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Batwa, NGO clash over EU project

By Vision Reporter

Added 6th November 2009 03:00 AM

IT was a project of hope. A project to bring some kind of modernity to the Batwa, an ethnic grouping that still lived a pre-historic lifestyle. They roamed the vast Semliki game reserve in Western Uganda, hunting and gathering for their survival. The vege

IT was a project of hope. A project to bring some kind of modernity to the Batwa, an ethnic grouping that still lived a pre-historic lifestyle. They roamed the vast Semliki game reserve in Western Uganda, hunting and gathering for their survival. The vege

By Frederick Womakuyu

IT was a project of hope. A project to bring some kind of modernity to the Batwa, an ethnic grouping that still lived a pre-historic lifestyle. They roamed the vast Semliki game reserve in Western Uganda, hunting and gathering for their survival. The vegetation cover provided them shelter. Trees were plenty.

There was no need for permanent structures. They built their huts by the day.

However, in the 1990s, about 70 Batwa were evicted from the Semliki National Park by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), for these wretched of the earth were considered a threat to the wild game and the environment.

“We settled in small huts on the edges of the park but still hunted park resources,” their king, Geoffrey Nzito, said.
But with UWA restricting hunting in the game reserve and all the land around it parceled out to individuals, it became difficult for the Batwa to survive.

Then appeared the ray of hope. In 2007, Rural Welfare Improvement for Development (RWIDE), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Kyenjojo, came up with the Batwa Homestead project proposal to improve their lives. It quickly won a 43,885 Euros (sh100,935,5000) grant from the European Union (EU).

The money was supposed to procure land in Bundimasoli village, Kasitu sub-county in Bundibugyo district. The Batwa, who are shorter than the average people, were supposed to be resettled in a homestead comprising 22 semi-permanent structures with roofing sheets. The settlement was also supposed to have adequate sanitation facilities like pit latrines for at least 90 inhabitants.

However, 12 years later, the situation on the ground is different. The Batwa have questioned the project and the police and the EU have also picked interest in the matter. “We have opened a general inquiry file on Vincent Mubiru (the RWIDE project coordinator),” says Nelson Asaba, the Criminal Investigations Department boss at Bundibugyo police station. “The Batwa are accusing Mubiru of misusing the funds. I have sent my officers on the ground to uncover the truth.”

While claiming that they do not discuss project matters in the press, the EU Head of Cooperation Jose Soler said they were informed about the case and were taking the necessary measures to address it.

“The European Commission has ample internal procedures to address any ‘what ifs’ in the projects, if funds are misappropriated,” Soler said.

When Saturday Vision visited the settlement recently, the place was littered with human waste. There is only one pit latrine for the 90 residents. There were 14 and not 22, poorly-built structures.
Two filthy, loose-fitting external doors with huge gaps in them, direct bright sun rays into King Nzito’s sitting room.

“I am not sure how much money was spent on this project because Mubiru did not involve us in the implementation of the project or accountability for the funds,” says Nzito, sitting on a short stool on his verandah.

“He promised new houses, household items, as well as permanent latrines. In addition, he promised that five of our children will be taken to boarding schools outside the district. But he has failed in his other promises,” adds Nzito, as he waves a pile of documents.

Mubiru says the 43,885 Euros EU grant translated into sh79,826,445, meaning the exchange rate was sh1,818 to the Euro. However, the prevailing exchange rate in 2007 hovered between sh2,100 and sh2,230 to the Euro. When asked about the discrepancy, Mubiru expressed ignorance. “It was a long time ago and I don’t remember,” he says.

A RWIDE document, entitled “Tracking of Batwa Livelihood Project Expenditures,” puts the total cost of constructing the houses at sh36, 685,000 with sh6,160,000 spent on 440 iron sheets for the 22 houses. Each house was supposed to have 20 roofing sheets.

However, Saturday Vision counted only 14 houses, each with 18 roofing sheets and not 20. Nzito also says only 14 houses were constructed, each with 18 iron sheets. Mubiru, however, insists they constructed 22 houses and an office block, but that the other houses were destroyed by the Batwa. “The Batwa sold some iron sheets for treatment, to buy Christmas clothes and one woman sold hers to get married. They sold the rest of the houses to buy alcohol,” Mubiru alleges.

Nzito admits the Batwa confiscated some of the roofing sheets but explains that it was because Mubiru had defaulted on paying them and not for any other reason.
Nzito also disputes the budget figures Mubiru puts as payment for doors, windows, labour and for purchasing agricultural inputs.

Nzito and Wilson Kainta, another Mutwa, also dispute the materials’ costs and some of the projects figures said to have been paid to the Batwa. These include the sh1,000 for each bundle of reeds supplied, sh5,500 and sh330,00 for site clearing and ground levelling and sh70,000 for mudding each house. They said they were paid much less. But Mubiru said he contracted out the services. “Ask the contractor, not me. I was not involved directly,” he said and refused to show any documentary evidence saying he could only avail them to auditors.

He also refused to show any sales agreement for the 16.4 acres of land (22 plots) he claims to have procured to resettle the Batwa at a disputed figure of sh20.1m.
Kainta also accuses Mubiru of personalising the project property like a computer, a generator which is allegedly used to power a bar and the project motorcycle.

But Mubiru dismissed the accusations, saying the computer had been infected by a virus and had been taken to Kyenjojo for cleaning. “The generator is in the office and not a bar,” Mubiru said. “I couldn’t give out the motorcycle because the Batwa don’t have a riding license.”

While Mubiru’s expenditure indicates that he bought agricultural inputs worth shs556,000, and acquired extension services at shs555,000, the Batwa deny getting the items.

“We don’t even have land for cultivation,” Kainta said. But Mubiru dismisses the claim, saying part of the land he purchased, about three acres, is being developed into a Batwa cultural Boma for income generation.

“The land was small and the Batwa couldn’t share it equally. I constructed a cultural boma so that the Batwa will have a market to sell their handicrafts to get money,” Mubiru says.

Other project expenditures include sh6,691,000 for the promotion of the Batwa human rights by use of drama in schools, communities and on radios. The Batwa king, however, remembers only one drama show. He is not sure whether the school debates took place.

The EU has earmarked another sh90m for the second phase of the project.
The police should also conclude its investigations quickly to clear any suspicion on the side of the Batwa that people are trying to take advantage of their situation.

Batwa, NGO clash over EU project

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