The marginalized and forgotten people
“We are truly the forgotten people of Rwanda, having been there for the longest, having lived for thousands of years in the rainforest of Africa before the Hutu and the Tutsi arrived. We have been forgotten by all those who have come to use our forests, ignored by the European colonists, and we are again forgotten by all those who would help to resolve the chaos that Rwanda is in today”
This said Charles Uwiragiye, executive secretary of the association for the promotion of the Batwa, during a speech in 1994 asking the world to hear the suffering of the pygmies. More than a decade later, not much has changed.
The Batwa are recognized as the original inhabitants of the equatorial forests of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. These forest peoples have been in these forests for thousands and thousands of years. The forest was their home. It provided them with sustenance and medicines, and contained their sacred sites. Their low-impact use of forest resources meant that their way of life was sustainable over thousands of years. In the nineteenth century, incoming agriculturalists and pastoralists started the process of deforestation, clearing forests for cultivation. With the advent of colonialism, large-scale forest logging and an increasing interest in trophy game hunting, the overexploitation and destruction of Central African forest habitats and wildlife impacted more and more on Batwa Pygmy communities. In recent decades, the establishment of protected national parks has led to their removal from their ancestral lands, while severe inter- and intra-state violent clashes and conflicts have undermined their livelihoods and culture even further.
The pygmies are a vulnerable people, and discrimination is part of their daily existence. Their marginalised status means they are likely to require more support than other citizens to claim their right to ancestral lands. In many cases, they have been driven away from their territory without compensation or any prospect of alternative livelihood. Without land or independent means of sustaining themselves, many pygmies live in extreme poverty.
Pygmies live in a considerable number of Central African countries, the Batwa however limit themselves to the Great Lakes sub-region of Rwanda, Burundi, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. In these four states all Batwa Pygmy communities “suffer from loss of traditional forest territories and other natural resources, personal insecurity and violence, displacement by war and as a result of tourism and logging, political and social exclusion, poverty, ill-health, inadequate educational opportunities and negative stereotyping” (Lewis, 2000:3). Despite the unprecedented hardships they have experienced, the Batwa Pygmies of the sub-region are today making courageous and determined efforts to mobilize to defend and promote their rights through erecting NGOs defending and protecting their rights and by actively participating in political life.
CAURWA´s intend is to give voice to the often voiceless Batwa. CAURWA´s activities are only in Rwanda, but close connections to other Batwa organisations in DRC and Burundi are kept. If the Batwa Pygmies of the Great Lakes are to preserve their collective identity, the effectiveness of their own efforts and the support of external actors will be crucial. CAURWA tries to create awarness on the marginalized position of the Batwa today in Rwanda and perhaps function as an example for the other Great Lakes countries with Batwa communities.
Where do they live?
The Batwa in Rwanda are found all over the country. The Batwa forest-dwellers however are most numerous in the North near Volcanoes National Park and in the south near Nyungwe National Forest. The first map below shows the area of where Batwa are living in the enitre Great Lakes region and the second how the distribution is in Rwanda with a side map of where Rwanda’s national parks are:
CAURWA is an Non-profit organisation working for the Batwa indigenous people of Rwanda. They work for the promotion and protection of the rights of people and help to generate sufficient income for the often very poor Batwa people.
The seat of CAURWA is in Nayrugenge (Kigali), but its activities reach all parts of the country. The Highest organ in the organisation is the General Assembly, which consists of two representatives from each member organisation. The general assembly defines the orientation, policy and principal objectives of CAURWA, as well as the follow up on its activities. Under the General Assembly is an Administrative Council that consists of 14 members. Among them 5 delegates compose an executive Committee, which is responsible for the continuing management of activities. A president, a vice-president, an executive Secretary and an accountant compose the Committee. The president of the Committee is the legal representative of the organisation. The members of the Administrative Council and the Executive Committee are elected by the General Assembly. Despite the lack of social, material and financial resources in Rwanda, the members of CAURWA are committed to working in an atmosphere of transparency and overcome the challenges they face.
• Improve the organisation capacity in the Batwa communities in order to enable them to have an impact on political decision on a local, national and international level.
• Empower the Batwa to take this work upon themselves;
• Make the Batwa communities realise the importance of their participation in public decision-making;
• Make the new socio-economic opportunities more accessible to the Twa communities through facilitating training of skills, research and dissemination of the necessary information as well as facilitating access to credit and new appropriate techniques.
During the time that CAURWA exists it has managed to accomplish following activities:
• Education on farming for Twa orphans, widows, detainees and students, as well as all those who live in the field (financed by the World Rainforst Movement)
• A socio-demographic survey on the Batwas after the war (financed by the High Commissionner for Human Rights in Rwanda)
• A socio-economic survey on the situation of the Twa Women (financed by HCHR-Rwanda)
• Research on gathering of evidence of innocence for the Batwa who are unjustly on charges of genocide (financed by HCHR-Rwanda)
• Distribution of 22 sheeps to 20 families in Kanzenze and Kacyiru (financed by WRM) Preparations for other projects proposals have been completed and CAURWA is now waiting for funding in order to undertake them. These projects are:
o Fabrication of bricks
o Rehabilitation of houses in Kazenze (Kigali)
o Modern pottery production
o Mixed stock raising
The new statutes are written and everyone including the Ministry of Justice (MINIJUS) agreed on the name change of CAURWA into COPORWA. CAURWA what stands for ‘Communauté des Autochtones Rwandais’ is a name that is no longer accepted by the Ministry of Justice since the word ‘Autochtones’ refers to the Indigenous of Rwanda, the Batwa. Especially after the redrafting of the constitution in 2003 it is illegal to work on any ethnicity in specific in Rwanda. You can not even mention anymore there are Tutsi, Hutu and Batwa in Rwanda. This has to be put all in the context of what happened in 1994 when almost 800.000 people were slaughtered for being of a different ethnicity. The policy now is to deny and de-emphasise the ‘ethnicities’ of Rwanda and call them all ‘Rwandese’. It all seems very well-funded and reasonable, but in reality this policy has a negative effect on the Indigenous of Rwanda. These people who have been neglected already for centuries and have been at the bottom of the society deserve special attention and some affirmative action. The organisation of CAURWA is purely focusing on the rights of these indigenous and is aiming to improve their livelihood situation. CAURWA’s permit is ending the end of this month and no extension is granted unless we change the name and remove all references in the statutes to indigenous and Batwa. This struggle for saving the references to the indigenous and Batwa is already going on for the last couple of years and the government of Rwanda turned out to be the strongest side. This leaves CAURWA with no other option then to change the name and remove the reference to indigenous and Batwa. The new name of the organisation is going to be COPORWA (Communauté des Potiers Rwandais). This means ‘Organisation of Rwandese Potters’. The Batwa are famous for their potting skills and most Batwa practice these skills as a way of alternative income generation. Referring to potters however is not the same as referring to Indigenous or Batwa. From being a potter no special indigenous rights can be derived and also the term potters is imperfect since not all Batwa are potters. Being potters is not the original culture of the Batwa and it not completely resembles who the Batwa are. However without any extension of the legal permit to work as an NGO it’s likely that CAURWA won’t be able to work at all on their target group. By changing its name it bends for the policy of the government of Rwanda, but will be still able to focus on the Batwa although they won’t be called like that anymore. The alternative income generating activities will focus on improving the potting skills of the Batwa and CAURWA even considers introducing machinery potting skills to be able to compete with the import of plastic and aluminium pots from the east. CAURWA regrets of losing this struggle, but is still full of energy to continue the work they started and improve the livelihood of Rwanda’s most vulnerable people ‘the potters’.
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