January 24, 2015

Batwa Become Kigezi Beasts of Burden

They are described as, “Easy to maintain,” because they do not ask for or need soap, vaseline and other modern amenities. You do not have to spend much on them, a bit of waragi will have them contented and ready to work the next day.

A group of Batwa Making fire in Bwindi
A group of Batwa Making fire in Bwindi

These employers are not describing beasts of burden. They are talking about their Batwa workmen and women in South-Western Uganda.

The displaced Batwa, in Kigezi, apparently make the best casual labourers.

Johnson Kyarikunda, a farmer from Muko Sub County, Kabale district, says he prefers to hire Batwa workers because, “They work hard when they are well supervised.”

Kyarikunda employs them when he wants to grow Irish Potatoes in his gardens. He has discovered that some Batwa are happy to be paid in, “Waragi, which they drink.”

Irene Musiimenta, who employs two men from the Batwa tribe, says many farmers pay the Batwa less than other workers because they need close supervision.

Musimenta says that though she pays her two men only 15, 000 shillings a month each, she knows other farmers who never pay them any money.

Steven Nzabandola, a Mutwa from Muko in Kabale District, says many Batwa realise they are being exploited but do not have many alternatives to earn money.

Nzabandola explains that 24 years since they were forced from their homes in Echuya, Mgahinga and Bwindi forests, a majority of the 6, 700 Batwa remain illiterate, cut off from many government programmes.

Nzabandola says that because Batwa have never been helped to adjust into communities outside their forest homes, they are easily exploited. He says, for example, a Mufumbira or Mukiga worker would demand and receive between 50,000 to 70,000 shillings a months for their labour. A Mutwa who gets 20, 000 shillings a month feels lucky.

In fact Sikoler Tumwesigye, the Kabale District Labour officer, says her office has received reports of Batwa being “exported” against their will to provide cheap labour in neighbouring countries.

Elly Maate is the Kigezi regional Police spokesperson, says these Batwa human trafficking reports have similarly reached the police.

Maate says that Batwa are easily exploited because it is felt that they are homeless and desperate.

Following the 1990 Ugandan government policy on biodiversity conservation, Batwa were evicted from Echuya, Mgahinga and Bwindi forests when the forests were gazetted as national parks becoming World Heritage Sites for preservation of endangered mountain gorillas.

No compensation was provided for the displaced Batwa, either in cash or alternative lands.

Peninah Zanika is the coordinator for the United Organizations for the Batwa Development in Uganda. She says the Ugandan government has abandoned the welfare of the Batwa to NGOs.

With few skills outside of their native hunter and gather gifts, Zanika says a Mutwa worker can be paid as little as 5000 shillings a month and have to take the money.

Pastor George Mbonye of the Baptist church in Kisoro district, says the only way Batwa can be helped is through education. Unfortunately many Batwa have failed to understand the value of formal education.

Zanika believes that without government intervention, Batwa will continue to be exploited for many years.

1 thought on “Batwa Become Kigezi Beasts of Burden

  1. Programs have been in place to rehabilitate the Batwa eg. in Bukimbiri subcounty they have shelter and also emeritus Bishop Kayeye is doing his best to have them educated. I think there is a need to investigate as to why they dont embrace education. We can borrow a leaf from Botswana. Some NGOs also it seems want the status quo to remain in order to keep cash flowing.

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