Jul 12, 2012

Batwa: Low Awareness Fuels Marginalisation

A new study reveals that the minority group living in Uganda, has a low level of education, low awareness of its political rights which is making them vulnerable to discrimination. 

Below is an article published in New Vision:

A study on the Batwa in Kanungu district has shown serious socio-economic and political constraints among their community.

The Batwa are a minority group in the tropical rainforest in south western Uganda adjoining the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Uganda, the Batwa are estimated to be approximately 6,705. Their short stature is not only a symbol of identity but also a source of social stigma.

As a minority group, the Batwa are vulnerable to many problems such as discrimination, marginalisation and inadequate access to social services.

Low levels of education, social stigma, low awareness of civic rights and freedoms, sub-optimal nutritional habits and lack of a stable land tenure system threaten to jeopardise their survival.

Their low level of political awareness was reflected with the fact that the vast majority of the respondents (85.1%) related politics to voting only. Other aspects of politics such as voter registration, contesting for office, political party membership and holding political leaders accountable were hardly mentioned by the respondents.

Although almost all the respondents knew there were political representatives at the various levels, less than half were aware of a Batwa member occupying any of these positions.  In addition, about half of the respondents indicated that they did not have a women’s council at village level.

The high feeling of political marginalisation among the Batwa was reflected by the fact that a large percentage of the respondents (80.4%) knew the right requirements for holding a political office. However, many of the respondents did not believe that they could meet these requirements and, therefore, did not contest for political office at any level.

The Batwa understand their civic obligations as indicated by the 97.8% of respondents who were aware of at least one political party in Uganda, 93.5% knew the whereabouts of the polling station and 86.9% had ever attended a political rally respectively.

However, the findings of the study show that only a small proportion of the Batwa understand their rights and freedoms as indicated by low percentage of respondents (less than 50%) who were aware and believed that they had these rights and freedoms.

The diet of the Batwa, although rich in plant protein, as indicated by the 83% of the respondents, who reported eating beans regularly, is highly deficient in animal protein, which is a vital source for the essential amino acids. The general lack of vegetables in their diet was underpinned by the fact that 50% the respondents rarely consumed vegetables.

The low capacity to produce foodstuffs was reflected by the 48% of the respondents who reported they had family gardens for growing food. The 94% of the respondents suggested that better nutrition could only be obtained through buying nutritious foods. The study indicated a low level of awareness on good nutrition and reflected only 11% were familiar with the terms good nutrition, balanced diet.

This low level of awareness is accentuated by the fact that few Batwa members had received any sensitisation on nutrition from authorities as reflected in the 20% of the respondents. The sensitisation messages were inconsistent.

Therefore, it is necessary to design strategies to improve enrolment of the Batwa for primary education, which should include having schools where Batwa are majority. For the Batwa who are above school going age, the Government should include them in the new 10 year ‘skilling Uganda’ programme where a Batwa with no education background has a chance to acquire skills that range from being an agriculturalist, wood mechanist to a florist.

Strategies to improve farming should be initiated such as demonstration farms, and provision of improved seeds and farming tools.