With support from the Fund for Global Human Rights, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda has been facilitating a number of periodic events at which representatives of the Batwa community in Bundibugyo meet with district local government authorities and with other district stakeholders to:
- Exchange views on the evolving situation of the Batwa community in Bundibugyo, one of the most marginalised in the country
- Review previous pledges of support and discuss progress
- Make commitments for the coming period.
One such meeting was held on 28th July 2020; this had been postponed by 3 months owing to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the event, the meeting was well attended and “social distancing” rules were respected. The current status of the Batwa in respect to support during the COVID-19 situation was also discussed.
edingsThe meeting brought together 21 participants, including 6 representatives from the Batwa community, from the Local Government, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), NGOs, Bugombwa Parish, and the local media.
After a prayer, the meeting was opened by Wilson Mubulya, the Prime Minister of Obudhingiya Bwa Bamba (OBB) and Chair of the Rwenzori Platform of Indigenous Minority Groups (IMGs). He noted that the issue of low political representation still haunts IMGs, including the Batwa. He reminded participants of the special plight of the Batwa, who were evicted from their ancestral homes without any form of compensation, when the Semuliki forest was turned into a National Park, resulting in low esteem and exploitation by dominant groups.
The CCFU Director, took participants through the programme, and pointed out that recent research carried out with CCFU assistance by IMGs themselves had shown that they were especially vulnerable to the effects of the COVID pandemic. The research results were to be published soon.
Various participants then gave updates and made commitments:
- The Batwa representative reviewed progress, with thanks to CCFU and TAK Water. Land was purchased and was tilled with support from TAK Water who also promised assistance for the construction of housing. Food had been provided by UWA, TAK Water and one religious institution in Bundibugyo. The beehives purchased with financial assistance from CCFU had proved defective and these are to be redesigned. One of the Batwa has recently been selected as a volunteer with the Red Cross in Bundibugyo.
- CCFU supported UWA to carry out two trainings from the Batwa, in tour guiding on their heritage trail in the Semuliki National Park and bee-keeping. Support to the Batwa children at Bugombwa primary school in form of tuition, scholastic materials is on-going. The Rwenzori platform, supported by CCFU, was due to meet the following day with two Batwa representatives to develop a plan for the rest of the year.
- Juliana Charik of Bugombwa: Parish reported that there are 47 Batwa children at school (until closure because of the COVID situation), with 18 in Primary 5. Children had been able to take teaching materials home. The Heritage Club had been engaged in producing crafts, eventually at be sold at the craft exhibition. The beehives will soon be rectified and a proposal for a “Batwa Day” was made. A signpost for the craft centre had been erected. A question was raised as to the future needs for secondary school support, while challenges in relation to lack of trust (responsibility for items donated to them) on the part of the Batwa was mentioned as a recurrent problem. The promise by UWA to build a school block had not been acted upon
- Community Development Office: Simon Mugisa, the District Community Development Officer reported on the increased participation of the Batwa community in Government-sponsored activities – while the Batwa do not have an elder eligible to benefit from the SAGE grants (for 80+ years old), 16 adult Batwa have been enrolled under the Functional Adult Literacy programme and it is envisaged that this group will eventually help the Batwa to develop income generating activities. Given the constraints faced by the Batwa in accessing other programmes that involve the disbursement of loans, a simplified form had been developed for access to the disability grant and disbursement will be made before December 2020. It was however noted that money to deposit at the bank for account opening and a tax identification number were still required. The DCDO committed to have representatives from other government departments (such as health and production) visit the group and to provide further learning materials. COVID-19 related materials for the Batwa were available at his office.
- Vincent, the FAL volunteer trainer added that the group was doing well, though classes had been interrupted by the COVID situation. Practical steps, as a result of FAL classes, had however taken place, such as King Nzito having put up a sun-drying utensils rack at his home. The idea of a Village Savings and Loan Association was mooted and it was agreed that the District Commercial Officer would visit the group before December 2020 and this would be included in the FAL classes.
- Uganda Wildlife Authority: the delegation from UWA reported that the MOU with the Batwa had been finalised and was now with the UWA legal office for final approval. The collection of firewood, craft materials and medicinal plant collection by the Batwa was allowed, but they were being exploited by neighbours to act as their agents to illegally access forest resources. UWA pledged to sensitise the community about this problem in the course of the year. The posts for the 2-km Batwa trail in the forest had been made, and will soon be planted. All 24 beehives will be adjusted using a model obtained from Fort Portal. Although the COVID pandemic had led to the suspension of the park revenue-sharing scheme, UWA pledged that, once revived, the Batwa community would, for the first time, benefit from the revenue sharing income. UWA will also be in a position to sell Batwa crafts, although the issue of quality was underlined. UWA also expressed willingness to help with the general security of the Batwa community and to follow-up on the pledge for school construction.
- The representative from the District Education Department explained delays in appointing government sponsored teachers to the Bugombwa Primary School where the Batwa are being educated due to an incomplete recruitment process. He pledged to support the school and provide learning materials for the Batwa children at this school.
- A representative from the water department mentioned that a toilet had been dug and installed and a borehole repaired with support from UNICEF.
- A Batwa Education Fund was proposed. It was agreed that the Bugombwa Parish, the Local Government and CCFU would examine ways to support some Batwa through secondary education.
In the absence of the Resident District Commissioner who was indisposed and sent in apologies, Fr Patrick, the Parish Priest at Bugombwa Parish, closed the meeting. He encouraged the district stakeholders to follow through on their commitments, pledged commitment from the Parish to work in partnership to support the Batwa community in Bundibugyo.
Next steps for CCFU
With support from the Fund for Global Human Rights, the following activities are planned to take place before the end of 2020:
- Advocacy engagement and visit by representatives of the Batwa from South-West Uganda to Bundibugyo, to take place simultaneously with a visit to the forest with partners and with Batwa children.
- Support to UWA to develop and print a leaflet on the Batwa Trail in Semuliki
- Radio talk-shows on international day for IMGs, including the Batwa in Bundibugyo
- A national Webinar; IMGs engaging the Ministry and sharing their experiences on the impact of Covid 19.
CCFU, 10 Aug. 2020