Saturday, 2 February 2019


CHANGE OF GUARDS - The unresolved question of Banyarwanda in Uganda continues to dominate all aspects of social, economic and political sphere of the Uganda landscape.

Today, the question of Banyarwanda is one of the cornerstones of the Museveni regime's foreign policy.  The question of who are the Banyarwanda of Uganda and Rwanda continues to dodge even many scholars and researchers.

What is clear however, is the fact that Banyarwanda is not one of the indigenous communities of Uganda.  There is that category of the early immigrants to Uganda who were escaping wars, famine and in search of pastures.

There is the second group of Banyarwanda from Kisoro district who became Ugandans when Kisoro was added to Uganda in 1911.

There is a group of economic immigrants who immigrated to Uganda to escape forced labour in Rwanda and to search for casual labour in plantations and from rich landlords especially in Buganda and Busoga.

There is a group that came to Uganda as refugees following Rwanda's political upheavals of 1959 onwards.

The latest group is comprised of those who have continued to come and settle since the 1995  Museveni constitution gazetted Banyarwanda as one of the indigenous communities of Uganda.

After a mutual understanding was reached between Britain and German, on May 14, 1910, the Anglo-German agreement was signed, officially giving Kigezi area in Uganda to be under British rule.  Thus, it was the Anglo-German agreement of 1910 that officially made the Bakiga and Banyarwanda (Bafumbira) in Kigezi citizens of Uganda.

 While the Bakiga are said to have immigrated from Rwanda and Congo many centuries ago and adopted their own identity - language culture and customs, the Bafumbira were only separated from Rwanda in 1911 but they retained their identity with Rwanda to this day.

Kisoro is the only district that is inhabited almost exclusively by Banyarwanda.  Its ethnic composition is not different from that of Rwanda thus majority Hutu, minority Tutsi and a very small percentage of Twa. Until 1969, the people who lived in present Gisoro area, now Kisoro District, were not known as Bafumbira, but Banyarwanda-Ugandans.

Before 1910 when Kigezi became part of Uganda, the people who stayed in the south-west of Kigezi (Bufumbira County) were known as Rwandans, while those living in Busanza were known as Zairwas because that territory was in Belgian Congo, now DRC.

However, many came into the area after the 1897 war and famine in Rwanda. Just as when the Banyarwanda arrived between 1400 and 1897 and settled in Rukiga and were called Abarukiga (people of Rukiga).

When Western education penetrated that area (now Kisoro District), especially after the First World War, books used in Gisoro for teaching were written in Kinyarwanda and published at Kabgayi Catholic Mission near Kigali, Rwanda.  The trend remained until after Uganda got independence in 1962.

In 1959, there was genocide in Rwanda. Some Tutsi fleeing the genocide entered Uganda and settled among their relatives, especially in Bufumbira County.

During the 1969 population census, there was confusion and misinformation. The Tutsi refugees in Bufumbira feared that by mentioning their true identity, they would be identified as refugees. They told the enumerators that they were Bafumbira. And so the enumerators documented them as Bafumbira. In that year, the matter was brought before Parliament of Uganda for clarification.

So, from 1969 a new tribe called the Bafumbira came into existence. Today, the Bafumbira are recorded as the 6th tribe of Uganda in the 1995 Constitution.  However, due to scarcity of land and more so the need to conceal their Banyarwanda identity, many Bafumbira migrated to other areas of Uganda more especially Ankole, Tooro, Buganda and Bunyoro.

While the majority of Hutu Bafumbira maintained close relationship with the majority Hutu reign in Rwanda, the minority Tutsi Bafumbira supported the Tutsi dominated RPF during the 1990 - 94 Rwanda war.  The status quo has not changed to this date where the Bafumbira Tutsi like Gen. Kalekyezi and group are serving the interests of the RPF regime while the Hutu like Minister Philemon Mateke and Lawyer Edgar Tabaro are for the Rwandese dissident groups.

Bafumbira aside, Museveni created Banyarwanda as another ethnic group No. 20 in the 1995 Constitution. These constitutional Bafumbira and Banyarwanda have provided the smokescreen for a new wave of Rwandese (both Hutu and Tutsi) to flood Uganda seeking settlement.

Their new found lands are in parts of Tooro, Buganda and Bunyoro.  In 2009 in Bunyoro, indigenous Banyoro complained to Museveni that they were unhappy with the uncontrolled influx of the Bafuruki and even foreigners into the district. They demanded an immigration policy.

Museveni said that very soon he would flag off the issuance of national identity cards which would curb illegal entry of non-Ugandans into the district and the country at large.  He even advised the Bafuruki to start speaking Runyoro before ring fencing elective leadership positions to the indegenous Banyoro.  Interestingly, one such Mufumbira, Edgar Muvunyi Tabaro is the Attorney General of Tooro Kingdom.

The 1995 Museveni Constitution included the free movement and settlement of citizens in any area in Uganda but in late 2017 Museveni opportunistically ordered the army to evict thousands of Balalo with their tens of thousands of the cattle from Northern Uganda.

The controversial land question in Uganda also revolves around the question of Banyarwanda. It is not by coincidence that the rampant land grabbing is prevalent in the Banyarwa new-found lands in parts of Buganda, Tooro and Bunyoro.  Museveni's outright rejection of a federal system of government is premised on land and the Banyarwanda question.

The 1961 Munster Commission report recommended a federal arrangement for the kingdom areas and a unitary arrangement for the non-kingdom areas.  The recommendation was adopted in the 1962 Independence Constitution.

The 1967 Constitution abolished the federal arrangement.  The Odoki Constitutional Commission of the early 1990s recommended that communities with a common language, culture, geographical features, natural boundaries and economic viability could federate.

A finding that 65% of Ugandans and 97% of Buganda wanted a federal arrangement was made.  Instead, the 1995 Museveni Constitution introduced decentralization before embarking on proliferation of districts from 56 to the present over 110.

A federal arrangement would take care of land issues by making autonomous decisions on own affairs.  Communities would be grouped together into viable regional units, with each unit being made of people who share the same traditions, history, language, culture and traditional beliefs.

That was the driving force behind the 2017 rejection of Balalo by the people of northern Uganda. Hypocrites and opportunists call this tribalism but the truth is that they want to hide and afford their preferential treatment of certain ethnic groups.

The constitutional provision of freedom to live and settle in any part of Uganda coupled by the undermining of traditional institutions and ill-intentioned advocacy for promotion of Kiswahili language are all meant to destroy the ethnic identities of indigenous Ugandan communities.

Why not correct the colonial mistake by returning Kisoro to Rwanda?  Why not adopt a federal arrangement and ammend the constitution to strike off the Banyarwanda so that in the event they opt not to return to Rwanda, their fate is determined by the respective federal entities?

On the contrary, in the event of a federal arrangement, which geographical area would the Banyarwanda fall into!!!!


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