By Suzan Kabarwani
The issue of saving the Batwa (Pygmies) or one community of original people of Uganda from extinction has grabbed the attention of the media and the general public ,yet decades have gone by when they seem to be a neglected section of Ugandans with no good representation in parliament even when each corner of the country is pushing for representation with formation new districts .From the time they were sent away from Bwindi Rainforests they have faced a number of problems ranging from ;little knowledge on modern methods of farming , limited land for agriculture ,and poor education which has made them prone to the HIV scourge which is now dragging them out of the country . What a loss to the country if the Batwa are not helped to continue living .Currently they are less than 80 people, though they have been known as the little people from the time censuses portrayed them as the smallest community in Uganda, the number of could have been more than it is now had HIV not wiped them away at such a high rate.
Innocent without education as they have been for years, even made them prey to other neighboring communities who regarded them as medicine for HIV/Aids. It is reported that some people from nearby communities have been hunting to sleep with them as a ‘cure for HIV’. All this could have been prevented had the government initiated special education interventions for the Batwa in time. The Batwa children have been facing rejection in their neighboring schools and to their parents, it seemed okay if they dropped out of school.
Interventions which could work to save the Batwa
Forced prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) for the Batwa People
The government of Uganda should commit itself to providing PMCT services to Batwa women to enable them give birth to healthy off springs. This should be followed by serious monitoring of these children especially through infancy. It should be noted that for years, even without HIV infections, the Batwa has faced a problem of high infant mortality. This therefore calls for a special fund from government to boost their feeding together with their mothers.Special government nutrition programs should be initiated among the Batwa to help them respond well to ARVs like other Ugandans. With the current poverty levels among the Batwa, it is hard to get a balanced diet.
Saving Batwa from extinction should be a government priority
Though the government evicted the Batwa from Bwindi Forests without serious consultations and the Batwa participation, their health, education, and future should become a priority of government .An intervention like for Karamoja region could also make wonders for the Batwa.
Government should work with the already existing interventions like the Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) which was established in 2000 to help in developing the Batwa in various ways like solving their land and housing challenges, education, agriculture and Forest access. Getting a special Minister for the Batwa people can be a good decision of government.
Government’s loss in tourism
With their original creativeness in art craft, the Batwa people have been contributing a lot to Uganda’s tourism. They are gifted in handwork and their beautiful African art products have been a target of tourists who visit western Uganda .With their extinction,all this will be lost and will never be recovered .The Batwa have been sharing their rich African culture and ancient rituals to tourists ,what will happen if they all die because of HIV and ignorance
The Batwa are a gift to Uganda
Having existed in the Equatorial forests of Africa for over 60,000 years and more ,they are a gift to Uganda. They existated even after that migration of the Bantu .They survived by hunting small animals , gathering plants and fruit in the rain forest. Their homesteads were majorly of leaves and branches.
They lived in harmony with the forest and its creatures, including the mountain gorillas.All this came to an end when they were evicted from Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in 1992 . The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a national park and World Heritage Site to protect the 350 endangered mountain gorillas but we need both .