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Plight of ethnic minority groups as Uganda battles COVID-19

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Added 21st May 2020 10:40 AM

Other ethnic groups despise them on the basis of their traditions, current coping mechanisms, and livelihood challenges.

Plight of ethnic minority groups as Uganda battles COVID-19

Uganda has a population of more than 42 million people

Other ethnic groups despise them on the basis of their traditions, current coping mechanisms, and livelihood challenges.


By Sylvia Muwebwa Ntambi

Out of Uganda's population of 42.7 million people, there are 17 ethnic minority groups with fewer than 25,000 people each. 

These are the Aliba, Bahehe, Banyabindi, Banyabutumbi, Basongora, Batwa, Gimara, Ik, Lendu, Mening, Mvuba, Ngikutio, Nyangia, Reli, Shana, Tepeth and the Vonoma. Other groups that have not been listed in either the national population Census report of Uganda or in the Constitution of the republic of Uganda but claim status as a minority group include; the Benet, the Barundi, Bagangaizi, Bayaga, Basese, Meru, Mwangwar, Bakingwe and Banyanyanja.

In addition, there are a number of groups in Uganda that have been identified as satisfying the World Bank's policy for the identification of indigenous ethnic communities-these include the Batwa, Benet, and Ik.

These people have historically suffered and continue to suffer disempowerment and discrimination on economic, social, Politically, and cultural grounds. 

In addition, discrimination, poverty, and exclusion directly affect their ability to be employed in the mainstream Ugandan society. 

The majority of ethnic minority communities remain isolated from the rest of the Ugandan society due to their cultural practices which impact negatively on their possibility of taking advantage of opportunities open to them.  

Although other interest groups are represented in parliament, the ethnic minority groups are not. 

Other ethnic groups despise them on the basis of their traditions, current coping mechanisms, and livelihood challenges. 

Many of them live from hand to mouth, by; exchanging their labor for food, performing their cultural dances especially in commercial sex (quite often unprotected) among other life-threatening activities.

An African Commission report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Uganda reveals a disproportionate lack of access to services by these communities. It indicates that over 89% of Indigenous Ethnic Minorities are landless; that "child mortality rate was 41% while for non-ethnic minorities was 17% and that the infant mortality rate for ethnic minorities was 21% and for non- ethnic minorities were 5%" 

Ethnic minorities have quite a number of challenges in their communities in respect to education, health care, infrastructure, lack of employment opportunities, land evictions, and the inclusion in the social protection government programs such as Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE), Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP), Youth Livelihood Program (YLP) and Operation Wealth Creation.

On the above pretext, in the prevailing circumstances of the COVID - 19 Pandemic, my thoughts are with these communities because of their vulnerability. 

Many questions have come up in respect to these communities in the prevailing pandemic such as: How are they accessing food and other relief supplies? How are they accessing medical services? In the case of any Covid-19 case in their communities, how will they protect themselves?

How many among them can access or afford the protective gear? how do the pregnant women from amongst these groups accessing antenatal services?

Are the ethnic minorities accessing the information on COVID-19 in the languages they understand? What about those ethnic minority group living in islands, how are they accessing social amenities? And these are just a few of the questions I have.

Now, in order to deal with these people's situations concurrently, there is need for the relevant task forces across the country to take care of these groups through affirmative action. The district taskforces should create ideas or innovations on how they can mitigate the prevailing challenges in these communities during this pandemic. 

According to the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, many ethnic minority groups do not have land to cultivate.

Several have lost land and other means to survive due to civil strife or government policies on forests and wildlife conservation. These are some of the issues that should be put into consideration by the different district taskforces to help out these communities

Many of them are laborers who survive on a hand-to-mouth basis. Therefore, just like the COVID-19 situation has affected the people in the urban centres across the country, the ethnic minorities are also struggling to survive.

Subsequently, the national and district taskforces should priorities sending food to these groups; otherwise, there is a risk of creating another catastrophe of malnutrition, death out of hunger, and insecurity.

According to statistics, there are 65 officially indigenous communities in Uganda. Each of these speaks a unique language.

There is a need for information on Covid-19 to be decoded for these groups to be able to conceive the messages. As the government is sending messages on radios these groups should be put into consideration to articulate messages in their own languages.

Whereas it would be preferable to have functional public health facilities everywhere in the country - village/parish level, it is still difficult for these communities to access health facilities.

The government should facilitate all the nearest Health Centres III and missionary hospitals around those communities in order to manage Covid-19 in case of any imported cases.

The government should also put into consideration the plight of ethnic minorities in accessing education while distributing educational materials. Most of them leave in hard to reach areas hence they stand a risk of missing out.

The commission would recommend that for purposes of equity, such communities should be considered first through affirmative action.

Because of the heavy rains, many ethnic tribes like the Batwa and the Ik - among others are living in fear of mud and landslides. And because of the Covid-19 guidelines, these people cannot easily move to other places and yet the risks keep increasing by the day.

There is a need for the Office of the Prime Minister through the ministry of Relief and Disaster Preparedness to evacuate these people before it is too late.

This will also prevent them from violating the guidelines put in place by the President of the Republic of Uganda and health experts hence spreading the virus through the community.

As a mandate, the commission will continue to redress imbalances and eliminate all inequalities in order that we realise a just and fair society where all persons have equal opportunity to participate and benefit in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life.

The writer is the Chairperson Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)

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