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 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.