The Bambuti campaign to preserve their indigenous culture

Nyongolo Betto Mutimanwa is a member of the Bambuti, one of the indigenous communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in central Africa. The group of 6,000 people is located in the remote province of south Kivu. The Bambuti still live in the equatorial forest and their principal activities are hunting, fishing and gathering. The Bambuti now have the same status as other Congolese citizens, but they want to be recognized formally as an indigenous people. The Bambuti believe their identity, with its cultural wealth and differences should have a special status.

Nyongolo Betto Mutimanwa took part in a fellowship training program with three other representatives- © OHCHR

Among Betto’s concerns are the violation of the Bambuti’s right to land. “The Bambuti ancestors’ land has been stolen from them and regularly, Bambuti members are victims of the ongoing armed conflicts”, says Betto.

Betto says also the Bambuti are exploited by other ethnic groups. “Numerous Bantu, representing the dominant group in the country, ‘own’ Bambuti slaves, who are often killed when they try to escape”, he says.

Betto works in an organization created by and for indigenous peoples, called LINAPYCO (Ligue Nationale des Associations Autochtones Pygmés du Congo). The group has successfully campaigned for recognition. It has also translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into Kiswahili, one of the local languages, also spoken in other central African countries.

Betto was in Geneva to represent his community in a fellowship training program for French-speaking indigenous peoples organized by the UN Human Rights Office. 
The program is held annually to help people from indigenous communities promote and implement their human rights.

Betto has great expectations for the fellowship program. Using international human rights law as the blueprint, he wants to introduce legislation in the DRC which would protect his people.

“My purpose is to share the knowledge I acquired in Geneva with my fellow members and with the other indigenous communities of the Democratic Republic of Congo.” To achieve this, Betto plans to launch a campaign to make the Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples  accessible to a large audience in his country.

22 January 2010