By Fred Kiva
Government is to take an inventory of all indigenous minority communities as part of affirmative action.
This was revealed by State Minister for Gender Labour and Social Development Peace Mutuuzo during an event to commemorate the International Day of the world’s indigenous peoples. The event held under the theme, “Indigenous Languages” took place at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) offices in Nsambya, Kampala on Friday.
The function was graced by representatives of Uganda’s Indigenous Minority communities, members of the Civil Society Coalition for the rights of indigenous and ethnic minority groups (IMGs-Coalition), officials from the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights and those from the government’s Equal Opportunity Commission among others.
Throughout the various speeches and presentations, prominently stood out the issue of the continued marginalization and stereotyping of the indigenous minority people by the majority surrounding communities, which they said leaves them socially alienated. In his presentation Wilson Mubulya the Prime Minister of Obudingiya Bwa Bwamba in Rwenzori Sub-region complained that as a minority tribe their language and practices continue being eroded because of the influence of the majority surrounding tribes that tend to promote their own language and practices at the expense of Rubwisi.
“Language is the most important tool for cultural identity, but our own have suffered undervaluation and are not used as a medium of instruction in learning/teaching despite the Uganda education policy on the support and use of Thematic Curriculum,” Mubulya noted. Others such as the Maragoli from Kiryandongo and Benet from Kweni district said they have often missed out on key government services and suffered all manner of rights abuses simply because they are considered inferior.
In response to the concerns Minister Peace Mutuuzo said government is already on track to have them addressed, citing the Basongora land question in the Queen Elizabeth National Park which she said has been sorted. Minister Mutuuzo said however as part of this affirmative action on the plight of the indigenous minority groups, government would take record of them to have their database, know who they are and where they stay. She said government will do this in partnership with the UN.
“We are going to do an inventory of all the indigenous communities in Uganda and this has been supported by a project under UNESCO, to map out but also document the values and practices specifically the positive ones. The negative ones we shall ignore them so that we can concentrate on planning for the positive practices and cultures,” the Minister said. She added that government is also working to demystify some myths and negative cultural practices like the Female Genital Mutilation and raping of young girls still being upheld by the Sabin and Batwa respectively.
Meanwhile explaining the day’s theme, “Indigenous Languages”, Barbara Babweteera, the Deputy Executive Director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) a member of the Coalition for the rights of indigenous and ethnic minority groups, said it serves to draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote them at both national and international levels. “Indigenous minorities’ languages are challenged with extinction and it’s estimated that after every two weeks, indigenous people’s languages become extinct,” she observed.
Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the Executive Director Foundation for Human Rights Initiative described the event as a special one “to pay special tribute to a category of people who are always forgotten.” He explains that 370million people world over are indigenous, while 65 communities in Uganda are classified as indigenous. Some of the indigenous ethnic minorities in Uganda as per the 2002 population census include; Tepeth, Baluo, Babukusu, Banyabindi, Lendu, Basongora, Iki, Batwa, Bahehe, Dodoth and Benet among others.