Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Batwa - Animals are treated better

 Evicted from their ancestral forest homes three decades ago in a move to conserve wildlife, many of Uganda's Batwa people feel betrayed. For centuries they lived off the forests of the mountainous regions on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as hunter-gatherers. But in the 1990s, the Ugandan Batwa were evicted from the Bwindi, Mgahinga and Echuya forests in the south-west of the country as the areas became wildlife parks, primarily for the protection of rare mountain gorillas.

After their eviction, some Batwa families were given farmland by the government. But as they did not know how to farm, the land was sold off and many were scattered across the region, surviving on charity from neighbours and non-profit organisations.

Numbering less than 7,000 in Uganda, many Batwa have moved to urban areas, like Kisoro, which is near the forests.

"Some neighbours despised us, calling us bush people," remembers Aida Kehuuzo, who is about 80 years old.

 On the edge of the town families squat on public land, in homes built from cardboard and tarpaulin. The community exists on the fringes.

Attempts to do interviews with them proved futile, as many feel exploited by politicians and organisations and they are hostile to outsiders.

"You come here to take pictures and sell them. What do we get in return? I won't talk to you if you don't pay me," shouts one woman.

In 2011, a group of Batwa with support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), took the Ugandan government to court over the evictions - and late last year, the constitutional court ruled in their favour. It said the community had been treated inhumanly and ordered "fair and just compensation" be paid within 12 months, but the government intends to appeal.

Alice Nyamihanda, who works UOBDU and is one of the few Batwa university graduates, says the community needs to fight for equality.

"I want my fellow Batwa to be like other people," she says - not scrapping for leftover food from dustbins as is often the case in Kisoro. "The animals are being treated better than the Batwa because when tourists come, they pay some money, then the government uses that money, and the Batwa are suffering." 

The animals she speaks of are mountain gorillas. The government charges up to $700 (£530) to go gorilla tracking.

The Batwa want a place to call home and recognition as an endangered indigenous people so they have better protection under international law.

Uganda's Batwa people: Evicted from a forest to help save gorillas - BBC News

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