February 16, 2017

Batwa: Traditional Communities Caricaturised for Tourism Profits in Uganda

Photo courtesy of New Vision

A recent statement by Uganda’s minister for tourism Kiwanda has shed a worrying light on the government’s attitude toward Batwa communities and culture. The Batwa in Uganda have been victims of dispossession of their lands and eviction from the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest ever since it was made into a national park in 1991. The Ugandan government has encouraged Batwa communities to resort to ethnic tourism to provide for their subsistence, a practice that caricaturises Batwa culture in order to commercialize it. Kiwanda’s words reveal that the discourse of environmental conservation – which was used to evict the Batwa form their ancestral home – is a thin veil covering the true intentions of the government to exploit the reserve as well as the “Batwa lifestyle” for commercial profit.

UNPO expresses its concerns over the paternalist, exploitative and primitivist attitude that is entrenched in Ugandan behaviour toward the Batwa.

The article below was published by New Vision:

“Cry not fellow countrymen for the lost forest,” the minister of state for tourism consoled the Batwa community in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. “Instead you should be grateful for the Government has preserved your dwelling place.”

He added that Batwa’s lifestyle has been turned into a money-generating activity that thrills visitors.

“Tourists are ready to pay to track gorillas, paying $600 (about sh2.1m) to watch birds and see how you make fire without using match boxes imported from China,” added Kiwanda. “You are the mirrors of where we all have been. But for you to enjoy life to the full, you need to enjoy health and social services in place.”

Kiwanda said if it was not for the Government’s intervention, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, measuring 3,515sq km, would have been encroached on and left the Batwa  homeless.

“The Garamba Cave holds the legend of the sons; Gatusi, Gahutu and Batwa having lived in one family,” narrated the lead guide Steven Serutoke. They are the forefathers of the Tutsi, Hutu and Batwa. “We originate from the same roots,” said Serutoke. “But we were delegated roles to play by our forefather Garamba. And we cannot change what was meant to be.”

But another Mutwa Kanyabichiyi in the guiding business lamented about life having got tough. “Treatment for malaria in the health centres is expensive for me and my family,” asserted Kanyabichiyi. “Life in the forest is cheap. We get water, food and fruits at no cost at all.  But now my children have taken long without eating meat for we can no longer go hunting.”

The cave attracts about 60 visitors per month. UNESCO footed the bill of building a roof around the cave as big as a football pitch. There is solar light to ease navigation in the pitch darkness.

“We used to take three days to cover 510km, which is done in three hours now,” said Bizimana. “This will be better when the air strip is upgraded.” There are many attractions in Kisoro. He mentioned birds, lakes, hot springs, tea estates, nature walks and so many historical islands.