KANUNGU, UGANDA: The Batwa Community in Kanungu district is seeking affirmative action in the recruitment of game rangers by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
The authority conducted a nationwide recruitment of over 800 game rangers in July last year, as a way of enhancing wildlife protection in all gazetted wildlife conservation areas across the country.
One of the requirements for recruitment included a minimum qualification of an O’Level certificate and fluency in the English language.
However, the community whose members mostly live adjacent to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Buhoma town council, say that none of them met the requirements. They argue that despite lacking qualifications, UWA should give them special consideration as inhabitants of the Park, an area they knew as ancestry until 1992 when they were evicted by the government.
The Batwa add that after their eviction, they have significantly withdrawn from acts of poaching for which they were considered a threat to wildlife.
Eliphaz Kapere, 65, a Mutwa from Bwany village says that many of his relatives have approached the Wildlife Authority with interest in joining to work as game rangers, but they are always turned away.
He says that many of the Batwa remain struggling with income yet they have an attachment to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
According to Kapere, the government should recognise the Batwa and give them opportunities without stringent terms and conditions.
Another member of the same community, Elphael Kabwaana says that only one of their colleagues was recruited to be trained as a game ranger following heavy advocacy from non-government organizations in the area.
Kabwaana says that once there is special recruitment, the Batwa can sustain themselves economically and quit betting since they have no land where to carry out agriculture.
Sylvia Kokunda, the Executive Director of Action for Batwa Empowerment Group, a non-government organization advocating for the rights of the Batwa community says that in addition to having an O-Level certificate and being fluent in English as a requirement during recruitment, those interested are required not to have scars.
Ms Kokunda says that this requirement stands in the way of many of the members of the Batwa community since it is very difficult to find any of them without scars due to their way of life adding that out of around 1,033 Batwa in 10 communities in Kanungu district, there are so far only three Batwa who are working with UWA as porters.
Kanungu district chairman, Mr Sam Arineitwe Kajojo says that district leaders have already engaged UWA with requests for special recruitment targeting Batwa into game ranging and tour guiding. According to Kajojo, once this is done, many Batwa will be motivated in terms of environmental protection and stop the vices of poaching.
Kajojo says that as district leaders wait for UWA to look into requests, they have opted to start sensitizing the Batwa about mindset change and how they can engage in commercial agriculture to sustain themselves economically.
Bashir Hangi, the UWA Communications Manager said that there are some Batwa in Kanungu who work for UWA as casual labourers and encourages Batwa to continue participating in the recruitment process for both ranger and other positions.
“UWA recruitment takes cognizance of local communities, that is why we have recruitment centres near all protected areas. The Batwa are encouraged to participate in the recruitment process for both ranger and other positions. Currently, some Batwa work for UWA, like the provision of casual labour” he says.
But Kanungu Deputy Resident District Commissioner Gad Rugaaju Ahimbisibwe says that it is not easy for UWA to change the procedure of game rangers recruitment just to favour the Batwa.
On February 8, 2013, the Batwa petitioned the Constitutional court with the help of the United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda accusing the Uganda Wildlife Authority and National Forestry Authority of eviting them from ancestral forests in 1992 without due compensation.
In August 2021, the Constitutional Court in Kampala ruled that the Batwa had an interest in the disputed protected forests in South Western Uganda by virtue of the native or original title. The court added their eviction from the said areas without compensation has not only enhanced their marginalisation but has also relegated them to a lesser class of citizens, inherently landless and fated to be encroachers on other people’s land. But up to date, the government is yet to compensate the Batwa.
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