Advocates forgo shame for moral suasion
Free Enslaved Pygmies in the Congo
This is from AdvocacyNet s News Bulletin 131, March 6, 2008. They work out of Kampala, Uganda and Washington, DC.
by AdvocacyNetAdvocates for indigenous rights have launched a three-month campaign to free pygmies* who have been forced into slavery by local rulers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The campaign, which is known as Ten for One, began on February 19 under the direction of the World Peasants Indigenous Organization (WPIO), a new partner of The Advocacy Project (AP) with headquarters in Kampala. WPIO has succeeded in freeing 36 pygmy families since 2003, and helped another 120 succeed in claiming wages or school fees.
WPIO staff officials are currently working in the DRC with teams of 10 influential locals -- including teachers and religious leaders -- to win over slave-owners, who are often traditional lords (murhambi) and kings (abami).
Several slave-owners have responded by agreeing to free their slaves (badja).
After meeting with a WPIO team, King Mwami Matabaro from Burhinyi in South Kivu wrote to WPIO last year expressing "deep regrets" to badja families that he had owned and promised them land.
Another traditional ruler, Kabugu Cishugi II from Lugendo, wrote: "I have been meeting with the people you (WPIO) sent to me. After very long discussions with them I am proud to say that I have understood. I accept that everybody who served me is free...I am giving (them) one cow each and lands."
According to a recent WPIO newsletter, the tradition of enslaving pygmies goes back many years and is linked to a rigid social hierarchy that treats pygmies as "animals without tails."
Many badja are caught in the forests and forced to work seven days a week for food or the equivalent of one dollar a week.
Freddy Wangabo, the WPIO director, also reports that sexual abuse of badja women is "rampant."
WPIO has concluded that the traditional strategy of human rights advocacy -- to "shame and denounce" -- is ineffective because the landowners are above the law and because pygmies are held in such low esteem.
Aggressive advocacy can also provoke hostility. In 2003, a WPIO delegation was stoned. The same year, WPIO staff were arrested while organizing a football match to bring pygmies and Bantu together in South Kivu. Local radio stations have refused to carry WPIO messages.
As a result, WPIO has turned to intensive but tactful lobbying of individual slave-owners, in the form of the "Ten for One" campaign. While it can take years to produce results, this approach is beginning to build up a core of supporters among the murhambi who have not only freed their own badja but also joined the campaign. Kabugu Cishugi II wrote asking that WPIO "accept me be one of the noble work that you are doing for the humans under slavery and captivity."
AP has recruited Juliet Hutchings, a graduate student at American University, to volunteer with WPIO this summer as a Peace Fellow. AP will also put WPIO in touch with advocates in Nepal who campaign against the practice known as baligary, which forces lower-caste Dalit to work for food but no pay.
* AP recognizes there are some who feel the term "pygmy" is derogatory. However, AP follows the lead of WPIO in using the term.
Jean-Pierre Hallet (1927-2004)
UN Officials Call for End to Slavery
Do Powerless Humans Have Any Rights?
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