Batwa: Rwanda's Forgotten Tribe
Down in the rural areas, the Batwa communities continue to languish in absolute poverty. They have witnessed their traditional set up and rights' diminish since colonial time and no regime has lent them an ear.
The resentful, miserable and expectant faces of the young and old at CAURWA headquarters in Gitarama tell a thousand words behind a story of discontentment surrounding the indigenous inhabitants of Rwanda.
The hot and scorching sun sends everyone looking for shelter. But the burning heat deters not a determined group of young and old Batwa from all directions of the province. Hastening their strides, they march on to the provincial headquarters of the Batwa association CAURWA in Gitarama. They are determined to defend the right to preserve their historical name of Abasangwabutaka the following day in neighbouring Butare province.
Inside CAURWA offices, seated on the edge of an old wooden chair, Abdu Safari, a social worker and one of the few Batwa that have had chance to attend school tells the story of his disgruntled tribesmen. "We have been neglected and excluded in all the developmental aspects of our country," says Safari adding that "Every country has its original inhabitants and they have the right to be called original inhabitants. Why is the government taking away our right to be called Abasangwabutaka and continue to ignore us."
The recent government decision encouraging people not to use the name Abasangwabutaka when referring to the Batwa tribe, and the denial to grant the Batwa association, CAURWA, judicial personality and autonomy, coupled with the latest government land-use policy that supports majority farming community and appear to take no account of the land needs of the Batwa, have been received with mixed reactions and feelings within the Batwa community.
Following the recent land trends it may become more difficult for the Batwa to keep the little land they own. Authorities especially at the district levels have the right to give land judged to be inappropriately used to potential farmers and property developers. Therefore, since many Batwa have no capacity to fully exploit the land compared to other people the end result may be losing even the little land they call their own.
At CAURWA, the Batwa communities had gathered to charter a way forward before proceeding on to Butare.There was laughter when one old man said, "If anyone wants the name Abasangwabutaka, let him or her ask for the name publicly."
The jubilant Safari who finds solace and pride in being the spokesperson of his poor, illiterate, and discontented tribesmen says maintaining the name Abasangwabutaka has nothing to do with politics, but rather a sign of cultural heritage.