Nov 10, 2004

Batwa youth want more access to land, education and health

Youth representatives of the Batwa have asked the governments of Burundi, DRC and Rwanda to ensure they get equal access to land, education and health as other ethnic groups
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BUJUMBURA, 10 November (IRIN) - Youth representatives of the Batwa, a group of indigenous people found across central Africa, have asked the governments of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda to ensure they get equal access to land, education and health as other ethnic groups in these countries.

The representatives, who have been meeting in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, since Monday, said they planned to empower Batwa youth to protect themselves.

"We want now to offer an opportunity to the youths to learn all the international legal instruments that would allow them to pressure their respective governments," Vital Bambanze, the secretary-general of the Unissons Nous pour la Promotion des Batwa, the Burundian association for the Batwa, told IRIN on Tuesday.

He said the Batwa in Africa's Great Lakes region lacked access to basic rights because sates and other ethnic communities had marginalised them.

The Batwa are forest hunter-gatherers. They are spread across Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the DRC, the Republic of Congo, Gabon and Rwanda.

According to Tutene Kusimweray, a representative of the Action pour la Promotion des droits des Minorities en Afrique Centrale, a DRC-based organisation, the forest had in the past provided most needs of the Batwa, including food and medicine.

"After they were chased from the forest, the majority of Batwa in Congo live on mendacity or food for work," he said.

He added that in the absence of revenues, the Batwa had failed to access education or health care.

The situation of the Batwa in the DRC was worsened by their not being recognised as full citizens, as they were denied the right to identity cards, Kusimweray said. They were not even represented in the country's institutions, he added.

However, the situation of the Batwa in Burundi was noted as being slightly better than in the other countries. Bambaze said the Burundi Batwa were represented in the country's institutions and that an accord signed by political leaders in August in Pretoria, South Africa, stipulates that the Batwa be given three seats in the Senate and three in the National Assembly.

He said there were 200 Batwa students currently in secondary schools and six at the university level.

However, access to land is the problem that the Batwa in Burundi share with the others in the region, Kusimweray said. He said in some provinces, such as Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza, governors helped the Batwa to access land, but in other areas, the Batwa had to undergo a long process in accessing land.

The youth representatives announced they would form a Batwa youth network to share experiences and help the community to lobby for their rights.

Source: Reuters