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The Right to Learn: Batwa Education in the Great Lakes Region of Africa

12 December 2008

The Batwa communities of the Great Lakes Region are mainly former hunter-gatherers who have been evicted from their forest homes over the course of many decades. They now live as a neglected and marginalized minority, often in remote conflict and post-conflict areas. Although Batwa adults and children across the region have identified education as their most important priority, the vast majority have had little if any chance to go to school.

Poverty and hunger, and the long distances they often have to travel to access schooling, prevent children from enjoying what is their fundamental human right. Batwa identity has been historically misrepresented in school curricula in the region, and this continues today.

Batwa children in Burundi report being told by teachers that because they are Batwa, they are ‘worth nothing’. For Batwa, access to education means change at the most basic level, such as being able to read public signs and notices. It allows self-sufficiency and promotes self-esteem; it offers the potential to undertake training in technical skills or access to employment, all of which would help Batwa people combat the poverty they live in.

The welfare of minorities within a country has repercussions for its welfare as a whole. If the social and political exclusion of the Batwa is to end, it is clear that their education opportunities must improve dramatically at every level. This report contains a wealth of first-hand research from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda which clearly shows that more positive action is needed from governments, civil society organizations and the international community.

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Fay Warrilow