'60 Minutes' Fails to Mention Harm to Batwa in Gorilla Segment: Write Them!
In 60 Minutes July 17, 2022 segment "Saving the Mountain Gorillas," presenter Lesley Stahl called saving the species a 'success story' yet completely failed to mention the eviction of the indigenous Batwa people from the forest and subsequent devastation to their culture and lives. Did we sacrifice people for gorillas, and call that success? It's outrageous that such a highly watched professional journalism show would fail to mention the cost of saving the species, and the forces that keep them down.
Batwa children in 2014. The Batwa face landlessness, extreme poverty, hunger, malnutrition, lack of parental care, alcoholism, lack of healthcare, and total cultural breakdown due to their forced removal from the forest. They have not received any of the "10% given to locals" from tourism revenue, and most can not read or write to fill out the permits necessary to access to the forest, even if they wanted to.
My team's work at Redemption Song Foundation is just a tiny piece of the puzzle but as a lifelong mountain gorilla enthusiast —since age 13—I realized the culpability we all have in righting this wrong later in life. This is why I founded this nonprofit in 2014 after first visiting Uganda and the mountain gorillas as a journalist on assignment. I saw the injustice, the misplaced blame on the Batwa that led to their eviction (some directly connected to my childhood hero Dian Fossey and her writings about the Batwa), the exorbitant amounts of money made by international and Ugandan/African tourism companies that give peanuts to the Batwa people who have suffered while others fill their coffers, and the mountain gorillas thrive. And in fact, recent reports in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 1 of 3 countries with mountain gorillas, showed Batwa being murdered and raped systematically by park guards on the Rwanda border. There are direct connections here.
Due to Rwandan President Paul Kagame's refusal to acknowledge tribe and ethnicity in Rwanda due to the horrific genocide that occurred in 1994, the plight of the Twa/Batwa in that country gets ignored, yet a recent report noted that 77% of the Rwandan Twa are illiterate, 51% percent have never attended school, 47% have no farmland and 30% are unemployed (similar stats exist in Uganda).
The 60 Minutes show mentions "how little land" is left for the gorillas using an image of a Rwandan park, with zero mention of the fact Batwa have literally NO land owned by themselves, yet the mountain gorillas are living on, and tourists are paying thousands to visit these forests that is their ancestral land! The show also said mountain gorillas live up to 45 years. This frustrated my daughter (who is Batwa) who exclaimed, "We don't even live that long!" Since 2014, we have lost 4 Batwa from the one small village RSF works in (Amos, Joy, Frida, and Jonah), and of them only one of them lived to be over 45 years old. The segment further said this region has some of the most luxurious lodges in the world then says 10% goes to the community (note, NOT the Batwa…. Who actually should own their ancestral land and even recently won a lawsuit in Uganda that suggests they deserve compensation). The school the segmented touted on air as a "win" from the meager 10% given to locals looked to be one of the dumpiest in the world, compared to even the poorest ones in America, yet the lodges for foreign tourists are the most luxurious? And they claimed that Ellen DeGeneres paid to have a new laboratory built to analyze gorilla shit, while, once again, the Batwa people don't get anything. The Batwas' loss is directly connected to the mountain gorillas' success story. Don't get it twisted.
Please join me in writing Lesley Stahl at 60 Minutes for righting this oversight and covering the plight of the Batwa people.
Phone: (212) 975-3247
Write: 60 Minutes. 524 West 57th St. New York, NY 10019
The episode: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/60minutes-2022-07-17/#x
Sample email or letter (feel free to copy exactly): It's outrageous that in this era of social justice a show of the caliber of 60 Minutes completely failed to mention the devastation that conservation of mountain gorillas had inflicted directly upon the indigenous Batwa (Twa) tribe in Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC. Please right this wrong by adding an addendum to your show that calls attention to the harm caused to the Batwa as a direct result of conservation of mountain gorillas, and the fact the tribe is currently considered one of the most marginalized in the world.
Research this issue and highlight the social justice and community development work being done by organizations like Redemption Song Foundation, Forest Peoples Program, United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda and others. There are no easy answers, but attention to the issue can shed light. It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.