Batwa: Rwanda’s Forgotten Minority
Though the lessons from the genocide need to be firmly borne in mind as
One of the most marginalised groups in
The Rwandan state has for decades been taking over and controlling forest areas for conservation, tourism and security purposes. The Batwa have been effectively denied access to their homelands and with that have lost most of their means of making a living and now live a shockingly impoverished existence.
CARE has recently started a project to try to address the rights of the most marginalised communities in
"I went to see their situation in the foothills of the
"The Batwa invariably have no land, and those few who do or did, have invariably sold the little they had it to neighbours to keep their lives together. Most of the people CARE is working with live in the tiniest of shacks which are home to families often up to six or seven in number. Most own absolutely nothing but the land on which their house sits.
"CARE has started a project teaching adults to read and write to help people gain confidence and the skills that should enable them to better integrate into social and economic life. Very few Batwa have ever been to school and their extreme poverty still means that very few of their children go to school since they do not have the means to provide pens, books or even to give them enough food to see them through the school day.
"In Kabasungu village in the shadow of the
He showed me his small house and family and told me what he did to survive. His last job involved carrying stones for a family that was building a house in this area. This work lasted two months and he earned just three thousand Rwandan shillings or about three pounds. That was at around Chistmas and he has had no regular work since. He relies on what little his wife can earn for making pots, something the Batwa are famed for, and from the odd times he got agricultural work. ‘Often’, he tells me ‘my wife is forced to go and beg our neighbours for a few scraps of food so that we can at least give something for our children to eat.’There are many thousands of Batwa living in conditions like Miheto and his family. CARE is working to improve their situation. Part of that solution is making the local government more aware of the plight of such marginalised minorities and to ensure that they act to address the needs of these citizens who to date have been without a voice. It is encouraging that the Rwandan government has done so much to move its people on from the legacy of the genocide, but there are now acute problems such as the poverty and marginalisation of the Batwa which should no longer be overlooked."