November 18, 2005

Batwa: We Face Discrimination

Batwa are law abiding citizens of this beloved nation but as a minority group we have faced too much discrimination and prejudice among the communities we live in, especially the local political and religious leaders
I am an indigenous citizen of Uganda, born more than 50 years ago. My grandfather, Ndabahimye, was a servant of the great prince Nyindo of Rwanda and because of his loyalty; he was allocated land in what is now Bufumbira County in Kisoro district.

I am from the minority Batwa community who live in the forest areas of Mgahinga and Bwindi national parks.

I was born and raised in this part of Uganda and have heard of so many changes since the coming of colonialists until the time of independence in 1962 when I was old enough to pay graduated tax.

Batwa are law abiding citizens of this beloved nation but as a minority group we have faced too much discrimination and prejudice among the communities we live in, especially the local political and religious leaders. This is mainly in terms of land distribution, education and provision of social services like awareness campaigns about the dangers of AIDS and other disease. We don’t have priests to bury our dead even though we are believers.

I would like to appeal to our leaders to come to our rescue in regard to the following:

I have owned land which inherited from my forefathers more than 50 years ago. But 10 years ago local government officials claimed that I was living on their land and said i did not have a right to live on that land. They advised me to vacate but I refused because this was contrary to the Constitution of our county under the President Yoweri Museveni. Recently they chose to enforce the eviction by fencing off my piece of land without giving me any compensation.

All the displaced people (Batwa) from Mgahinga forest were living in Kisoro as squatters on other people’s land until 2001 when NGOs like CARE, ADRA and other local and international organizations managed to secure some land for us for cultivation (agriculture) and settlement. Unfortunately, there was no initiative by the government or the so-called environmental conservationists to help sensitize Batwa on how to use the land and develop like any other communities in Uganda.

Even with the introduction of UPE programme, Batwa are still discriminated against. I would like to appeal to the government through the ministry of education (MOE) to do something regarding the improvement of our living standards and encourage Batwa to go to school.

The most demoralizing and unfortunate part of my life is that I am being witch hunted by the people who wield a lot of power (leaders) in this district. Everyday they try to evict me. I was disappointed when I approached the RDC of Kisoro, the chairman LC 5 and the Town Clerk, whom I regarded as custodians of law and protectors of people’s rights. They did not help me in nay way. That is why I appeal to anybody listening to my cries to give me advice and intervene to protect our rights as Batwa.

My generation, the indigenous Batwa, is getting old and our children and grandchildren are going to be landless and scattered when we die. It will be a big problem to the nation to have a big section of the population from one tribe without land. The authorities have chosen to practice discriminate against us because we are a minority group.

There have been instances which are not discussed in length about the grievances of the illiterate and are rather swept under the carpet by corrupt and greedy officials.
This is simply because in my lifetime, I have visited so many places in Uganda and Africa and I found out that what is happening to us (Batwa) is also experienced by other minority groups else where. Such minorities are usually described as “uncivilized, uncultured and tyrannical.” What a stereotype!

For the last 20 years Uganda as been under a leadership that upholds freedom of speech and protection of the basic rights of every individual as the guiding principles of good governance. I appreciate this and would like these principles to apply to us as well. Once again I appeal to the responsible authorities and people of Uganda especially our President to come to our rescue.

By John Rwubaka; the writer is chairman of Batwa organization

Source: New Vision