What is now keeping the Batwa alive is a path which allows them to go into the park and collect firewood for sell and shop some food. They cannot depend on tourists because they do not get enough from the visitors, and they visit very rarely. They live a very difficult life. They need things such as beds, saucepans, mattresses and there are not enough houses for them. In semuliki Park, May 2009, one of them sold his house because he was sick and didn’t have enough money to pay for medicine.
The general population of Uganda has benefited from improved living conditions and reduction in poverty levels over the last 25 years. However, some indigenous population; such as Batwa have been left out. Lack of compensation of land after they were evicted from forests and poor livelihood combined with discrimination and neglect by Government and neighboring ethnic groups have pushed the Batwa people into increasing poverty.
However, growing awareness about the Batwa and increased provision in health and education may support the Batwa to claim their rights and improve their lives. I hope that this blog will create awareness and contribute to a better understanding of the Batwa’s situation.
The Batwa who are believed to be the first inhabitants of the equatorial forests of the Great Lakes region of central Africa are getting extinct since they were pushed out of the forest in 1991. All the Batwa resources were deprived from the forest and their low impact on resources made them able to live a self-sustaining life in the forest thousands of years. Their society and non-hierarchical group structure is based on a principle of sharing. Very few Batwa own property and they do not save the surplus food.
There have been discriminated against and exploited throughout the ages due to their physical appearance and their simplicity of living; this has prevented them from reaching a fair and equal social status compared to the general population. In Congo the term used to describe the Batwa is “la viande que parle” or “the animal that speaks”. Throughout the region, their human rights and legal rights have been largely neglected. Population/health issues indicate that, they have a very high infant and under 5years mortality rate. Over half the Children die before the age of 5 as their under-5 mortality rate is 57%, they also have very low fertility rate of 1.8 children per woman and life expectancy of about 28 years. The Child mortality rate is linked to poverty, lack of food, lack of vaccination programs for children, lack of education, and generally poor living conditions without access to clean drinking water and toilet facilities.
Lack of land is probably the most acute problem for the Batwa. It is believed that they will never come out of poverty if they do not acquire land so that they can farm and invest in housing.
According to official date, about 51% of Batwa children attend school, only 51.8% are literate. It is also noted that only one Mutwa girl has a diploma. It is clear that parents would like their children to go to school and get education as a way out of poverty but they cannot keep them in school because they live far away from the schools and children need food, clothes, shoes and uniforms which they cannot afford.
With all the above problems, the Batwa have attracted many NGO’s who are trying to help them. May children have been returned to school, have developed the Batwa trail for tourism and done a lot of sensitization about the rights of the Batwa.
However; some NGO’s are using the Batwa to enrich themselves as nothing touchable is on ground and yet millions of shillings of donor many has been pumped into these communities, for example, who is responsible to deliver the returns on Batwa trail to the communities, who is responsible of monitoring these thieving NGO’s? Who is taking the money meant for their health? Over 86 people using one latrine, who is supposed to provide such services in these camps? All these are the unanswered questions that have kept the Batwa under unbearable poverty.
About Author : Wetala Julius.
Wetala Julius is a holder of a degree in Business Administration, and is currently working as a Business manager of Mountain Gorilla Organic Coffee Estates a USAID funded project and he also owners a tour travel agency called Mountain Gorilla Coffee Tours with a small community based organization that helps vulnerable children get education called Save the vulnerable Children Project.