Originally posted on IRIN, August 19, 2007.
BRAZZAVILLE, 14 August 2007 (IRIN) - Indigenous communities in Congo have set up a national network to promote their interests and lobby authorities to support marginalised groups.
The network, Réseau National des Peuples Autochtones du Congo (REPANAC), was set up at the end of a workshop organised in the capital Brazzaville by the Congolese government and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"The network is mainly to manage what actions should be taken to improve our life conditions," the coordinator, Bernard Ngouonimba, said.
The indigenous communities – sometimes referred to as pygmies – mainly live in forests and are short in stature. Currently, most hunt, fish and gather to meet their basic needs.
Experts say they have been discriminated against in educational and health opportunities – they are often at high risk of HIV/AIDS and other preventable infections, yet receive limited help to combat these.
"The network wants national authorities to take care of indigenous people in the same way others are treated," said Ngouonimba.
"We want RENAPAC to be an important group, serving as an link between indigenous people and the public," said Marie-Céline Tchissambou, permanent secretary in the ministry of health, social affairs and family.
In 2007, the first forum for Central Africa’s indigenous people brought together participants from all over the region at a meeting in the city of Impfondo, 800 km north of Brazzaville, and urged the Congolese to put an end to marginalisation.