Originally, The Batwa were forest-dwelling hunters and gatherers based in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa and the first inhabitants of the African forests. The establishment of the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks for Mountain Gorillas in 1991 enabled the authorities to evict the Batwa definitely from the forest. In 1992, the lives of the Batwa changed forever, when the forest became a national park and world heritage site in order to protect the endangered mountain gorillas that reside within its boundaries. The Batwa were evicted from the park and became conservation refugees in a world that was very unfamiliar to them. Their skills and means of subsistence were not useful in this modern environment and they began to suffer
The Batwa in Uganda experience systematic and pervasive discrimination from the government and other sectors of society, and their rights as indigenous peoples are neither recognized nor respected.
A few Batwa own very little agricultural land and the least productive. The land was obtained from development agencies such as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, BMCT -Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust and AICM -African International Christian Ministry.
In most cases, the original keepers of the forests –Batwa were not involved in the decision making process and as a result, most Batwa became landless and others squatters living on non-Batwa’s land. They are now beggars, providing cheap manual labour, prostitution and stealing for survival..
Previously, the Batwa used to do wild hunting, collection of honey, mushrooms, water, bamboo for basket making, building poles, making of bee hives and fire wood and would live comfortably in the forest with the animals.
Now they illegally hunt in the forest due to lack of alternative sources of proteins. The forest is also of cultural importance to the Batwa, who offer religious sacrifices to their gods. .
In 2001, when the Batwa people were on the edge of extinction American medical missionaries, Dr Scott and Carol Kellermanns came to their rescue. They purchased land and established programs to improve the conditions and lives of the Batwa. This included the building of a school, hospital and housing. The Kellermanns also developed water and sanitation projects and found ways that the Batwa could generate income and sustain themselves.
These projects are now managed and operated by the Batwa Development Program (BDP). BDP works closely with the Batwa community to try to ensure that their indigenous rights are respected and they also benefit from the forest being a national park and tourist attraction. Majority of the Batwa are living as squatters- they stay on the land where they build a small semi-temporary house and do some small scale subsistence farming in exchange of cheap labour as a way of earning what to eat remember they no longer depend on the forest for survival.
The Batwa are very energetic and people only love them for that! They do well in peoples gardens.
Some few have been resettled by some Non-Governmental Organizations that bought land for them but others are squatters today.