September 19, 2012

Batwa: International Aid Does Not Reach Communities

International aid, especially from the UK, mostly flows into the budget of Rwanda’s government, not reaching those who need it the most.

Below is an article published by One World:

 

It has been a year since the G8 promised to “make poverty history” and cancelled the multilateral debts of 34 African states. In that year, the UK has allocated £46 million to Rwanda, one of the continent’s poorest and most conflict-affected countries.

 

But does this money go to the people who need it most? According to many human rights groups, the answer is a distinct no.

 

As the Rwandan peace process continues in the wake of the conflict between the country’s two dominant groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, one community has been caught in the crossfire and is now suffering the consequences.

 

The estimated 20,000-27,000 Batwa people are the forgotten people of Rwanda, and the most marginalised community in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Driven from the forests - where they lived in harmony with the ecosystem - by international logging companies and tourism, caught up in sectarian violence in which they had no part and denied compensation through their governments, their situation has worsened in the year when the international community and African governments made a commitment to change. Some NGOs believe that if any community should be getting the benefits of the promised aid, it is the Batwa.

 

But according to Juliet Nakato Odoi, Africa project officer at Minority Rights Group International (MRG), any difference to Batwa peoples’ lives has not come from G8 money channeled through the government. She says: “In terms of access to housing or education, any change has come from local NGOs working on the ground. In terms of money channeled through the government, there has not been much change.”

 

It is an extraordinary situation given that two-thirds of the funds the UK donates to Rwanda go to the government as budget support. Britain is Rwanda’s largest bilateral donor, and this money makes up 15 per cent of Rwanda’s annual budget. Nevertheless, it seems donors can make little difference to the way the money gets spent.

 

Tadesse Tafesse, Africa programme coordinator at MRG, says: “It would make a big difference if some of the aid money was channeled to the grassroots poor through civil society.”

 

But even this would be difficult in Rwanda, where the government does not officially recognise the existence of the Batwa community. Since the 1994 massacres that saw more than 800,000 people killed, and in which 30 per cent of Rwandan Batwa died, the government has promoted a common national identity, encouraging people to identify as Rwandan rather than with their different ethnic groups. Officially, this policy is in place to promote a unified Rwanda and avoid a repeat of the sectarian violence that lead to one of the worst human tragedies in history. In reality, it means the Batwa have no platform to reclaim the land taken from them through commercial development of the forest and war.

 

It would also do little to help combat the racism and discrimination the Batwa people face in everyday life. According to Dr Jerome Lewis, co-author of The Twa of Rwanda,, Twa are called abayanda (people who steal) and abashenzi (uncivilised) and are popularly mythologised as being immoral and depraved.

 

Dorothy Jackson, Africa programme coordinator for the Forest People’s Programme, an international human rights organisation, says: “Batwa people are often not permitted to eat or drink with other people, sit on the same bench or draw water from the same well.” She says they are also considered backward, dirty, immoral and stupid.

 

One Batwa woman, who chose not to be named, said: “People want us to remain backward, they don’t want us to exist, they want to crush us.”

 

Tafese says that “if you ask Batwa children what they want to be when they grow up, they will say, ‘I don’t want to be like my parents.’” Why do they feel this way? Since the older generation have been displaced from their forest homes, they have been generally reduced to begging or used as a source of cheap labour. “The child’s answer would be very different if their parents were living in the forest, hunting and gathering as their ancestors have in the past,” he explains.

 

Tafesse stresses that the Batwa people face the same treatment in Burundi (where they total 30,000-40,000), in the Democratic Republic of Congo (100,000) and in Uganda (4,000), and he cites the issue of access to education to highlight the magnitude of exclusion.

 

“In order to go to school, you need money for clothes. You need money for books. If you are Batwa, when you get to school you face taunting and no one will sit next to you. The textbooks and teachers promote the racism that city life is better.

 

“Because of the severity of poverty, Batwa children are forced to survive by begging while their peers can afford to go to school.”

 

In Uganda, according to a spokesperson from the United Batwa Development Organisation, there are no children from the Batwa community in secondary education – their parents simply can’t afford to send them. In the whole country, only six Batwa adults are currently in secondary education, and none has made it to university. There are no Batwa in national decision-making processes – to put yourself forward you need education.

 

Although all four states have signed up to international human rights standards and taken on the obligation to treat their citizens equally, the situation of the Batwa violates many of the provisions the states say they uphold.

 

But the international community, while ready to give money as budgetary support, is loath to intervene any further. When the first-ever meeting was held in Uganda between Batwa representatives and development agencies, including the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Nations Development Programme, it gave officials a rare chance to hear first-hand about how communities are forced to live. However, the agencies said they could not directly help, as it would go against the agreements they have with the Ugandan government.

 

Good governance and a commitment to democracy are conditions of G8 increasing financial support to African states, and the UK government has just redirected £20m of aid promised to Uganda because of concerns about lack of progress in these areas. Instead of budgetary support, the money will go to humanitarian projects in the north. But as Tafesse points out, although this is on the right track, things will change only if every country in the G8 group does the same, or Uganda will get the money from elsewhere.

 

The racism and discrimination that Batwa people face goes far beyond the reach of DFID’s accountability measures. An official from the organisation said: “All of our programmes are continually assessed on a case by case basis.” But Tafesse believes more can be done.

 

“We would like to see two things,” he says. “One, that the UK government takes similar steps in redirecting budget support to focus particularly on Batwa communities. Two, that any money given as budget support should be better accounted for to tax payers, and its continuity should depend on the change it makes to the grassroots minority.

 

“Only this way can we begin to make a concrete contribution to the rights of the most excluded people in this war-torn society.