By Dr. E.R. Kamuhangire
Since early August, 2013 the Tanzanian government has evicted the Kinyarwanda speaking communities. Some of them went to Rwanda while others returned to Uganda. The government of Rwanda received theirs and relocated them to designated areas.
Those who returned to Uganda entered through Mutukula and Kikagate and other crossing (panya) points of entry across the Kagera River. Those who re-crossed through Mutukula have been resettled in Sango Bay.
The Red Cross and the authorities in Masaka and Rakai districts have done a commendable work to receive and resettle them. The officials from the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Refugees in the Prime Minister’s office were said to have gone there and we hope that they provided tents to replace tarpaulins which the people are using for shelter.
They also badly need food. Those who wish to join their relatives should be allowed to do so, of course after immunising their cattle which the Veterinary Office of Rakai district is said to be doing.
The fate of those who re-crossed through Kikagate and other entry points must be in dire need of attention. No mention has been made about them in the newspapers and they are very many.
The way the evictions have been executed has raised a lot of concern. They are anti-social and out of the spirit and expectations of the East African togetherness that should be enshrined in the East African Federation which we expect to materialise sooner than later.
My concern, however, is the feeling I get when I read the newspaper stories calling the evictees who are re-crossing into Uganda as “illegal immigrants”. From which side are they illegal immigrants-Tanzania or Uganda?
I think that this is lack of knowledge of the long established historical links between the peoples of present day southern Uganda and north western Tanzania on the part of those who are calling them illegal immigrants. One can say that they are from home going home and vice versa.
Time immemorial people in present day north western Tanzania, southern, central and western Uganda and eastern Rwanda who became Tanganyikans, Ugandans and Rwandans by the colonial partition shared a common history of the Bahinda dynastic tradition in the Karagwe, Nkore and Gisaka kingdoms, just as that of the Bachwezi and Babito dynastic tradition of Bunyoro-Kitara and Kooki kingdoms had with the Bahaya states.
The Arab trade route from the East Coast to the interior of eastern Africa passed through these kingdoms. The colonial partition created the unfortunate orientation among the people as Tanzanians, Rwandans and Ugandans who were different from each other without shared traditions.
They have been and continue to be the same people. In addition to those Ugandans who settled in north western Tanzania before independence, there were substantial pastoralist migrations there between 1968 and 1971 and subsequently in the 1980s all of which were in search of pasture and water for their cattle.
The grazing grounds of Kitengure ranch, Kibumbiro, Kamwema, Kitoboka, Misheshe and Kyabunaga in Kagera district, Ngenge, Rushosho, Burigi, Nyakaato in Muleba district, Kyamiyorwa, Gasindaga, Rusahunga in Biharamuro district and Nyabayamba in Ngara district have been and continue to be great attractions of pastoralist communities from Uganda who flock there to graze their cattle.
The area is and has been “a land of milk and riches” to many a pastoralist. That is how one can find a single pastoralist with a thousand or more head of cattle. They are by nature apolitical.
There is a saying about them that “in a herd of one hundred and one head of cattle, the extra one is its herdsman” to show how they are sentimentally attached to their cattle. They sleep and live like their cattle, come rain come sun shine.
The pastoralists are law abiding and as long as their cattle have got grass and water and are healthy, everything else is none of their business.
However, they pay taxes and most of them have official Tanzanian identity documents. They are legal immigrants. Some of them have become renowned business people and all of them have contributed to the social and economic development of Tanzania.
The decision by the government of Tanzania to chase them enmass in spite of this contribution is a puzzle. It is important that the government of Tanzania reconsiders its decision in the spirit of the East African Federation and allow them to go back.
I do not think that they have created any population pressure on the Tanzanians nor are they a security threat in the region. Those who said that they had guns were proved wrong.
Can we say that it was a mistaken identity where all of them were regarded as Rwandans whereas those who migrated from and re-crossed into Uganda are Ugandan Banyarwanda and can freely go back to situ?
I leave that to concerned authorities between Tanzania and Uganda.
The writer is the Chairman of the Ugandan Banyarwanda Cultural Development Association (UMUBANO) and Senior Presidential Adviser/Cultural Matters