Indigenous peoples in Rwanda

The indigenous Batwa population of Rwanda is known by various names: indigenous Rwandans, ancient hunter-gatherers, Batwa, "Potters"/ "Poiters", or the more pejorative "Pygmies", beause of their alleged "modest stature".

In 2007 however, the Government of Rwanda opted to "re-categorize" the Batwa as "historically marginalized peoples" or "HMP" on the supposed basis that acknowledging ethnic differences could exacerbate historical conflicts.

The Batwa live throughout the country and number between 33,000 and 35,000 people out of a total population of around 11 million, i.e. 0.3% of the population, according to the latest available data from 1993.

They have a distinct culture, often associated with their folkloric and traditional dance and the intonation of their specific language, Kinyarwanda.

The Creation of National Parks, Evictions and Empoverishment

Prior to 1973 when national parks were created in Rwanda, the Batwa lived mainly from hunting and gathering in the territory’s natural forests. They were expelled from their ancestral lands with no warning, compensation or other means of subsistence. They now constitute the poorest and most marginalized ethnic group in Rwanda.

Multidimentional Poverty

Statistics from 2004 clearly illustrate their marginalized position. For example, in 2004:

  • 77% of the Batwa were not able to read, write or count.
  • Less than 1% had completed secondary education and none had completed higher education.
  • Only 30% had health insurance
  • more than 46% of Batwa families lived in grass huts (straw houses).
  • 47% had no farmland (this is nearly four time higher than the national average).
  • 95% of them produced pottery, although their clay products were sold at less than the cost of production
  • 85% of the Batwa barely even ate once a day

No official Recognition of Indigenous Peoples

Their complete lack of representation in governance structures has been a great problem for the Batwa.

However, Article 82, para. 2 of the Rwandan Constitution, amended by revision no. 2 of 8 December 2005, stipulates that eight members of the Senate must be appointed by the President of the Republic, who shall also ensure representation of historically marginalized communities.

At the moment the Batwa have only one representative in the Senate.

The Rwandese government still does not recognise the indigenous or minority identity of the Batwa.

All ethnic identification has been banned since the 1994 war and genocide, even though the government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Because of this unwillingness to identify people by ethnic group, there is no specific law in Rwanda to promote or protect Batwa rights. Rwanda is not a signatory to ILO Convention 169.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Rwanda to learn about major developments and events during 2015.