And so it was that while going through the Ugandan section of my library this week, I picked a copy of President Yoweri Museveni’s autobiography, Sowing the Mustard Seed; the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda. Chapter Eleven of the revised edition deals with Rwanda and Congo.
Museveni says he recruited Banyarwanda into the struggle against Idi Amin. But when he tried to integrate them into the national army, UNLA after the fall of Amin, and I quote, “UPC launched a campaign against them, insisting they should not be integrated into the UNLA. Why?” Because they came originally from Rwanda. However, these boys and girls had stayed here (Uganda) for over 20 years, indeed some of them were born here.”
The president says his daughter (I suspect Patience Museveni Rwabwogo) went to the USA to study for only three years and was recruited into the USA army. Yet, in Uganda and I quote again, “one of the priorities of the actors was to exclude their fellow Africans under the slogan of “sovereignty” and “citizenship”… Thus (Fred) Rwigyema, (Paul) Kagame and others could neither be allowed in Monduli or in Jinja senior NCO course…”
As an African who has travelled extensively in Western countries that call themselves liberal-democratic and therefore humane, I have witnessed and experienced some of the worst levels of racist persecution of people from Africa – black and Arab, but not white. One only needs to go to any Western embassy in Kampala to apply for a visa. While they claim the right to freedom of movement, they place barriers to international travel that makes one sick to the stomach. Their own visa application papers clearly state that you are considered trying to immigrate into their countries forever, the burden of proof that you intend to return lies on you.
I was not very conscious of my skin color and its implications before I began to travel and study in the Western countries. In these so-called liberal democracies, racial consciousness was ruthlessly imposed on me. At every twist and turn of my interaction with their institutions, especially immigration officials, I was a suspected offender until I proved myself otherwise.
I became conscious that in spite of their claims to liberalism and democracy, Western countries are institutionally racist. They have built an apartheid global order where black people are treated as second class global citizens. Like all colonial systems (apartheid is the generic form of the colonial state), they have left some space for a few black people (who suck up to them) to rise through the system and use them to claim colour-blindness while the vast majority are pressed under their feet.
Thus, when Museveni defends the right of Banyarwanda (who have lived in Uganda for 20 years) to equal treatment, he is singing sweet music to my ears. Yet the treatment of Banyarwanda, even those whose parents and grandparents and even great grand parents were born in Uganda and have before been part of the country called Rwanda, is not any different from the one he criticises.
I receive tens of Banyarwanda every single day pleading to help them get Ugandan passports. In nearly all these cases, these are Banyarwanda of Ugandan descent, their parents and grandparents and even great grandparents having been born in Uganda. Many have never been to Rwanda and cannot even speak Kinyarwanda. They only speak Rutoro, English, Runyankore or Luganda and have no connection or attachment to Rwanda.
Yet Ugandan immigration officials subject them to humiliating treatment under tough interrogation when they mention they are Banyarwanda by tribe. Immediately these officials believe these people descended from Rwanda unless they prove themselves otherwise. They are asked about their ancestors going back to 1926. Many of these kids and their parents were born and raised in Uganda, many are middleclass people in Kampala. How many non-Banyarwanda Ugandans can trace their ancestry to that period?
Innocent Kagame is only 16 years. Him, his brother and sister were born in Uganda to Banyarwanda parents. None of them can speak Kinyarwanda, only English and Luganda. Their father abandoned them. Their mother is an ordinary woman and cannot trace the ancestry of her grandparents and great grandparents to 1926 because her parents died when she was young. I know these kids well because I have been supporting them – their health and their education.
Innocent got a scholarship to go study in Germany, an opportunity of a lifetime. He needed a passport to go study but he had to prove that his ancestors were in Uganda in 1926. Imagine! I got his father to come from Mityana to immigration in Kampala to help his son get a passport. The father speaks fluent Luganda, Kinyarwanda, Rutoro and Runyankore. He has never been to Rwanda.
He says he was born in Gomba, his father was born in Masaka and that his father told him his grandfather was born in Ntungamo. Nervous before tough immigration officials, he could not “prove” to them that his great grandfather was born in Ntungamo before 1926. Who can?
Ugandan immigration officials denied Innocent a passport and thereby his education opportunity. What would Uganda lose if this kid was given a passport? They insist he applies to be naturalised, but he has no evidence his ancestors are from Rwanda. So, they have declared him stateless.
Very many Banyarwanda kids are claiming to be Banyankore, Baganda or otherwise because to be a Munyarwanda by tribe means you have to prove you are not from Rwanda the country. I stopped Innocent from claiming to be a Muganda since he speaks Luganda fluently, and I may have been wrong. This is the most depressing part of Museveni’s Uganda as he writes criticising his predecessors of practicing what his government is doing.
Meanwhile, there are many Batooro, Banyankore, Basamia, Acholi, Kakwa, Teso, Karimojong, etc. who come from border areas. Their relatives straddle the borders into Kenya, DRC, Tanzania and South Sudan. They are never subjected to this humiliating treatment. Why Banyarwanda?
In the 1949, 1959 and 1969 census, Banyarwanda were the 5th largest tribe in Uganda. Because of discrimination, some of them re-named themselves Bafumbira and are willing to kill anyone that calls them Banyarwanda. Yet Kisoro was part of the precolonial state of Rwanda. When the colonialists arbitrarily drew borders, those who fell in the modern state of Uganda in Ntungamo have created a new tribe, Abavandimwe, to disassociate themselves from the country called Rwanda.
Back to Museveni and his claims to Pan Africanism and East African integration. If the problem of Banyarwanda in 1979 was backward UPC officials, using claims of “sovereignty” and “citizenship”, to stop actual Banyarwanda refugees like Kagame and Rwigyema from joining the army, what is the problem in 2022, when Museveni has been in power for 36 years, that stops actual Ugandans of Banyarwanda culture from getting passports?