Since 2001, the Rwandan NGO “African Initiative for Mankind Progress Organization” (AIMPO) has contributed to the social, political and economic integration of Batwa people. The Batwa are an indigenous population group of Rwanda who are now referred to as “Historically Marginalized Population” (HMP). AIMPO aims to integrate the Batwa into Rwandan society by promoting their individual and collective rights. Since August 2019, the Lemonaid and ChariTea Foundation has financially supported the partner organisation with the implementation of its current project – the establishment of a ceramic cooperative for the Batwa communities in Bugasera.

Indigenous Population group of Rwanda: Marginalisation through legal dilemma

In Rwanda, most people are still working in agriculture. Around 75 percent of Rwandans earn their income through this sector – even though land has become a scarce resource (click here to find out more about UNM and their project committed to Rwanda’s agriculture). The marginalised population group of the Batwa, also known as the Twa, lost all their land in Rwanda’s equatorial forest regions in the late 1980s due to increased deforestation, violent conflicts and nature conservation. The protection of the gorillas, which is strongly advocated by society and the international community, has led to the deprivation of land ownership of the indigenous population of Rwanda.

Agricultural activities therefore no longer offer the Batwa an income option. As a result, the loss of housing was also a loss of livelihood. For this reason, many Twa have switched to traditional ceramic production, but they lack education (50 percent of adults never went to school) and essential goods to compete economically with other Rwandans. 

The Batwa were long recognised in Rwanda as an ethnic minority, next to the main ethnic population of the Tutsi and Hutu. After the genocide in 1994, however, the Rwandan government passed a law in 2001 to combat and punish the crime of discrimination and sectarianism, which among other things forbids the differentiation between and naming of ethnic groups in Rwanda. Conversely, this means that the 25-30,000 Batwa are no longer recognised as an indigenous minority and therefore do not enjoy the legal protection they deserve (including the protection of their land property). Instead they are combined with many other population groups under the term Historically Marginalized People (HMP). Until today it is not clear who exactly the term includes, and the social, political and economic discrimination against the Twa continues due to a lack of educational opportunities, low political representation and high unemployment. Batwa are therefore still marginalised in society across sectors.

Inclusion through further education

AIMPO tries to tackle this problem and offers the Batwa population a platform to further their education, inform themselves about their own rights and to express themselves and their culture. The organisation therefore provides the Twa with educational projects, advocacy work, seminars and empowerment programmes, especially in the northern and eastern provinces of Rwanda. The main aims of the organisation are to strengthen the individual and collective rights of the HMP, to support the establishment of a sustainable development structure in the Batwa communities and to ensure the social, economic and political inclusion of the Twa in Rwandan society.

The concrete measures are geared toward the development of sustainable livelihoods and the capabilities and potential of the communities. Access to the labour market is becoming more and more important due to the increasing poverty of the Batwa. However, within the ceramic production (one of the main sources of income for the Batwa), there is a lack of know-how for modern production and product marketing strategies.

Cooperative for more independence

The NGO’s newest project addresses this issue by trying to reduce the high unemployment of the Batwa community in Bugasera through targeted training. AIMPO has set itself the goal to establish a ceramics cooperative and to enable the Twa to produce ceramics in a modern way and become competitive on the national and international market. The cooperative does not only offer the Twa the opportunity to earn their own living and enter the business world, it also helps to modernise the traditional ceramic production.

A ceramic training centre is to be set up where the training of 10 Twas from different communities in modern ceramic production as trainers for trainers will be made possible – meaning that 10 Twa who already are in the ceramic business will be trained on how to train others in modern ceramic production. Trainer for Trainers accordingly means that people who are already working in their profession receive further training in order to be able to train others in their specialist field.
As a consequence, the knowledge generated by the 10 trainers can be passed on to their home communities to offer more Twas the possibility to enter the ceramic business and end their unemployment.

Further training in social media marketing, business skills and networking will enable 30 Batwas to gain a foothold in the ceramics sector and sell their products profitably. A total of 184 families from the Nyamata and Musenyi regions will benefit from this project. Furthermore, AIMPO wants to start campaigns to make the goods better known among Rwandans and to encourage them to buy the products. The “Made in Rwanda” campaign of the government will serve as a support for the campaigns planned by the organisation, as it advocates Rwandan production and calls for income generation outside the agricultural sector.

Transformation through innovation

Almost 30 years after the genocide in Rwanda, structural development, education and especially vocational training are very important with regards to Rwandas transformation process. The project is based on the national strategy for transformation and focuses on innovative solutions for local problems and the promotion of the Rwandan economy.

The Lemonaid and ChariTea Foundation supports AIMPO primarily with the financing of the ceramic centre, a new kiln oven and the trainings for the Batwa communities.

In the long term, the project will contribute to improving the social integration of the indigenous population of Rwanda into society and reducing unemployment. The focus on production will diversify employment opportunities in Rwanda by creating a new way of generating income in addition to agriculture. The Twa community will be better integrated into society through the project and can enjoy more social, economic and political advancements through a regular income.