discrimination in Africa is that caste remains a hidden issue in many countries, and that few comprehensive studies have been conducted on the issue.
Key reports on discrimination based on work and descent in Africa include:
- Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on racism (HRC17, June 2011): Discrimination Based on Work and Descent in Africa
- UN Sub-Commission report on discrimination based on work and descent (Expanded working paper, 2004)
- Discrimination based on descent in Africa – IDSN paper (prepared by Alexander Stevens for 61st CERD session in August 2002, see also the summary paper)
The Constitution of Senegal guarantees the right of all citizens to equal protection of the law and prohibits all acts of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination. But though members of the neeno caste do not file complaints about incidents of discrimination, caste-based discrimination is still evident in Senegal.
- Démocratie, droits humains et castes au Sénégal (Penda Mbow, 2000). See also the English translation of this article.
- UN treaty body reviews of Senegal
The Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom from discrimination for every citizen of Nigeria, but members of the Osu caste are still subjected to social exclusion, segregation and mistreatment, along with discrimination in employment and marriage.
- UN treaty body reviews of Nigeria
- Osu caste system in Igboland, Nigeria (prepared by Victor E. Dike for the 61st CERD session in 2002)
In Mauritania there are legal provisions against slavery, but caste-based slavery still exists because the law is not implemented.
Caste in Niger (prepared in French by Association Timidria for the 61st CERD session in 2002)
There is one caste system among Asian Hindu immigrants, and another among the Borana people in Kenya. The Constitution of Kenya prohibits discrimination but this has not ended caste-based discrimination in the country.
- Caste in Kenya (prepared by Adam Hussein Adam for the 61st CERD session in 2002)
The lowest castes in Somalia are called sab and are considered polluted. The unrecognised state of Somaliland has declared that programmes aimed at eradicating long lasting bad practices shall be a national obligation, but has not introduced specific anti-discrimination legislation.
- No redress: Somalia’s forgotten minorities (Minority Rights Group International, 2010, prepared by Martin Hill)
- Caste in Somalia (prepared by SAFRAD – Somali Association for the 61st CERD session in 2002)
IDSN has created an extensive database on caste-based discrimination.
News on Africa in IDSN’s database
- Global Call Recommendations to End Caste Discrimination in African states (2011)
- Compilation of UN human rights bodies’ recommendations on caste discrimination, including in African countries
- Draft UN Principles and Guidelines on discrimination based on work and descent
- UN Sub-Commission study on discrimination based on work and descent