KISORO. The Batwa ethnic group in Kigezi Sub-region have petitioned government to allocate them land for economic development.
The Batwa Development Organisation chairperson, Mr Gad Semajere, who is also the Civil Society Coalition on Indigenous People vice chairperson, said they have been living as squatters on other people’s land since government gazetted and evicted them from Bwindi and Mgahinga forests in 1992.
“We appeal to government to consider giving us land to be able to liberate ourselves economically by engaging in commercial farming. We shall then be able to grow enough food and sell some to meet our requirements, including school fees,” Mr Semajere said last week.
The general secretary for the Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda, Mr Robert Tumwesigye Baganda, said there are about 6,200 Batwa living in Uganda.
He said the Batwa are going through hardships that may result to their extinction.
“Some Batwa live on small plots of land donated to them by some NGOs that clustered them into what they called Batwa communities. In these communities, there is poor sanitation, lack of clean water, limited access to health services and are victims to some stereotypes,” said Mr Baganda.
In the course of government setting up protected areas over the years, the Batwa have found themselves living in what could be described as appalling conditions in the fringes of Semliki, Mgahinga and Bwindi national parks as well as Echuya Forest Reserve.
The Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, said government is planning to allocate land to the Batwa.
“As government we are concerned about the lives of Batwa community in the Kigezi Sub-region and we have already established a committee, which is headed by Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development plus several government departments that will look into the matters of Batwa transformation and empowerment,” Dr Rugunda told journalists on Easter Sunday in Kabale Town.
The Kisoro District secretary for health, Mr Izidol Tumusime, said government should design a special package for Batwa like it has done for the youth and women.
“Why can’t the government put a special fund for Batwa rehabilitation and resettlement? I also appeal to the Batwa to make use of government programmes like Functional Adult Literacy so that they get enlightened and become self-advocates instead of relying on NGO,” he said.
Civil society organisations have made a number of efforts to address the concerns of the Batwa mainly through provision of basic needs such as food, shelter, clothes and education.
But Mr Baganda argued that although such interventions have assisted the Batwa to survive this far, the fundamental issues of the Batwa as people, who were affected by the government policy of establishing protected areas, have not been addressed.