On January 26, 2012 Rwanda President Paul Kagame was in Uganda to attend the National Resistance Army/National Resistance Movement liberation day at the invitation of his mentor and childhood friend, Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan Head of State.
During the celebrations, Mr Kagame was recognized as a hero for his significant role in the armed struggle that liberated Uganda in 1986.
The following day on Friday January 27, 2012 the two leaders were presented with an ethnic wrangle amongst the Banyarwanda living in Uganda. Leaders of the Uganda Banyarwanda Cultural Development Association were wrangling over leadership.
A faction led by Dr Ephraim Kamuhangire was voted into leadership of Uganda Banyarwanda Cultural Development Association (UMUBANO) that unites Banyarwanda in Uganda on July 10, 2010. But his leadership was being contested by Mr Donalt Kananura’s faction.
Mr Kamuhangire’s deputy, Mr Faustine Ntambara, argued that the members of UMUBANO are not Rwandans, an argument that Mr Kananura disputed.
“On Friday, they ferried Banyarwanda in Uganda from upcountry, disguising as Rwandans living in Diaspora to meet Kagame at Serena Hotel. UMUBANO is for Ugandans and it should not be used to serve foreign interests,” Ntambara said.
Mr Kananura responded, “Kamuhangire’s group has no power over UMUBANO. The assembly overwhelmingly voted me to head the new leadership and had the powers to call a meeting with President Kagame. And in any case, a Rwandan is and will always remain a Rwandan.”
President Museveni promised to resolve the conflict. “I have heard of these wrangles for leadership among the Banyarwanda. I was supposed to have met them but I have been busy with my foreign visitors,” Mr Museveni said. “But now I have time. These are small issues, instead Africa needs insurance after decades of colonialism. The only way to insure Africa is empower our people economically.”
Mr Kagame said of the matter, “Whether they are living in Uganda or Rwanda, they should live in harmony. You should not focus on such small issues but work for development of the two sister countries.”
Kananura won. And Kamuhangire was later appointed Presidential Advisor on Banyarwanda affairs. But the ideological differences remained.
Kananura’s leadership believes that Banyarwanda have a strong attachment to Rwanda and would continue to promote this thinking amongst Banyarwanda in Uganda. And it is thinking that may end up as a political issue deepening bad blood between Rwanda and Uganda.
It appears that it is this new thinking that makes President Museveni and his government uncomfortable. The issue at hand is to whom do Banyarwanda pay allegiance?
So Mr Museveni is torn between treating Banyarwanda as any other Ugandan citizens and handling them as members of Rwanda diaspora.
This is why some Ugandan Banyarwanda who view Rwanda as their second home are accused of espionage and have been brutally arrested and tortured by security agencies. Others have been dispossessed of their properties and employment.
This complicated affair has continued to confuse Ugandan authorities like Immigration Department and the security enforcement agencies, who cannot differentiate between a Munyarwanda and a Rwandan.
But UMUBANO leaders say they have capacity to determine the difference between their people and Rwandan citizens.
In fact, on several occasions they have intervened to assist their people who are denied citizenship identification papers and passports. They have also intervened in cases of illegal arrests of their people on assumption that they are illegally staying in Uganda.
UMUBANO and President Museveni had agreed to appoint someone from amongst the Banyarwanda to the Immigration Department to help sieve Rwandans from Banyarwanda who seek travel documents. Mr Museveni has yet to honour this commitment.
Fortunately, UMUBANO is in touch with the Internal Affairs Ministry to find other solutions. “If it was not for covid 19 we were supposed to meet with the Permanent Secretary of Internal Affairs to find solutions. This matter is also before the Solicitor General,” UMUBANO Secretary General, Frank Machari, said.
To fill the void, a group known as the Council for Banyarwanda that is headed by controversial political activist Frank Gashumba has tabled in the public domain a proposal to rename the Banyarwanda community on grounds that they are being segregated due to their current tribal name.
The Gashumba group has proposed that they rename their ethnic group as Bavandimwe, which means brethren.
According to some leaders of the Banyarwanda community, President Museveni appears to be convinced that if Banyarwanda can get a new tribal identity that has little attachment to Rwanda the confusion could end. But others insist that no one will take away their God-given identity.
UMUBANO also believes Mr Museveni is funding Gashumba’s activities. Some key government officials have attended some of Gashumba’s consultative meetings. Former army spokesman, Brig Gen Felix Kulaigye and army representative in Parliament was recorded attending Gashumba’s meeting on March 22.
Frank Sserubiri, a member of UMUBANO executive, who doubles as the chairman for the National Resistance Movement youth in Buganda, told a press conference on Tuesday March 23 that Gashumba and his team are being funded by President Museveni.
Another executive member, Simon Kayitana, who also represents Banyarwanda in the Buganda Lukiiko (parliament), has also corroborated that Gashumba and his colleagues have met Mr Museveni and are therefore pushing for renaming of Banyarwanda on behalf of the president.
“We are aware that Gashumba and his colleagues met President Museveni on this matter. It is the President who is funding them. What we don’t understand is the President’s motive,” Kayitana said in an exclusive interview.
Gashumba, who has not denied meeting President Museveni over the matter, claims that changing their identity would end harassment, segregation and state persecution of Banyarwanda.
“We have always met President Museveni,” Gashumba told the media in response to assertions by UMUBANO leaders.
Dr Lawrence Muganga, the Chief Strategist of the Council for Banyarwanda, told journalists in Kampala said their mission is to end the confusion between Banyarwanda and Rwandans.
“By the mere fact that the name of our tribe links us to the neighbouring country, many people are mistaken to think we are foreigners. However, there are those, who deliberately use this as a weapon of segregation,” he said.
For more than a week now, Banyarwanda leaders have been wrangling over this proposal.
“We have no reason whatsoever to change the name “Banyarwanda”, neither does anyone have mandate to change our identity and heritage. We also warn the architects of this controversial scheme to stop confusing the public,” reads in part a statement by UMBANO in response to the proposal.
“We are aware many people from our community have been denied certain services and identification documents. The assertion by this group (Gashumba’s group) that changing name would avoid discrimination is an unfortunate surrender to such discrimination and will entrench rather than cure the same,” the statement adds.
In 1980s, Milton Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) government had for long viewed the Banyarwanda refugees and Ugandan Banyarwanda citizens as opponents. In 1982, Obote’s government evicted Banyarwanda from their homes in many parts of western Uganda even though most couldn’t even speak Kinyarwanda.
Unfortunately, Gashumba’s group has another challenge to deal with; their credibility and integrity. Gashumba and his colleagues have in the past been involved in several scandals.
Barely two months after the Council for Banyarwanda was launched the Gashumbas have changed their organization’s name to Council for Bavandimwe. Gashumba has also been challenged to prove his Kinyarwanda roots and identity to qualify representing interests of Banyarwanda. Apparently, Gashumba used to call himself Frank Ssenyondo.
In 2008, Gashumba was charged, at Buganda Road Court, with obtaining shs 800,000 by false pretense from a one Abdul Ssali.
Three years later, in 2011, Gashumba was convicted for conspiring to defraud DFCU bank. He was also netted for attempting to defraud Turkish company EYG Group of about Shs 80bn ($28m), while impersonating as a government official.
Gashumba has also faced charges relating to forgery, obtaining money by false pretense and malicious damage of property, all heard at Buganda Road Court between the years 2006 and 2008.
His colleague, Dr Muganga, is said to be a Rwandan citizen and not a Ugandan Munyarwanda.
Sources allege that Muganga actually studied at Makerere University on Rwanda government scholarship and then joined Harvard in the United States before he started teaching at the University of Alberta in Canada where he attained his second citizenship. He is currently the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University in Kampala, Uganda.
Another member of the Council for Banyarwanda is Fred Bahati, whose credentials all also in doubt and scandalous. At some point he claimed to be the Chairman Uganda Bus Owners Association yet he didn’t own any buses.
The integrity of Council for Banyarwanda aside, the more serious concern is how Rwanda is likely to respond to this antagonism of the Banyarwanda community in Uganda. Will President Kagame’s government ignore the matter? And if Rwanda decides to respond, what will be the response?
In DR Congo, when the late President Mobutu Seseko threatened to deport the Banyamulenge—Rwandan Tutsi migrants who arrived in the DRC around the 1880s and are recognized as Congolese citizens—his government was removed with the help of President Kagame.
Rwanda has continued to intervene in the DRC—both militarily and politically—to protect her people.
Observers are also wondering the direction the failing Uganda-Rwanda relations will take after Banyarwanda are dispossessed of their identity. But it is also possible that President Museveni is playing a ping pong game to attract the attention of President Kagame in an effort to repair relations between Uganda and Rwanda.
Formerly staunch allies, Uganda and Rwanda are at loggerheads.
The trigger to the rapidly escalating tensions between the two countries was a December 2018 Report of the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC that found that the military wing of a coalition of Rwandan opposition groups calling itself the “Platform Five,” or P5, was being armed and trained by Uganda, Burundi, and the DRC. The P5 military forces are led by General Kayumba Nyamwasa—formerly a Ugandan senior army officer and also a former Rwandan Army Chief of Staff.
The P5 has been in existence since at least 2014 and seeks to overthrow the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Unlike other Rwandan rebel outfits such as the Interahamwe, the P5 is dominated by former high-ranking RPF government, intelligence, and military officials, the vast majority of whom once served in the Uganda military and government.
In July and December 2018 as well as April 2019, P5 elements and their allies launched attacks into Rwanda. The December attack led to the deaths of two Rwandan soldiers and an unknown number of rebels.
In February 2019, Rwanda closed its border with Uganda after accusing Kampala of harboring Nyamwasa’s fighters and arbitrarily detaining and torturing Rwandan nationals—charges Uganda denies.
Since March 2019, their armies have been massing along their border. In May 2019, tensions rose after Uganda protested what it said was an incursion by Rwandan forces onto Ugandan territory, killing two civilians in the border town of Kabale. Rwanda refuted the claim, saying that it was pursuing a group of smugglers that had illegally crossed over to its side of the border.
Museveni and Kagame have exchanged threats laced with loaded cultural messaging. During a briefing for military attachés accredited to Uganda in May 2019 shortly after the cross-border shooting, Uganda’s army chief, General David Muhoozi, and the Rwandan defense attaché, Lt. Col. James Burabyo, had a heated exchange, falling just short of personal insults, to the astonishment of other envoys in the room
It is unlikely, that Banyarwanda or Rwanda will take this new provocation of renaming them lightly. Banyarwanda have learned their history, which is why they played a significant role in the war that deposed Uganda’s Idi Amin in 1979 and allied with the NRA rebel group to remove the Milton Obote II government that mistreated them atrociously.
“If you disorganize Banyarwanda you will get disorganized yourself. When you continue to squeeze your nose harder it brings out blood,” Hon, Peter Clever Mutuuluza, a member of UMUBANO executive committee and also chairman of Mpigi District, has warned.