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Batwa in Fresh Demand for Compensation after Court Ruling

The Constitutional Court in Kampala ruled a week ago that the Batwa had an interest in the disputed protected forests in South Western Uganda by virtue of the native or original title. The Court added their eviction from the said areas without compensation has not only enhanced their marginalisation but has also relegated them to a lesser class of citizens, inherently landless and fated to be encroachers on other people’s land.
Robert Byarugaba, A Mutwa from Rwamahano in Mukos sub county, Rubanda district standing next to his house (Photo Credit Samuel Amanya)-min

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The Batwa community in South Western Uganda is asking the government to expedite compensation for their eviction from three areas that were turned into forest reserves and National Parks.

The Constitutional Court in Kampala ruled a week ago that the Batwa had an interest in the disputed protected forests in South Western Uganda by virtue of the native or original title. The Court added their eviction from the said areas without compensation has not only enhanced their marginalisation but has also relegated them to a lesser class of citizens, inherently landless and fated to be encroachers on other people’s land.

The judgement stemmed from a petition filed on February 8, 2013, before the Constitutional court by f the United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda. They accused the Uganda Wildlife Authority – UWA and National Forestry Authority – NFA of eviting them from ancestral forests in 1992 without due compensation.

The matter was ruled in their favour by the court presided over by the judges; Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, Elizabeth Musoke, Cheborion Barishaki, Muzamiru Kibedi, and Irene Mulyagonja. The population of Batwa in Uganda is estimated at 6,800  people who live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Bwindi Mgahinga National Park, Echuya Forest Reserve, and Semuliki National Park in the districts of Kisoro, Kanungu, Bundibugyo, Rubanda and Kabale.

Now, Gad Semajeeri, the Vice-Chairperson for Civil Society Coalition of Indigenous People in Uganda told our reporter that the judgment is a good achievement on the side of the Batwa community. He however adds that although the judgment is in favour of the Batwa, they remain suspicious that the matters that failed compensation immediately after being evicted from the forest, may also influence and cause another delay after the judgment.  

He wants the government to give each household at least six acres of land, enough money to help them start income-generating projects and fully sponsor their children in schools.  He says that the few acres of land that were given to some households by Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) remain on the thread since they declined to provide handover agreements that would guarantee ownership rights to the Batwa.

//Cue in; “it's amazing which…

Cue out…have schools.”//

Rukiga //Cue in; “kuri tikaba twineyo…

Cue out…angwaara munonga.”//

Semajeeri says that life became very difficult after they were evicted from the forest because all they used to benefit from the forest like traditional medicine, honey, wild meat, and worshipping demi-gods came to an end.  He says that the Batwa now depend on begging from the Bakiga communities, and that their women are now exchanging sex for food.

//Cue in; “in the forest…

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Rukiga //Cue in; “kuri tukaba twine…

Cue out …andwaara munonga.”//

Davis Akola, and Kellen Kyimpaye, both members of the Batwa community from Murubindi in Bufundi sub-county say that after they were evicted from the forest, guards became brutal whenever they were found trying to cross back to look for firewood and green vegetables. They say that in July 2020, Matekye Ruzabarande, a Mutwa from Muko sub-county was allegedly beaten to death by forest guards after he was intercepted while collecting firewood from Echuya forest.

They say that what they want is enough land with full rights so that they start growing their own food crops.

//Cue in; “tukata omushango…

Cue out…niwe aratukwatireho.”//

Amos Simako, another member from Kinyarushengye Batwa community in Muko sub-county says that the government should take responsibility for providing assistance to keep his three children in school.

Robert Byarugaba also from Rwamahano says that when they were evicted from Echuya forest Reserve, he was given the responsibility of guarding the peas garden of a Mukiga resident from birds in exchange for a grass thatched house as shelter. He now stays in the grass thatched house with his three children. He also wants the government to give them enough land where they gain privacy and autonomy. 

//Cue in; “itwe tukaruga mwihamba…

Cue out…Tuhinge nkabandi.”//

Moses Kamuntu Mwongyera, the Rubanda West County Member of Parliament says that local leaders in the districts that host the Batwa had left the whole burden to only petitioners. Kamuntu says that it’s now the responsibility of leaders to push the government to honour directives from the judgement.

//Cue in; “no but you…

Cue out…not good.”//

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