The term “Twa” is used to describe minority populations historically marginalised both politically and socially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. It has replaced the name “Pygmy”, which was coined by the colonial missionaries1 and which is offensive to these groups.
Indigenous peoples in Burundi
There are 78,071 indigenous individuals in Burundi, or around 1% of the national population, according to the last census conducted in 2008. Burundi abstained from voting on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 but did vote for and ratify the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, indigenous peoples in Burundi keep facing a number of serious challenges.
Batwa people in Burundi
The Batwa are the indigenous peoples of Burundi. A census conducted in 2008 by the NGO Uniproba, "Let’s unite for the promotion of the Batwa", estimated their number at 78,071 individuals, or around 1% of the population. The rest of the population is made up of Tutsi and Hutu.
There are Batwa in every province of the country and they speak the national language, Kirundi, with an accent that distinguishes them from the other two ethnic groups.
Main challenges for Burundi’s indigenous groups
Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world, with nearly 65% of its population living below the poverty line. Food insecurity is alarming, more than a half of all children demonstrate a delay in their growth, and access to water and sanitation is very poor. Moreover, the country has several challenges to overcome to reduce its poverty, as it is its weak rural economy, strong demographic growth and heavy dependence on development aid, among others.
In this context, the Batwa seem to be the most vulnerable sector of Burundi’s society. They are regularly overlooked in Burundi’s public policies because they do not hold national identity cards, and are therefore not listed as being Burundian citizens. In January 2018, the "Espoir pour les Jeunes Batwa" association began a project to distribute identity cards in Kayanza Province. This initiative was supported by the US Embassy in Burundi. However, The Governor of Kayanza took the decision to ban the project as he was not "informed of the US ambassador’s participation".
In the political sphere, A constitutional review process commenced in 2013 in Burundi. Over the course of that year, Batwa parliamentarians actively discussed some of the reforms, with the aim of ensuring respect for their right to participate in national political life, especially given that this right is enshrined in the new Constitution and Electoral Code. Despite all these efforts, the Burundian president proposed amendments to the National Assembly and Senate without taking into account the concerns raised by the Batwa members of parliament.
Another challenge faced by the Batwa are the right to land, as they suffer serious inequalities in the distribution of land. One of the problems is that Burundi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, but also the fact that most of the land that was traditionally owned by the Batwa has been transformed into national parks and forest reserves.
The Batwa cannot survive from hunting and gathering alone anymore, and for that reason, they have started demanding land on which lo live and grow crops. However, surveys conducted in 2008 show that 14.7% of the Batwa had no land. This discrimination persists still today. For example, in July 2017, following a new regulation on the use of mines and quarries, the Batwa were also prohibited from accessing clay, a resource essential to their manufacture of artisanal pottery.
The Batwa are the indigenous people of Burundi. A census conducted by UNIPROBA (Unissons-nous pour la Promotion des Batwa) in 2008 estimated the number of Batwa in Burundi to be 78,071 or approximately 1% of the population (Rapport sur la situation foncière des Batwa du Burundi, August 2006 - January 2008, Bujumbura, p16).