FPP support for capacity building and sustainable resource use of Batwa communities around Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forests, South West Uganda

FPP support for capacity building and sustainable resource use of Batwa communities around Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forests, South West Uganda

Overview – August 2002

(Background to the Batwa of South West Uganda)

For several years FPP has been working to support capacity building amongst Batwa from south west Uganda and emerging Batwa representative institutions. This is to assist Batwa to overcome their marginalisation through working with the government, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, CARE, and other relevant bodies working around Mgahinga and Bwindi National Parks, and to support Batwa claims for livelihood entitlements and access to the legal processes they need to protect and advance their rights. Since 2001 this work has been funded by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC).

Over the course of this project FPP’s local field worker, Penninah Zaninka, has been visiting Batwa communities across three districts of south west Uganda to discuss the issues affecting them, to inform them about developments within the MBIFCT’s programme,[1] to help Batwa choose representatives to attend the quarterly meetings with the Trust, and to help them identify the issues that they want to raise in meetings with government and the Trust. Paramount among these have been the Batwa’s desire for the Trust to speed up the land acquisition process for Batwa, to clarify the process by which the Trust’s spending decisions are made, and to include active Batwa members on the Local Council Steering Committee (LCSC). The LCSCs are the key administrative instruments used by the Trust to help guide its investments in local communities, so securing active Batwa participation on them has been an important goal. Two Batwa men from the Batwa Representation Committee have now been chosen by the Trust to join the LCSC, and have attended meetings in Kabale during 2002.

Since 1999, when the Trust’s Batwa component was established, there have been other positive developments for the Batwa. Of the 403 households considered within the mandate of the Trust’s activities, (a much smaller number than the total Batwa affected by the creation of the parks) 58% of the Batwa households have settled on land of between 1 and 2 acres purchased for them by the Trust.  Despite this, the vast majority of these communities still do not have legal title to such land’s and continue to suffer from land insecurity. However, the long-term sustainability of the Trust’s finances is now in question, due both to the events of September 11 in New York and changing donor priorities in Uganda. Since September 11, 2001 the income from the GEF’s US$4.89 million endowment has fallen dramatically, while the of the Trust’s levels of expenditure have remained constant. The result is that the fund’s long-term sustainability is now in jeopardy. In addition, from June this year the Dutch Embassy funding, which had been provided to replace USAID’s financial support after 1998, has been under terminal threat. This is a negative development for Batwa community members since, if current spending trends continued and no alternative funding was found to replace the Trust’s income deficit, the Batwa component of the community compensation package would become effectively inoperable, a fact borne out with the announcement by the Trust in July that the Batwa component of the Trust’s work was to be terminated within months. This grave development was announced to Batwa at the meeting that Forest Peoples Project sponsored in Kisoro between UOBDU Batwa representatives from three districts of south west Uganda and representatives from the UWA, MBIFCT and various NGOs working across the zone.

Since September 2001 FPP has been working also to strengthen local links with CARE International who have been responsible for enabling sustainable access to the Parks for local communities through a “Multiple User Programme”. Initial reports to FPP’s field worker early last year from Batwa community members indicated that Batwa’s participation in the scheme was very low or non-existent, and that most Batwa had no real understanding of how to use the scheme to obtain sustainable access to the forest for their community. A subsequent evaluation for CARE carried out in late November verified FPP’s initial findings, acknowledging that the Batwa deserved and should receive special attention – attention which had been missing during the first phase of the programme. The report underlined the need to provide special provisions for the Batwa in the Multiple Use Zones, and generally raised the importance of Batwa issues amongst Park management, including the Uganda Wildlife Authority and conservation officers at the Trust. In recent meetings with FPP, CARE staff have agreed to address Batwa priorities and needs more adequately, within proposed revisions to the process and the institutional framework of CARE’s Multiple User Programme.

The linkages developing between CARE and Batwa representatives will be further strengthened by CARE’s better understanding of and experience with representatives from UOBDU (United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda) , with whom they met in Kabale in April 2002, and again in Kisoro during July. The July meeting, which was financed by FPP’s project, “Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas in Africa: from principles to practice”, brought together conservation staff and UOBDU representatives from around the Parks to discuss the overriding issues of Batwa forest access and land rights.

In addition, FPP and Batwa representatives have engaged with Ugandan government authorities to discuss the lack of Batwa representation within government. In particular, FPP has helped resolve a land dispute between a Batwa leader – one of the few Batwa still holding land under customary tenure, thereby entitling him to secure government title – and local government authorities who have been trying to evict his family over the course of the past few years. So far, international support for the Batwa’s case has prevented the Town Council from evicting this family, backed up by the Batwa representatives’ growing confidence and knowledge. Increasingly, they are raising their concerns about their long-term welfare directly with government leaders. District government leaders from across the party divide have promised to lend their support to the Batwa on this case, and FPP is liasing with local authorities over how to facilitate the acquisition of land title for this family.

FPP’s project also supported UOBDU’s formal registration as a national, Batwa-run organisation catering for the needs of the Batwa community, and governed by a Batwa board. UOBDU is now solidifying its formal access to government consultative, planning and policy processes in all three districts in which it is operating. To this end, FPP is supporting UOBDU delegates to attend meetings with government representatives and is keeping them informed about the key issues and options. This, in turn, is facilitating increased familiarity between these groups, and UOBDU is now slowly developing its agenda.

FPP’s regular visits to the communities have facilitated increasing and significant interactions between Batwa representatives and outside agencies, as well as meetings and workshops with the Trust, other NGOs and government agencies working directly with Ugandan Batwa. For the next year FPP will continue to provide support to UOBDU, with SSNC’s financial support. This funding has also enabled the establishment of a Batwa Centre in Kisoro, which will provide a documentation and cultural centre for Batwa, and accommodate regular meetings between Batwa community members from across three districts, and between Batwa representatives and those from government agencies and NGOs working in the zone.

Over the course of the next year this project will work to consolidate the gains already achieved by Batwa, and will look for ways to develop self-sustaining mechanisms for UOBDU’s continued work after July 2003. In particular, FPP will:

·         Continue to visit the Batwa communities already involved in this project, to share information about Trust and NGO activities and the work of UOBDU, and to reach out to other Batwa communities who are not yet involved;

·         Continue to promote recognition for UOBDU as a Batwa representative NGO to district government agencies and NGOs working across the Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro Districts;

·         Provide advice to UOBDU on administrative, planning and financial issues, and support the operation of UOBDU’s Batwa Centre in Kisoro;

·         Follow up on decisions taken during the July 2002 Kisoro meeting between UOBDU representatives and conservation authorities concerning forest access, and support development of a long-term collaborative plan between Batwa communities and Park authorities concerning forest access;

·         Continue to work with government authorities to identify ways to promote increased representation of Batwa community members in planning decisions, i.e., by securing Batwa participation on other government consultative committees;

·         Support UOBDU to develop its own Batwa capacity-development initiatives, including vocational training for income generation, and training in organisational management and human rights;

·         Help UOBDU develop its internal capacity to undertake community networking and information sharing between Batwa communities from the three districts;

·         Facilitate research into Batwa’s role in the ecosystem surrounding the Park and into ways of promoting Batwa income generation.

·         Work to enable the Trust to continue with the Batwa land acquisition programme, in spite of the financial constraints it currently faces.

[1] The Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust is the body created by the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility in 1995 to oversee the creation and management of the Parks, as well as to fund community development activities around the parks.