Animosity against the Banyarwanda ethnic community in Uganda has deepened after about fifty people were killed during the recent pro-opposition violent protests.
Some social media extremists have been posting messages calling for extermination of Banyarwanda whom they bitterly accuse of causing Uganda’s problems.
In one video seen by this writer, a young lady calls for the burning of all Banyarwanda. In an audio message that has also gone viral on social media, an unidentified young man calls upon all Ugandans to identify all Banyarwanda and exterminate them in revenge for the killings in the recent countrywide riots.
In another text post a one, Hajarah Abubkr, warns that if, “this government does any harm to my president (presumably Bobi Wine), i will also not spare any Rwanddee beginning with my neighbours. I am ready to die with a Nyaru.”
Liz Jenkins, another social media fanatic while responding to a news article about the riots shared by this writer on his timeline responded, “the world is watching and continue killing Ugandans remember very soon you are all going to be deported back to Rwanda.”
These ethnic sentiments are also heard on the streets and mostly in slum areas of Kampala where the less advantage people reside.
What is unfortunate is government failure to officially condemn these ethnic sentiments against Banyarwanda. Is remains unclear whether officials are reluctant to counter these statements because of the sensitivity of the subject or because of election campaigns. But what remains clear is that continued silence could lead to an explosion of genocide.
Police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, says this is ethnic propaganda. However, one young man identified as Mutebi has been arrested by police for inciting genocide.
Mr Simon Kayitana, who represents the Banyarwanda community in the Buganda Lukiiko (parliament) condemned those inciting genocide and called for calm.
“First of all, we really sympathize with the families of those who lost their lives and those that were injured in the riots. We pray that that anger goes down and people should look at each other as countrymen faced with the same challenges and not enemies because of different tribes. However, we strongly condemn all elements that harbor genocide sentiments,” Kayitana said in an interview.
Human rights activist Frank M. Gashumba has called upon the government of Uganda to fight the tribal sentiments and attacks on the Banyarwanda community in Uganda.
While addressing a press conference, Gashumba, a Uganda born, raised in Vira Maria, Masaka city, but with Rwandan roots, called upon the government to address recent events where a section of Ugandans turned against Banyarwanda.
“The executive committee of the Council for Banyarwanda, the umbrella association for the Banyarwanda community in Uganda has implored Ugandans to come together and unify as one nation and desist from violence and acts of discrimination that will lead to divisiveness and instability,” a statement from the council reads in part.
Gashumba, who is a co-founder and chairperson of the Council said the Banyarwanda community in Uganda has a number of issues to raise and called on the Government to address these issues and handle them with the utmost urgency.
“It is worth noting that the other newly and recently recognized tribes like the Basamia, Bakonjo, Alur, Kakwa, Sabiny, Banyankore, and Bahaya) enjoy full citizenship rights as Ugandans, unlike the Banyarwanda (who were counted and recognized as a tribe in Uganda in the 1900 census), who are discriminated against and denied their full rights and liberties as citizens of this country. There is a silent war that is being waged against the Banyarwanda community in Uganda,” Gashumba said.
The Council for Banyarwanda Organization was established by a group of Banyarwanda born and raised in Uganda and whose parents have lived in Uganda for decades.
Gashumba called upon Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine, the National Unity Platform (NUP) party presidential candidate to denounce tribalism as the country prepares for the 2021 general elections.
“For us Banyarwanda, we act when provoked and his excellency Bobi Wine should come out and distance himself from those fools, who claim to be in his camp who are discriminating us, he should not take us lightly because we are over six million voters in Uganda, so we have a block vote,” Gashumba said.
He alleged that in Bobi Wine’s camp, there are supporters of his who are inciting the public to harm the Banyarwanda accusing them of being behind the state agencies who arrested him in Luuka district, eastern Uganda.
In what appeared to be a direct response to Gashumba’s statements, Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu aka Bobi Wine, while campaigning in Kyankwanzi, an area largely populated with Banyarwanda, said, “There are people now trading the foolish line of tribalism, I am a proud Muganda which is not a crime and my wife is from the West, how can I be tribalistic?” Bobi Wine told the people.
The emergence of Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, over just the last three years as a new political force, has widened tribal cracks in an already fragile country. Mr Kyagulanyi’s mobilization influence has made people nervous because he is a Muganda and threatens the status quo. Buganda is an ethnic nationalist entity, driving an ethnic nationalist movement.
Prof Mwambusya Ndebesa, a history lecturer at Makerere University, recently accused the government of creating room for tribal tendencies by unequal distribution of the national resources.
“We have very many issues, the main being resource allocation where we have real or perceived unequal distribution of public resources and power, it’ll bring about manifestations of ethnicity and tribalism in the country,” says Prof Ndebesa.
“Human nature must be tamed. Some of these injustices that cause ethnicity and tribalism are socially and politically constructed. They can be deconstructed,” he added.
In a more proactive intervention, Jinja Municipality East legislator, Paul Mwiru also tabled before parliament a constitution amendment bill seeking to address the regional imbalances in public office recruitments – from appointments to promotions.
Mwiru’s anti-sectarianism amendment bill calls for affirmative action, insisting on equitable distribution of employment opportunities in public offices amongst the regions of Uganda. The proposal has received mass support, and many legislators cannot wait to pass the bill.
Museveni also attacked
The anti-Banyarwanda social media campaign has not spared President Museveni. In September, Mr Museveni responded to social media posts alleging he is a Munyarwanda. He denied being a Munyarwanda saying the allegation was a lie.
“I am not a Munyarwanda. I am a Musiita and my mother is Mweene Rukaari and you can go to the beginning of creation, you will not find any Bunyarwandism in me. However, it would not have mattered if I was a Munyarwanda,” the President was responding to a one, Mwoyo Gwa Gwanga [Patriot]@MwoyoG.
In his missive, a response to comments to his online postings, he also categorically castigated those promoting tribalism.
“The NRM talks of Africa, not just the small tribes or even just Uganda. We want the unity of East Africa, of Africa,” Museveni said, before explaining how Banyarwanda became one of the tribes in Uganda.
Museveni restated that Banyarwanda are one of the indigenous tribes of what became Uganda and explained how it occurred.
“Part of Rwanda, Kisoro, was put in Uganda by the colonial borders. They are indigenous Ugandans and they are Kinyarwanda speakers (Kifumbira). Secondly, a part of Mpororo, Omutara, was put in Rwanda by the Colonial borders. A number of Bahororo clans actually have their origins in Omutara: The Bagina from Kichwamba, the Bakimbiri from Rutuungu,” he wrote.
He concluded his response by stating that, “therefore, those who waste their time trying to find which Samia is from Kenya, which Mukonzo is from Congo, which Alur is from Congo, which Kakwa is from Congo or South Sudan, which Madi is from South Sudan, which Acholi is from South Sudan, which Karimojong is from S.Sudan. Which Mugisu is from Kenya, which Munyankore or Rakaian is from Karagwe or Buhaya in Tanzania, are not part of our Pan-African vision.”
Who are Banyarwanda?
The third schedule of the Uganda’s Constitution recognizes Banyarwanda as an indigenous tribe as of 1st February 1926.
Edgar Tabaro, a prominent practicing lawyer and lecturer of law, who himself has confessed to be a mumnyarwanda, acknowledges that the bigotry and phobia against Banyarwanda citizenship is deep and largely based on prejudice itself arising out of ignorance or obscurantism. The same challenge is faced by Congolese Banyarwanda, he claims
Yet Banyarwanda could be Uganda’s biggest tribe outside Rwanda itself. The Banyarwanda in Uganda form the biggest sub-group as Kinyarwanda blood probably runs in most Ugandans’ veins. For instance, a study done at Independence in 1962 found that a fifth (20 per cent) of people in Buddu County (now called Greater Masaka area) of Buganda kingdom were ethnic Banyarwanda. It can be assumed that today, it is a fifth of Buddu people who don’t have Rwandan blood. People who have been coming from Rwanda to Uganda over the past century or so, found it easier to integrate in central Uganda than in their more neighbouring western Uganda.
Banyarwanda is a linguistic term referring to people who speak Kinyarwanda language; the Banyarwanda are found in Rwanda, but most of them are scattered across parts of the Great Lakes region of Africa and also spread all over the world.
After World War I, Uganda emerged as a regional hub for seasonal labor migrants, who traveled from all corners of east Africa to find work in the Protectorate’s cotton, coffee, and sugar plantations. Rwandans formed the largest of these migrant groups, for reasons that had as much to do with ecological crises and poor governance in Belgian Ruanda as they did with economic opportunities in British Uganda.
Over the next forty years, hundreds of thousands of Rwandan men and women would journey to Uganda to escape famine, forced labor, and high taxes in Belgian territory. Annual migration rates are difficult to calculate, but colonial sources suggest that on average more than 75,000 found their way to Uganda every year during the 1940s and 1950s, with dramatic spikes in times of famine (1928-30, 1942-44) and war (1959). They took up land and learned language; they built houses and reputations; they found partners and had children. They negotiated new networks of patronage and enmeshed themselves in new social worlds. And in so doing, they transformed Uganda.
Tabaro says that in the last two decades or even longer in some territories of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, the people answering to the description of Rwandaphone have often found themselves in predicament in relation to citizenship in Tanzania, DR Congo, and Uganda and to some extent Burundi and Kenya.
“Almost invariably, when the question of citizenship comes up for discussion in those territories, it’s the Rwandaphones (Kinyarwanda speaking people who are collectively known as Banyarwanda, a noun also associated with Banyarwanda of Rwanda, who are Rwandan or Rwandese) who take most of the criticism arising largely from ignorance and prejudice (the two are co-related, prejudice is largely conditioned by lack of information) against them. Many Rwandaphones feel terribly discriminated and marginalized, giving fertile ground for extremists and militarists to thrive and set the agenda for responses to injustices faced by these persons,” he argues in his recent write-up.
Why discriminate against Banyarwanda?
In Uganda, it is surprising that both the public and the state apparatus discriminate against Banyarwanda. Today security agencies see every other Munyarwanda – Ugandan citizen or not – as a Rwandan spy. It is like 1982 all over again, when the Milton Obote government discriminated against Banyarwanda by associating them with the National Resistance Army rebel group led by President Yoweri Museveni.
During the NRA war, Rwandan immigrants and Banyarwanda, two groups victimized by the then Obote government, joined Museveni in droves, making up more than a third of the NRA by 1984.
Today, the leadership in Uganda accuses Rwanda of infiltrating its security services. In June 2018, Ugandan General Kale Kayihura was sacked as Inspector General of Police in a major shake-up of the security sector. He was later arrested and put on trial along with other security leaders for repatriating suspected Rwandan rebel elements to Kigali even though the two countries do not have an extradition agreement.
It continues to rankle Rwanda that many high-ranking defectors from its security forces such as Nyamwasa grew up in Uganda and have strong ties to its military establishment. Kampala is equally paranoid about the connections Rwanda has with its security apparatus. After Kayihura’s arrest, Uganda expelled several Rwandans on allegations of espionage. Since then, Uganda has reshuffled its security apparatus three times, reflecting in part a sense of panic about the extent to which Kigali is thought to have penetrated the Ugandan state in an apparent effort to monitor Nyamwasa’s links with Uganda’s security services and neutralize the P5 network.
Kayihura, a decorated hero of the NRA war, hails from the Banyarwanda community and practices Rwandan traditions. His downfall sparked panic among parts of this community, which although constitutionally recognized as Ugandan, has had its loyalty questioned whenever tensions with Rwanda have escalated.
This unease has been amplified by rumors of an imminent purge of Banyarwanda from Uganda’s security sector and growing anti-Rwanda sentiment. Regional leaders concerned by the escalating tension have attempted to launch direct talks between Museveni and Kagame but failed.
In 2002, thirty Banyarwanda elders met President Yoweri Museveni to, among other things, petition for protection against harassment by security agencies, especially the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and to a certain extent the Military Intelligence (CMI). About 20 Banyarwanda – all Ugandan citizens – were illegally being held in safe houses reportedly on the orders of ISO boss Brig. Henry Tumukunde.
The elders reminded Museveni that the ongoing witch-hunt against Banyarwanda brings back traumatic memories of 1982 when the Obote II Government hounded and persecuted Banyarwanda, especially in western Uganda.
According to Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, even Rwandese transiting through Entebbe Airport are harassed.
Within Uganda, the role of Banyarwanda communities in national politics has long been a source of strain due to sectarian manipulation by successive governments dating back to the country’s independence. It also contributes to the rise in xenophobic rhetoric against members of the Banyarwanda whenever tensions with Rwanda arise.
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