Surfacing Time (Rwanda)

Participatory Photography and the Batwa People


We plan to use participatory photography methodologies to surface, create and share stories about long histories of violence and discrimination experienced by the Batwa people. 

Indigenous to the equatorial forests of the Great Lakes, over the last century the Batwa have been evicted from their traditional lands and as a result have experienced extreme socio-economic and cultural hardship, social discrimination and political marginalisation.  These experiences of structural and social violence are overlaid with the effects of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, during which 30% of the Batwa population were killed.  In Rwanda it is illegal to speak or write about ethnicity in any way that could be connected to genocide ideology and the Batwa are now officially referred to as Historically Marginalised People.  However, public attitudes towards the Batwa are slow to change and discrimination endures despite some policy change. 

This project aims to surface the complexity and emotional impact of these losses in a manner that supports Batwa community advocacy for changes in public perception and government policy.  Bringing together two partners, Batwa-led advocacy group AIMPO and the Kigali Center for Photography, we will build capacity through: training in visual techniques, power sharing through project co-design and the creation of new networks across sectors that do not have much contact (creative industries and indigenous advocacy groups). 


Richard Ntakirutimana is the Executive Director of AIMPO (Project Partner) and holds a Master of Law degree in Human Rights and Democratization (Pretoria) and a postgraduate diploma in Human Rights and Development (Antwerp). Supported by the Aegis Trust’s Research Hub he has published research and policy briefings about Historically Marginalised People.  AIMPO is a community-centered grassroots organization in Rwanda that seeks to protect and promote the rights, welfare and development of the Indigenous Batwa.

Jacques Nkinzingabo (Partner) is a Rwandan artist, educator and founder of the Kigali Center for Photography (Project Partner) and the Kigali Photo Fest.  Mentored by the late Nigerian curator Olabisi Silva, Nkinzingabo is committed to building social cohesion and has years of experience drawing on arts approaches to work with Rwandan communities, both urban and rural.  Kigali Center for Photography provides the only dedicated photography exhibition space in Kigali and is a meeting place for education and networking amongst Rwandan and visiting photographers. 

Zoe Norridge (Co-I) is a Senior Lecturer in African and Comparative Literature at King’s College London.  She has been working in Rwanda for the last ten years, researching cultural responses to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and the roles of photography and literature in Rwanda today.  Recent work includes BBC Radio 4 documentary Rwanda’s Returnees and translation of Rwandan survivor Yolande Mukagasana’s testimony Not My Time to Die.  She has collaborated with Jacques Nkinzingabo for several years and curated the events programme for the first Kigali Photo Fest.

Project plan

Our activity will fall into three phases:

  1. Project design in collaboration with partners to address most pressing advocacy and training needs and ensure investment is as effective and relevant as possible (in terms of equipment, evaluation techniques, language considerations, political sensitivity and so on).  An initial meeting in Rwanda is planned for November 2019.
  2. 4-day workshop delivered with an international expert in participatory photography, also involving a facilitator from Kigali Center for Photography and a regional artist in residence.  Workshop will reach 10 members of the Batwa community currently engaging with AIMPO, selected for the ways in which their personal stories and cultural interests will reveal and explore long legacies of discrimination and offer potential to consider contemporary protection approaches.
  3. Follow on work with both organisations to ensure images generated from the workshop are shared nationally and internationally.  This connects with AIMPO’s ongoing policy work and may also involve further funding applications to support exhibitions of images in locations accessible to Batwa communities and in central Kigali.

We hope outputs will include demonstrable use of visual materials in AIMPO campaigns, and a project report evaluating capacity building, materials produced, research insights and implications for ongoing work with marginalised groups in Rwanda.

Research contribution

Participatory photography is a well-established methodology that has been used throughout sub-Saharan Africa, particularly with children and refugee populations.  However, methodologies are still evolving, particularly in terms of analytical frameworks (Byrne et al 2016) and advocacy potential (Photovoice & World Vision 2011).  

The innovation of this case study lies in:

  • Engaging with resident Batwa community adults through an Batwa-led NGO (AIMPO) to develop relationships that are as equitable as possible given the inclusion of foreign researchers
  • Capacity building both with AIMPO and with the Kigali Center for Photography so that the intervention has a long-term and sustainable impact (training of trainers)
  • Combining consideration of content and aesthetics within the methodology as an act of advocacy to resist the erosion of Batwa culture
  • Focussing on advocacy within the region – using the potential perspective sharing power of photography to call into question enduring discriminatory public attitudes and work with policy makers to facilitate lasting change.

The collaborative case study will produce research insights into Batwa attitudes towards their own history and its presence in the present through underexplored visual mechanisms. Given the external renaming of the Batwa as Historically Marginalised People (Collins and Ntakirutimana 2017, Laws, Ntakirutimana and Collins 2019) this internal perspective is crucial for building a picture of cultural loss over time.  A growing body of research has explored Rwandan transmission of memories of violence across generations (including Norridge 2019) but there is still more to be done to explore the psychological and cultural effects of multiple layers of discrimination experienced by the Batwa.  Do these long and difficult layered memories generate particular forms of loss that need to be considered with specific interventions?