Why is intervention important?
Considered by many to be the original rainforest dwellers, the ancient Batwa tribe co-existed with other inhabitants of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for thousands of years. They relied on forest resources for all aspects of their life, from shelter to food, and from recreation to religion. All that ended, however, in the early 1990s when the Ugandan government gazetted the area to form a National Park and protected conservation area for the mountain gorillas. The Batwa were evicted.
In the two decades since, the Batwa have faced hardships and deprivation. As nomads, they received no compensation for the land they had left, and received no help to resettle. A minority in Uganda, they were discriminated against in every aspect of life. Many have faced violence – often sexual in nature – and the prevalence of HIV/ AIDs is high. There is little access to secure housing, food, education and healthcare and many see no end to their plight.
What help is there?
A number of organizations – based in Uganda and around the world – have worked with the Batwa in the years since their eviction. Early projects, such as those developed by the African International Christian Ministry (AICM), focused on advocacy for the Batwa over land rights and representation, alongside the purchase of land. As the Batwa historically had no need for farming, living instead off the fruits of the forest, training in modern agricultural skills, along with the provision of seeds and crops, was also crucial in these early projects.
Later work has focused on addressing the Batwa’s lack of access to basic services. This has been done through developing savings and loans schemes, through the provision of building materials for creating secure dwellings, and through creating scholarship programmes for education. Organizations like the Pilot Light Foundation, AICM and the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda have all supported such projects. The need for advocacy continues.
With many Batwa now living in more a more secure setting, with access to basic services being addressed, projects are now turning to create sustainable income sources for the community. Drawing on the Batwa cultural history and traditions, and their talent in music, dance, drama and storytelling, tourism has been pinpointed as offering one such source of income.
To date, however, tourism involving the Batwa has been criticized in some quarters. Despite drawing on the Batwa culture, and involving Batwa as guides, the community has seen little if any financial, or other, benefits from existing ‘Batwa Trails’. Some of the community also feel exploited by being made to sing and dance for very low wages. Our project will address these concerns, by involving the Batwa in the design and development of tourist offerings and by training the Batwa to take control of the enterprise.