Court Ruling dignifies Batwa but to whom does the victory really belong?
By Joshua Niyonshima
Uganda’s Constitutional Court, earlier this week, ordered the High Court to determine an appropriate compensation to the Batwa following illegal eviction from their land.
What a glorious day it must have been for the Batwa, whose history has been one filled with disappointment and deep sadness.
To this day, the Batwa continue to live a life of discrimination and indifference from other tribes in Kisoro. They continue to exist without having land to call their own, a land to call their home.
Records show that between the 1930s and 1990s, Government through its entities evicted the Batwa from three areas in Kabale and Kisoro districts which form the present day Echuya Central Forest Reserve, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
According to the Constitutional ruling, Government and its agencies including National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) were found guilty of illegally evicting the Batwa from their ancestral land.
An article published by the Daily Monitor indicates that, in a unanimous ruling, the judges; Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, Elizabeth Musoke, Cheborion Barishaki, Muzamiru Kibeedi, and Irene Mulyagonja, ruled that due to the nonpayment of adequate compensation, the Batwa have been rendered landless and it has severely affected their livelihoods and destroyed their identity, dignity and self-worth.
Three respondents including United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) and 11 other individuals filed a petition more than eight years ago and now, it would seem that justice has been served.
The petitioners told the Constitutional Court that since 1930s to the present day, successive governments have dispossessed them from their ancestral lands on which relevant protected areas were established.
As a resident of this growing and ever changing town, I have witnessed firsthand the life of a Mutwa.
Many of them have been reduced to children of a lesser God, living off begging, eating leftover food from hotels, compost pits and other filthy places.
To whom does the Victory belong?
The National Coordinator UOBDU Ms. Zaninka Peninah says organization had to re-organize the Batwa, build houses for them and also provided basic needs plus working on their mindset.
Zaninka notes that the court ruling means so much to all those who have been fighting hard to ensure that the Batwa are also recognized and that their lives matter.
She further noted that as they wait for the appropriate compensation, the Batwa are requesting to access part of the forest to preserve their cultural heritage and historical back ground.
They also wish to enjoy other social services like the rest of other communities including education, health care and owning their own land.
Alice Nyamihanda, one of the educated Batwa in Kisoro also commended the Constitutional court for a job well done.
It now remains to be seen what this victory for the Batwa really means to a community that has only known hard life. Will it change their outlook to life? Will it allow them to join the rest of the world in contributing to development and growth?