Letter: Insult to pygmies
Wednesday 25 November 1998
I have visited pygmies, or rather members of the Batwa tribe, in Uganda. They are without doubt the poorest and most underprivileged people I have ever met, and deserve more than to be treated in such a casual fashion by the press.
The Batwa suffer the misfortune of sharing their forest home with the gorilla and it is likely that there are as many gorillas left as there are Batwa. The world has made it very clear that animals count for more than humans by an agreement which bars all unauthorised access to the forests, in order to preserve the gorilla. Praiseworthy though this is, the edict includes the Batwa, even though they have lived there in harmony with nature (including the gorillas) for centuries. This convention has been implemented rigorously by Uganda in order to receive favourable loan terms from the World Bank.
Thus, in one easy lesson, a poor underprivileged people are expected to turn from their nomadic way of life in the forest to a settled, agricultural existence. The trouble is, they have no land, no possessions and no knowledge of even how to build a permanent home or grow crops.
Perhaps the intrepid Mr Keane would like to come with me and see the Batwa for himself? I am sure that he would then not use such a flippant phrase so readily in future.
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