Welcome to l'Association des Potiers Progressites du Rwanda 

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What is APPR?

APPR stands for l'Association des Potiers Progressites du Rwanda. It is a local NGO active in Kigali and surrounding rural areas. The organization started with the support of traditional pottery manufacturing of the Batwa people. Soon, the importance of education for future generations of these and other minorities residing in extreme poverty became clear. 

What does APPR?

We implemented several development projects under the Batwa community. APPR started a Nursery School in Gikondo and a Primary School in Rulindo. APPR makes itself strong to give a voice to minorities and families residing in extreme poverty. Our main aim is to improve the situation of those in need with        no distinction between believe, etnicy or personal believes. 

Who are the Batwa?

The Batwa were originally based around the mountainous forest areas around Lake Kivu and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region.  Since they were evicted from the forests, they live as squatters in various rural areas. The estimated population of the Batwa in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Eastern Congo is between 86,000 and 112,000. In Rwanda, the Batwa are one of three ethnic groups. They make up only 0.4 % of the population whereas the Hutu and Tutsi comprise 85 % and 14 % respectively of the total population in Rwanda.

As the Batwa were driven out of their forest many turned to pottery and to some extent, this craft is now synonymous with Batwa ethnic identity. Those who do not work as potters are day laborers, small-scale cultivators or beggars. Due to their low social status, the Batwa have limited access to education, and there is a high illiteracy rate among them. 

What is their religion and culture?

Most Batwa, like many Rwandans, are Christians, while some still practice traditional animist religions.

It has long been documented that the cultural histories, habits and practices of the Batwa differ from those of other Rwandans. Batwa tradition is rich in song, dance and music and cultural gatherings are firmly integrated in the social life of the Batwa.

Traditionally, Batwan societies are non-hierarchical, with collective decision-making being the norm. This also applies to ownership of property and land rights, a characteristic that has resulted in difficulties in encompassing Batwan communities into post-colonial individualistic property law.

The forest was an important core feature of the Batwan identity and way of life. Forest based Pygmy peoples consider themselves to be in an intimate, nurturing relationship with the forest. They believe that the forest is the source of all abundance, and this is maintained by sharing between people and forest spirits, and by singing and dancing rituals that ensure the support of spirits to help them satisfy all their needs. This is based on the reality of the relationship that Batwans had with the forest in the past as traditionally hunter-gathering societies that relied on the forest for all means of subsistence.

Forest-based Pygmy peoples have a wide range of specialised skills and knowledge necessary to carry out their forest-based livelihoods, including an incomparable knowledge of plants and animals, and skills in medicine, music, dance and crafts. As the Batwa were driven out of their forest many turned to pottery and to some extent, this craft is now synonymous with Batwa ethnic identity. The men collect and carry the clay to the women who then make and fire the pots before they are sold.

What is the history of the Batwa?

The Batwa are recognized as the first inhabitants of the land around the Great Lakes region of central Africa. There is little documentation of Batwa history prior to colonialism, and even during the period of the Belgian colonial administration. Recent history shows a long trend of forced and often aggressive government-sponsored relocations of Batwa populations in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s from the forests in order to create National Parks to regulate and promote tourism, or for developmental activities such as logging and tea plantations. In 1974, legislation was introduced to create national parks as part of a wider campaign to enhance the tourism industry. The legislation outlawed all forms of game hunting, including fishing and animal trapping, which gravely affected the Batwa’s traditionally hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

By the 1990s the Batwa population, forced to practice clandestine hunting and gathering, were forcefully expelled from their ancestral forest to make way for national parks and military training areas. With no compensation and a lack of alternatives, most have become beggars and landless labourers, while others became potters to generate income. Very few Batwa were given work in the National Parks despite their vast and long-established knowledge of the environs. In past decades this relocation was often conducted without consultation or warning. Compensation was lacking and families were often left landless or moved to infertile rocky outcrops.

Batwa communities had lived off the land for centuries, and had no economic or agricultural skills to adapt to their new environments. Many became destitute and today a large proportion are beggars or conduct a hand-to-mouth existence, working perhaps as porters, carrying neighbouring farmers’ produce to markets for tiny sums of money or for something to eat.

As a result of the Batwa losing their livelihood, between 1978 and 1991 the Batwa population in Rwanda declined by around 40% despite the national average growth of the population was rising by about 50%. 

How are the Batwa discriminated?

The Batwa form an isolated group in Rwandan society and often face discrimination. 

> They have little access to representation in government

>They are marginalised in education, media and health care and are discriminated against in the job market. 

Two separate policies of land allocation failed to properly include the Batwa. Both government policy and the legal system, far from aiding their predicament, have further exacerbated their circumstance and resulted in ancestral lands being taken away. Clay pottery became a brief reprieve from lack of landownership for the Batwa. Today however it is no longer a viable way of life because of competition from more industrial producers and new government policies.

In September 2005, the government of Rwanda established the new national land law, which has removed more Batwa off of their land. The 2005 law is part of an attempt by the national government to enhance agricultural productivity by claiming underutilised land and by enhancing the productivity of existing farms. The marshes in which the Batwa have been producing clay have been targeted as unused land and the Batwa have once again been forced to move on to make their means elsewhere.  There is no legal recourse through which the Batwa can express their grievances as, based on its western counterpart, Rwandan property law gives little room for unofficial property rights and are incompatible with Batwa culture. It is incapable of encapsulating the unofficial African land rights of ancestry and the communal culture of the Batwa does not fit in with the individualist single deeds required by law.

It has been a continuous battle to obtain recognition of the Batwa as a uniquely underprivileged and discriminated minority group. This has its roots in legislation introduced in 2003 which prevents recognition of the Batwa as a distinct ethnic group. This lack of recognition stifles the ability of NGOs and the media to recognize and address Batwan grievances.

What happened in the 1994 genocide?

Like all Rwandans, the Batwa suffered and continue to suffer from the consequences of the genocide and civil war in 1994. The Batwa were not specifically targeted as a group and many were not aware of the tensions that had arisen at the political level. However, a large number of Batwa died at the hands of the Interahamwe (mainly Hutu militia sponsored by the government at the time) for being perceived as being close to Batutsi, and many others were killed in the chaos of the war. According to The Forest Peoples Programme the mortality figure may be as high as 30% of the Batwa population. Many others fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries where they continued to suffer discrimination. Rough estimates based on a provisional census carried out by UNPO in late 1994, indicate that up to 10,000 Batwa died and another 8,000 to 10,000 fled, leaving the post-war Batwa population in Rwanda between 10,000 and 20,000.

The civil war understandably left a deep mark in the laws and regulations of Rwanda. Yet, despite the overrepresented figure in terms of the number of Batwa killed, the legal system does not take Batwa discrimination seriously. The legal response has been to shut out inflammatory conversation about Hutu or Tutsi, but the Batwa remain a minority that continue to be discriminated against with little to no repercussions. The ability to recognize the unique challenges of the Batwa community are denied by preventing their recognition as a distinct ethnic group

Why are land laws problematic again?

In September 2005, the government of Rwanda established the new national land law, which gave the government of Rwanda final authority over land use. In part the law was to address competing land claims from returning refugees and in part it was an attempt by the national government to enhance agricultural productivity by claiming underutilised land and by enhancing the productivity of existing farms.

The Batwa lost out in both aspects: Returning Batwa refugees were rarely given land and the marshes in which the Batwa were producing clay were identified as unused, unproductive land, hence it was claimed by the government and the Batwa there were once again forced to move without compensation.

The government’s legal control over the land set the basis for the introduction of the “Bye Bye Nyakatsi” (Bye Bye Thatched Huts) programme. As the name suggests, it was a policy to remove the often informally constructed thatched huts to replace them with sturdier housing. While seemingly well intentioned, the policy had a damaging impact on the already frail Batwan community. Thatched huts were torn down, but the replacement houses were either never built or sold at a rate unaffordable to the impoverished Batwa. As such, the Batwa have been left largely landless, impoverished and finally, homeless. Those discriminatory policies have made it difficult for Batwa culture to survive, especially regarding ancient knowledge of the forests.