Uganda: Batwa “Pygmy” faces prison in the name of conservation

Kafukuzi Valence in his cell in Kisoro, Uganda. 2017
Kafukuzi Valence in his cell in Kisoro, Uganda. 2017
© Alex Ahimbisibwe/Batwa Development Organisation

A Batwa “Pygmy” man is facing up to five years in prison for hunting a small antelope inside Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a protected area from which the Batwa were violently and illegally evicted.

Kafukuzi Valence, who is to appear in court today, claims the duiker had strayed into a field adjacent to the park. The district police have reportedly said to his family that they will release him if they are paid 5,700,000 Ugandan shillings (nearly USD $1600). The Batwa can expect to receive a wage of less than one US dollar for a day’s labor.

The park was established on the ancestral homelands of the Batwa hunter-gatherers in 1991, with the support of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and without the Batwa’s consent. Now the Batwa are accused of “poaching” when they hunt to feed their families.

The Batwa have been illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The Batwa have been illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
© Bagaragazagod

As one Batwa man recalled: “One day, we were in the forest when we saw people coming with machine guns and they told us to get out of the forest. We were very scared so we started to run not knowing where to go, and some of us disappeared. They either died or went somewhere we didn’t know. As a result of the eviction, everybody is now scattered.”

The Batwa face arrest and imprisonment for “trespassing” inside Bwindi or the nearby Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, from which they were also evicted. Imprisoned Batwa are often forced to work in construction and waste disposal. Reports of abuse date back at least to 2001, when one Batwa man is said to have been shot at by guards when he was found inside Bwindi.

In 2013, the Batwa filed a petition before Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking justice for the violation of their land rights. The case is still ongoing.

Update 02/10/17: Kafukuzi is now scheduled to reappear in court on February 15. Until then he remains in police custody.