Historically, the Batwa were forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers, maintaining livelihoods within the high altitude forests around Lake Kivu and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region of Central and East Africa. The Batwa are widely regarded by their neighbours, and historians, as the first inhabitants of the region, who were later joined by incoming farmers and pastoralists approximately 1000 years ago. Today, the Batwa are still living in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In each of these countries the Batwa exist as a minority ethnic group living amongst the largely Bahutu and Batutsi populations. In Uganda their dominant neighbours are the Bafumbira and Bakiga People.
While accurate figures are difficult to determine, as estimates vary between different sources, it is believed that approximately 6,700 Batwa now live within the present State boundaries of Uganda, with approximately half living in the south-west region of Uganda. The Batwa in this region are former inhabitants of the Bwindi, Mgahinga and Echuya forests, where they lived since time immemorial in coexistence with the environment and in full reliance on the forest for their physical, economic, spiritual, and social sustenance. Recently, however, they have suffered evictions and exclusions from their forests primarily for the creation of protected areas that were established without their participation or their free, prior and informed consent.
Location of Bwindi and Mgahinga
As a result of their exclusion from their ancestral forests and the subsequent loss of their forest based livelihoods, the majority of Ugandan Batwa suffer severe isolation, discrimination and socio-political exclusion. The Batwa’s customary rights to land have not been recognized in Uganda and they have received little or no compensation for their losses, resulting in a situation where almost half of Batwa remain landless and virtually all live in absolute poverty. Almost half of the Batwa continue to squat on others land whilst working for their non-Batwa masters in bonded labour agreements. Those who live on land that has been donated by charities still continue to suffer poorer levels of health care, education, and employment than their ethnic neighbours. Additionally, the vast majority of communities which have received land from well wishers do not yet have legal title to those lands and they continue to suffer insecurity. Today, the Batwa’s political situation on the margins of Ugandan society is analogous with their physical existence in settlements on the edges of their ancestral forests.
For more information on the Batwa please visit our Publications and Resources page.