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Cultural Crisis: Indigenous Struggles Expose Threats To Identity, Livelihoods :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Cultural Crisis: Indigenous Struggles Expose Threats To Identity, Livelihoods

The study by the non-government organization that seeks to promote culture and cultural heritage in the country reveals that constrained access has significantly impacted the cultural identity and expression of indigenous communities. For instance, some Batwa individuals hesitate to openly identify themselves within other communities due to the discrimination they encounter.
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A new study conducted by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda-CCFU has shed light on the diverse challenges faced by indigenous groups in the Elgon, Rwenzori, and Kigozi regions due to the constraints on accessing protected zones.

 

The study by the non-government organization that seeks to promote culture and cultural heritage in the country reveals that constrained access has significantly impacted the cultural identity and expression of indigenous communities. For instance, some Batwa individuals hesitate to openly identify themselves within other communities due to the discrimination they encounter.  

Interviews with more than 200 indigenous people conducted as part of the study further indicate that these communities are adopting alternative languages as their primary means of communication, posing a threat to the survival of their own native languages.

“The Batwa community in Kanungu mainly speak Rukiga, a language spoken by their populous Bakiga neighbors. On the other hand, the Batwa group in Kisoro mainly speak Rufumbira…the Batwa in Bundibugyo speak Lubwisi and Kwamba.” The study reports.

The study further found that the restricted access has affected the way of worship of the indigenous communities. These communities used to have designated places inside the protected areas that were known to be specific for worshiping and ritual performances which they now can’t access at their convenience.  

“Calamities such as prolonged droughts, civil unrest, floods and insecurity that have befallen some of the Indigenous minority groups communities are attributed to the lack of ritual performance which will have averted such calamities," reads the report in part.

Sylvia Kokunda, a Mutwa from Kanungu told the researchers that places of worship are used for blessings and offerings to their gods as a form of appreciating good harvest, overcoming a family challenge or even diseases.  

The backdrop of this struggle is the presence of protected areas like Mgahinga, Mt Elgon Forest Reserve, Bwindhi Impenetrable National Park, Semuliki National Park, and Kidepo Valley National Park. Once homes to indigenous communities like the Ik, Benet, Batwa, Bamba, Basongora, Bagabo, and Babwisi, these areas witnessed evictions in the 1980s and 1990s, displacing communities and restricting access to their former homes.  

The Deputy Executive Director of CCFU Fredrick Nsibambi, who is also the lead researcher says that the livelihood and medicine of the Indigenous groups have been affected by the restricted access. These communities, he says, collected firewood, fruits and honey from the forests, hunted for animals to eat or sell, and picked herbs to treat different illnesses. With limited access, Nsibambi says all this social order has been disrupted.

  

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Moses Kiptara, a representative of the Benet community, points to the root challenge: insufficient consultation between the government and these communities before eviction. He emphasizes the need for adequate facilitation and a clear understanding of how these communities can derive livelihoods from the forest, maintaining a connection to their cultural heritage.  

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The Benet were first evicted from Mt. Elgon in early 1980s and resettled in the nearby areas. However, several are said to have sold off the land they were settled to and relocated back into the mountains. This led to the 2008 evictions carried out by the government, and opened the door for endless clashes between the Benet and government agencies guarding Mt. Elgon National Park.

Emmanuel Kyalimpa, a Mugabo from Kasese district says that the livelihood of these evicted communities should be prioritized by the government if the resettlements from the protected areas are to be fruitful. He suggests, first, that compensation for the displaced people be timely, quarter of recruited staff to operate in protected areas from neighboring communities, and that the revenue generated by the protected areas be shared more equitably.

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Sam Mwandha, the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA, a body mandated to manage the protected areas, says the government has the will to cooperate with Indigenous communities. 

He says the restricted access given to these communities is intended to grant the communities some access without endangering the parks. Mwandha also says that evicting indigenous communities from the Parks is also for their own good, to help them acquire a decent education and development they could otherwise miss out on living in the woods.

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Based on available information, Uganda is recognized as the home to a diverse range of Indigenous Peoples, with an estimated population of 1.2 million. The constitution acknowledges 65 "Indigenous communities," but this count does not encompass many self-identifying Indigenous Peoples.

A 2021 UN Human Rights report highlighted that, despite commendable steps taken by the government in recent years, Uganda has persistently disregarded land claims from pastoral and Indigenous communities.

Moreover, there has been a failure to address the restitution for forcibly displacing Indigenous Peoples from their ancestral lands. These evictions, justified in the name of conservation, contravene the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by neglecting to secure the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of the affected Peoples.          

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