Jan 24, 2017

Batwa: Rwanda Must Make More Effort to Improve Lives


Photo courtesy of Dave Hampson.


The Batwa are conservation refugees and still live in extreme poverty, economically and politically marginalised and on the fringes of Rwandan society. To improve their conditions of living, there need to be affirmative action and incentives for Batwa people to gain an education, as well as for Rwanda to integrate and value the minority.


The following article was published by AllAfrica:


Joseph Ngizwenimana is from the Rubavu district of Rwanda. He belongs to the Batwa community which is considered among the Marginalised People of Rwanda.

Recently, Ngizwenimana is one of several Twa people asking the government to initiate affirmative action programmes for the Batwa.

"We need more development although the government has put in more efforts," he says, "We want to be invited to take part in the many development meetings, to also learn to dress smartly, and how to handle themselves before the public."

He also wants the Twa to have more representatives in parliament.

"We only have one representative in parliament of which he cannot know all our problems," he says, "No Twa can stand as a representative either. Even if you contest, who can give you his or her vote? We need representatives from cell level to parliament".

The case of the Batwa has attracted the attention of organisations like the World Association for Christian Organisation (WACO) and the African Initiative for Mankind Progress Organisation (AIMPO).

Delphine Uwaseneza, the AIMPO deputy director says historically marginalised people in Rwanda like the Batwa still lag behind in all government political, social, and economic activities. She says areas predominantly inhabited by marginalized people do not have easy access to clean water, lack of infrastructure, and face scarcity of land for agriculture.

She says, as a result of the marginalization and destitution, some members of the communities resort to unsocial behaviours. She says many lack food because they have been moved from their main source of food, the wild animals.

According to her, many live in houses without the basics of life.

"The few who are educated are not given jobs instead they go back to pottery," she says.

To her this is a double tragedy because, if the educated Twa were to get good jobs, it could inspire others to take up education also. Now, however, the others who see the educated members of their community languishing in poverty, they also opt not to go to school.

She says, however, that her organization is pushing efforts to train the Twa members from different parts of the country on how to deal with private and public communication, how to educate themselves using radio programmes, and on social issues like gender.

Ngizwenimana says such trainings have helped to support and sensitise the community.

He says the Twa previously endure more hardship but their standard of living is improving because people get sensitisation on how to better themselves from different organisations that come to visit.

Cecile Nyirabahutu, one of the leaders, wants the government to give the areas inhabited by Twa equal access to resources as other parts of Rwandan.

She says the Twa's biggest challenge is lack of access to information. She says the need better houses and opportunity to own land.

"Let the government give us an office so that we can also be collecting information about the challenges we face," she says, "Historically Marginalised People do not have shops not even selling something that can lead to development because we have no land and no ownership."

She says regarding education, although the government started the nine years basic education programme many Twa children are left out because of their extreme poverty.

"The children have no clothing, no utensils, and hunger remains a stumbling block. The youth do not understand government programs yet they are the leaders of tomorrow.

"We live in isolation and high discrimination, we call upon the government of Rwanda to support us more, we need more than help for the youth to be productive and also for the community to stop discriminating us," she says.

The historically marginalized People, as Batwa are called, continue to be stigmatized despite the government efforts to ensure they are more integrated into all facets of life in modern Rwandan.

Historically, the Batwa live mainly on the inaccessible fringes of Volcanoes Forest. Here they depended solely on the forest for subsistence. They spent a lot of their time inside the forest gathering fruits, game meat, and wild honey.

Their lives where suddenly shattered in 1980 when a new law declared the activities on which they depended for a livelihood illegal. Under the law, the forest became a protected area and the Twa community members were no longer allowed to hunt animals or gather plant resources.

Due to the new government policies, these communities were forced to leave the forest. Since then they have found difficulty in adapting to new life, and have continued to live in isolation and extreme poverty. Many practice low income activities like pottery and hunting.

For them, the forest was the sole source of their livelihood as most of them did not own land when they were evicted from the forest.

Various reports on the Historically Marginalised People recognise them as living in some of the poorest living conditions in Rwanda with very limited access to basic needs.

After being forced to leave their traditional homeland, they started lacking resources which is leading to poverty because they had no other ways for survival. This brings them more isolation as their ways of living are far different from other communities which they regard to be lack of resources and extreme poverty.