KIGEZI – The risk of extinction of the Batwa ethnic group and its culture has left authorities and cultural stakeholders worried.
The Batwa are said to be a semi-nomadic pygmy tribe that have lived in the jungles of Ecuya, Bwindi and Mgahinga forests in Kisoro, Rubanda and Kanungu districts as well as Semuliki forest as hunters and gatherers for centuries.
In 1992 and 1993, the government without providing an alternative land evicted them from their ancestral dwelling to conserve wildlife.
According to the 2014 Uganda Population and Housing Census, Batwa were estimated to be 6200, making 0.2 percent of Uganda’s population.
Now, cultural stakeholders and authorities say that the Batwa population continues to drop gradually.
Cultural leaders and other stakeholders attribute the reduction of their numbers to failure by the Batwa to adopt the modern way of living like seeking health services from health facilities and education.
Stakeholders also argue that the government has not done anything to make sure that Batwa ethnic group and its culture is preserved.
The executive director of Batwa Development Program, a Community Based
Organization operating under Diocese of Kinkiizi in Kanungu district Rev. Canon Jorahn Turyamureeba says that population of the Batwa in the district is reducing as a result of death resulting from their negative perception to visit hospitals.
Rev Can. Turyamureeba says that although the diocese introduced a measure of paying medical bills for Batwa who visit Bwindi Community Hospital; most of them especially HIV positive victims still opt to visiting witch doctors to get traditional herbs.
He also says that most of the Batwa still believe in early marriages than cherishing education.
Rev Turyamureeba says that if nothing to change Batwa’s attitude, their population is diminishing soon.
Tushabe Kayeye the Director of African International Christian Ministry (AICM) Faith, a non-government organization operating in Kigezi sub region says that their efforts to construct primary schools targeting Batwa children in Rubanda district have been deemed futile since most of them are still adamant in valuing education.
Tushabe says that the situation has been worsened by failure of security officials to either help them in case of harassment or arrest them in case they do wrong in communities. According to Tushabe police officers decline to arrest Batwa offenders arguing that they don’t have money to secure police bond.
As a result, some of the Batwa end up being killed by mob in revenge of cases they have committed.
Julius Baryeburya, a Mutwa from Bwindi in Kanungu district says that by the time of evicted from the forest they were totalling to 300. Baryeburya, however, says that the number has so far decreased to 125 in total due to deaths.
He adds that most Batwa have been claimed by HIV due to reluctance in visiting health facilities to get medical services adding that all the problems they are facing are resulted from failure by the government to help them after there were
evicted from the forest.
The Programs Advisor of Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) John de Coninck, a non-government organization aimed at promoting culture says that the looming extinction of Batwa ethnic group and its culture is an issue which the government and other responsible stakeholders need to intervene and address. Coninck says that the Batwa culture and integrity should be preserved like any other cultures in the world.
Innocent Mugarura, Assistant Commissioner in charge of Family Affairs in the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development says that the government has already established action plans like education services of uplifting minority ethnic groups like Batwa.
Mugarura says that in order for Batwa to also catch up like other Ugandans, they should utilize government programs like Universal Primary and Secondary Education so that they become civilized and learn how to develop and sustain themselves.