Rwanda admits force used in anti-thatch campaign

by Survival International

The official in charge of Rwanda’s controversial policy to eradicate all thatched roofs in the country by the end of this month has admitted that “sometimes we apply some force.”

The admission came after hundreds of Twitter users responded to Survival International’s condemnation of the destruction of Batwa Pygmy houses, which has left many of Rwanda’s most marginalized people without shelter.

The government, which is also active on Twitter, has tweeted that the anti-thatch program “is about decent housing for all. No one is left homeless.”

The official overseeing the anti-thatch program, Augustin Kampayana, told journalists, “For anyone to still be in nyakatsi [thatched houses] up to now only means that it is in their general attitudes to prefer to live in grass thatched houses. Some of them just do not want to change, but we cannot let these drag everyone else back.”

One Batwa man, whose house has been destroyed and who is living in cramped conditions with 10 other families, said last week, “It’s a catastrophic life which resembles that of a refugee.”

The U.N.’s Racial Discrimination Committee last month urged the Rwandan government to “facilitate access to adequate housing for the Batwa, particularly by avoiding forced evictions without consultation and without offering alternative housing.”

Although some Batwa families have been given new houses, many are still waiting and are forced to live in the open, according to COPORWA, Rwanda’s Batwa organization. Rwanda’s Batwa continue to face racism and discrimination on a daily basis. Most eke out a meager living as wage laborers or potters after their communities were forced from their forest homes to create national parks free from human habitation.

In Rwanda’s Southern Province, 30,000 thatched huts are said to have been destroyed in the last three months. Thousands of families have been left homeless.

Under the destructive scheme, families with means are meant to build new houses at their own expense. The very poor, who include almost all Batwa, are supposed to be provided with iron sheets to replace the thatch, and the sick and elderly should be given completely new homes. But many huts have been destroyed without new homes being provided.

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