Motion to protect ethnic minorities very timely

Monday May 13 2019

Tourism minister Ephraim Kamuntu w

Tourism minister Ephraim Kamuntu (L) with the Batwa Community at the launch of the Batwa Bwindi Forest Experience as a tourism product on April 26 

By Editor

Parliament on Wednesday passed a motion that seeks to recognise and protect the languages, culture and customs of minority tribes in the country.

That motion, which will enable government to clearly define and recognise ethnic minorities in the country, is a welcome move, as we race to protect culture from extinction.

Uganda is home to 65 official indigenous communities but 21 are small ethnic groups, with fewer than 25,000 people. They include Tepeth, Banyala, Batuku, Paluo (Chope), Babukusu, Banyabindi, Lendu, Basongora, Ik, Batwa, Bahehe, Dodoth, Ethur, Mening, Jie, Mvuba, Nyangia, Napore and Venoma, among others. Protecting indigenous people is important for us all if we are to achieve inclusivity and this is why.

Many ethnic minorities are vulnerable because they do not have numbers or strong representatives to lobby for government programmes and services. Recognition and protection is, therefore, a good step in improving the welfare and socio-economic benefits of the minority communities.

Indigenous people, however, have demonstrated to be more resilient and tribes such as the Batwa and the Bakenje have something unique that we can all copy.

The two tribes have been at the forefront of protecting our environment in a more sustainable manner. Their ability to live in forests and fishing areas respectively with minimal destruction should teach us a lot about sustainable use of resources.
Second, this motion should help address long standing disagreements and historical injustices suffered by minority tribes such as forceful eviction from their land like forests, fishing areas, forceful acquisition of basic education in foreign languages or even segregation which has made access to basic services impossible.

And just like the big tribes pride in protecting their languages and customs, government should encourage minorities to pride in what they are.

According to Unesco, of the approximately 6,000 existing languages in the world, more than 200 have become extinct during the last three generations, 538 are critically endangered, 502 severely endangered, 632 definitely endangered and 607 unsafe.

Interestingly, over half of the 6,000 are spoken by only 0.2 per cent of all the earth’s inhabitants; in other words, approximately 80 per cent of the world’s population speaks just 83 languages, this newspaper previously reported.