Monday, 24 April 2017
How Rwandan Refugees Went To Uganda
Rwanda’s historical relationship with Uganda dates back to the pre-colonial times. Between the 16th and 19th centuries existed a state called Mpororo. It encompassed parts of Ankole, Kigezi and parts of present day Rwanda. Its ruling family had close ties with the ruling families of the Batutsi in Rwanda.
Its collapse gave rise to Ankole which incorporated some of Mpororo’s territories. At the same time Rwanda also evolved, extending its spheres to Ankole through intermarriages between Ankole’s Hima and Rwanda’s Tutsi.
The years after World War I and II saw increase in industrialisation in Europe which led to more demand for raw materials. As a result, forced labour and conscription was introduced in Rwanda. Many Rwandans fled to Uganda to escape forced labour.
The authors of the book The Path of a Genocide: The Rwanda Crisis From Uganda to Zaire say: “About 200,000 Hutus who came to Uganda settled in the areas of Buganda, Busoga, Ankole, Kigezi and Bunyoro, working in the fields of agriculture, construction, local government, industries, ginning cattle keeping, forestry, and fishing.”
Rwandan refugees in Uganda
Between 1952 and 1959, the Belgians started implementing political reforms in Rwanda in preparation for independence. The reforms challenged the status quo of the Tutsi establishment.
After the 1961 UN-supervised elections won by Party for the Emancipation of the Hutu, a wave of political violence followed, claiming many lives. This forced hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to seek refuge in Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and DR Congo.
According to The Path of a Genocide: The Rwanda Crisis From Uganda to Zaire, most of those who fled to Uganda settled in Kigezi and Ankole, at a time when the colonial government in Uganda was grappling with political violence and instability in several parts, especially Buganda, Bugisu, Bukedi, and Tooro.
When the Belgian authorities in Rwanda notified their British counterparts in Uganda that more thousands of Tutsi were planning to flee to Uganda, the British passed legal notice number 311 of 1959, which declared any such people unwelcome and illegal. However, some African members of the Legislative Council (LEGCO) challenged the validity of the notice.
According to the LEGCO debates, the chief secretary, Sir Charles Hartwell, while responding said: “There was no political persecution in Rwanda. The Tutsi who were fleeing Rwanda were either misinformed about the political situation or were political criminals.”
Some Africans in the LEGCO such as J. Bikangaga, C. B. Kattiti, John Babiha, and G. Bazsanyamose – all from the areas where the refugees were settling – backed the protectorate government. However, others like Wilberforce Nadiope, Cuthbert Obwangor and Milton Obote opposed the regulation.
On February 29, 1960, Milton Obote presented a motion calling for the revocation of the Batutsi immigration rule, saying: “The reign of terror was so bad that the people of Rwanda wanted to seek safety somewhere. A number of them decided to seek refuge in Uganda. But I wish the House to know that they did not come as ordinary immigrants; they were running away from acts of violence which were the rule of the day in their country.”
Though the motion was defeated on the floor, after independence more Rwandan refugees found their way to Uganda.
Two centres were opened at Kamwezi in Rukiga County and Kizinga in Rwampara to settle the latest influx. Some went to their relatives who had moved into Uganda much earlier. However, the refugees soon started military invasions in Rwanda.
According to The Path of a Genocide, “A group of Tutsi refugee warriors, the nyenzi, invaded Rwanda in July 1961 and May 1962. The invasions generated political instability in western Uganda and prompted the government in May of 1962 to warn the refugees against using the country as a base to attack Rwanda.”
In March 1963, then prime minister Milton Obote warned the refugees about their incursions in Rwanda, saying: “If our hospitality is abused, we shall have no alternative but to withdraw the protection we granted to these people.”
Cross border invasions
The cross border invasions by the refugees put the Tusti’s back home at risk and they fled to Uganda. Then minister of Community Development Kalule Settala was quoted telling Parliament at the end of 1963 that “between May and September of the same year 7,652 Rwandan refugees arrived in the country”.
A government annual report for the 1963/64, recorded that 10,000 Rwandan refugees crossed into Uganda, bringing with them a total of 30,000 head of cattle. With the increased numbers, government created refuge centres like Nakivale in 1962, Oruchinga and Ibuga in 1963 Kahunge, Rwamwanja and Kyaka in 1964 and Kyangwali in 1964 far away from the Rwandan border.
The opening of refugee settlements was a temporary solution. With time there grew hospitality and generosity fatigue on the side of the Uganda government and hosting communities, resulting in hostility.
This was mainly due to the financial constraints the refugee burden imposed on the country. In an August-September 1968 Oxfam report, Dorothea Hunter said: “Despite the setting up of the Special Fund for Voluntary Repatriation, the obvious lack of enthusiasm in taking up this opportunity has now convinced government that the majority are determined to remain in the country.”
The reluctance by the international community to help the Ugandan government deal with the crisis forced the government to start mass expulsion of Rwandan refugees.
According to the Africa Research Bulletin of March 1964, then Information minister Adoko Nekyon while in Lagos, Nigeria, for an OAU summit said: “Uganda has no alternative but to send some of these people away, unless Uganda received help.”
“Most of the assistance that the government provided to Rwandese refugees had been spent on the purchase of arms. Refugees were even selling the food given to them in order to send money to their king. They had abused Uganda’s hospitality by forming groups to invade Rwanda to overthrow the government.”
Following the general election, the king of Rwanda, Umwami Kigeri V, was deposed and fled to Buganda where he came as former kabaka Edward Muteesa’s guest.
During his stay in Buganda, there was collaboration between Muteesa’s Kabaka Yekka party and Kigeri’s Abadehemuka. The collaboration was at the time when Muteesa and the central government were clashing over the lost counties.
Obote took it that the two leaders were plotting for the fall of his government. The collaboration had also encouraged insurgency by Tutsi refugees against Rwanda, with the approval of Muteesa.
As the relation between the government and the Tutsi refugees deteriorated, Hutu refugees put pressure on the government to prevail on the Tutsi who were invading Rwanda from Uganda. The government decided to expel the deposed Rwandan king from Uganda.
According to the Africa Research Bulletin, the continued actions of the Tutsi refugees prompted the government of Uganda to amend the law on aliens.
The amendments prohibited anyone from keeping a refugee without the permission of the government, and it required all refugees to stay in designated refugee settlements. It also gave the director of refugees the power to deport any refugee who violated the law or did not meet the refugee determination criteria.
Despite government measures to deal with the refugees, hostilities against them grew. In Buganda, peasants demanded the expulsion of refugees, saying they had taken their land. In Ankole, the rivalry was based on ethnic connection between the Bairu and Bahima who were allied to the Hutu and Tutsi respectively.
Also in Ankole, the alliance of the predominantly Catholic Tutsi with the Democratic Party made Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) supporters anxious, leading them to force the UPC government to take action against the growing DP influence in the region supported by Rwandan refugees.
In a bid to find a lasting solution to the refugee related problems, Obote introduce a number of regulations, among them requiring all refugees to have identity cards and banning them from having government jobs.
But before they could be implemented, Obote was toppled in the January 1971 coup.
Obote pleads on behalf of refugees
On February 29, 1960, Milton Obote presented a motion calling for the revocation of the Batutsi immigration rule, saying: “The reign of terror was so bad that the people of Rwanda wanted to seek safety somewhere. A number of them decided to seek refuge in Uganda. But I wish the House to know that they did not come as ordinary immigrants; they were running away from acts of violence which were the rule of the day in their country.
They thought that peace could be obtained in Uganda and that the people would welcome them. Indeed, these people are kinsmen of the people of Ankole of Uganda and the only thing that any one of them could do was to go to a fellow brother to seek for his safety.
And this time there seems to be no reason whatsoever why the government of Uganda should not have sympathised with the case of the Batutsi. I am pleading for the whole of the Batutsi tribe who came to Uganda to seek for safety.
I am pleading for the principle of offering asylum to people in need of it; and I am pleading for the case of people who are now being ruled by another race. I am pleading on behalf of the people of Uganda. I want the door to be opened to these people to come to Uganda.”
Colonials administrator responds
According to the LEGCO debates, the chief secretary, Sir Charles Hartwell, while responding to objection to the legal notice, said: “There was no political persecution in Rwanda. The Tutsi who were fleeing Rwanda were either misinformed about the political situation or were political criminals.
It was impossible to accommodate such a large number of illegal immigrants with their cattle anywhere in the country, particularly since western Uganda was already overstocked, over grazed, lacked water, and the cattle the Tutsi brought with them were diseased and would spread cattle disease in the country.”