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Conference recommends census of pygmies

A census of all pygmies in the central African region must be conducted before their social integration into the rest of society, a conference held between 6 and 9 May in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), recommended. The secretary-general of the Commission Nationale pour l'Unesco (CNUNESCO), Abel Koulaninga, told IRIN on Friday that a census of pygmies was vital to allow the planning of activities aimed at their integration. Also known as Batwa, the pygmies are forest hunter-gatherers. They are spread across Cameroon, the CAR, Burundi, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Rwanda. CNUNESCO, a governmental body which oversees the activities of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the CAR, organised the conference with financial support from UNESCO. Delegates to the conference came from Cameroon, the CAR, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon. Also present were sociologists and anthropologists who advised on the modalities of the census, given that the pygmies often move between countries. There were no pygmies among the participants, although NGOs working with pygmies were represented. Koulaninga said the best way for the pygmies to express themselves was in their natural environment. Koulaninga deplored the absence of delegates from Rwanda and Burundi, "two countries where pygmies are totally integrated". He said that in the other countries, the pygmies did not have identity cards, did not take part in elections and did not go to school. Koulaninga said that missionaries in the CAR had tried to eliminate illiteracy among pygmies but the pygmies had failed to attend school due to a "misconception" of the school calendar. "They have the same school calendar as other CAR pupils, whereas they have hunting, fishing and gathering seasons that they have to respect," Koulaninga said. He added that the conference participants recommended that modernity should not be imposed on the pygmies. "We should take into account their realities," he said. According to Koulaninga, the conference mandated the CAR to coordinate a project for studies on the pygmies, with funding from UNESCO, the UN Development Programme, and the UN population Fund and the UN Children's Fund. The exact number of pygmies in central Africa remains unknown. The last pygmy census in the CAR was done by the French colonial administration in 1950. It showed that there were 20,000 pygmies, living mostly in southwestern forests. In March, the Batwa in Rwanda renewed their appeal to the government for affirmative action to improve the livelihoods of the country's estimated 20,000 Batwa population, saying they suffered discrimination in the social, economic and political spheres.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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