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The Twa: "The Forgotten People" of the Great Lakes


The Twa people, also known as Batwa or pygmies, have been described as the forgotten tribe. They live in the Great Lakes region of Africa. For decades now, they have had little or no access to land, education and healthcare. As part of our series on indigenous people, we look at the problems facing them.

Mark Lattimer is the director of the London-based Minority Rights Group International. English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe asked him about their traditional lifestyle and how they were able to cope with conflict in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “The Twa in Rwanda…live…sometimes as laborers, miners, but a living a very disadvantaged lifestyle.”

Lattimer says despite the developmental progress Rwanda has made since the genocide, the Twa are still behind. “They were traditionally the most marginalized of Rwanda’s communities, and they are certainly the most marginalized now. They haven’t generally benefited from the huge advances in development that Rwanda has made over the last decade.… There are almost no Twa that represent their communities, even in local government, let alone in national government.”

Lattimer says the Rwandan government decided that ethnicity should never again be a factor in Rwandan politics and this has made things very difficult for the Twa. “One of the consequences is that any attempt that the Twa make to raise their issue or form their own associations are treated by the government as suspicious…. But the Twa have never presented a threat to anyone, even though they suffered very much from the genocide. “There were some reports of them being used by the genocidal to carry out violence, but their overwhelming role was as victims. Approximately a third of Rwanda’s Twa population was exterminated...and as victims, they haven’t received any of the help and support that they need to rebuild their communities.”

Lattimer calls for the recognition of the Batwa of Central Africa. “The fact that they faced specific discrimination on account of their ethnicity should be recognized and be treated as something which needs redress, justice and policy terms. Development efforts need to be specifically focused on Twa people, because if they are not, they don’t benefit.”

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