Who are Banyarwanda in Uganda?
There is a general consensus that when political, economic and social conditions deteriorate considerably the majority of the people who are not connected to the center of power suffer disproportionately.
Those in authority tend to favor their kith and kin largely for economic and security reasons. They place them in strategic positions especially in the economic, foreign affairs and security sectors where they become visible by virtue of their wealth and the attendant lifestyles as well as the uniforms they wear respectively. They become easy to recognize and target for attack especially when they are physically different from the rest.
This appears to be the case in Uganda where under the NRM administration the country has deteriorated politically, economically, socially, environmentally and culturally. Human rights and freedoms are being abused with impunity. The voiceless and powerless are being dispossessed of their assets especially land. Defenders of human rights are languishing in jail, in exile or are being humiliated, impoverished and dispossessed. Illegal immigrants and refugees are flocking into the country unregulated and accommodated. Meanwhile, youth unemployment, estimated to be over 80 percent is rising. Crime and domestic violence have increased so have traffic accidents.
While Uganda is credited with being a food surplus country, millions go to bed hungry every night while some are starving outright because of famine in parts of the country. Neurological cases are up in large part due to poor diet and stress. The rule of law and administration of justice are virtually non-existent in parts of the country.
Contrary to government rosy figures, absolute poverty and its offshoots of hunger, disease and ignorance have deepened and spread to all parts of Uganda. Uganda which at the time of independence in the 1960s led Kenya and Tanzania in economic and social indicators is now trailing both countries. Uganda’s per capita income is the lowest at less than $700 (The World Book Year Book 2016). In these circumstances, is it fair to designate Uganda as a failed state?
There is a general consensus among Ugandans that the NRM government has disproportionately favored Banyarwanda, considered not to be Ugandans.
In response Ugandans are demanding that Banyarwanda illegal immigrants go back to their countries in the Great Lakes region. This seems to be in line with demands from other lands that illegal immigrants should be sent back to where they came from. Before discussing the justification for this demand, let us understand who Banyarwanda are.
They are divided into two ethnic groups: Hutu (Bahutu) and Tutsi (Batutsi).
THE HUTU PEOPLE
Hutu are Bantu people who entered the Great Lakes region and settled in present-day Burundi and Rwanda around 3000 years ago from the border between present-day Cameroon and Nigeria. They brought with them short-horn cattle, goats, sheep, poultry and crops such as yams and sorghum as well as iron technology for making hoes, machetes and axes that enabled them to clear vegetation and grow food and graze their animals.
Administratively, they had kings called Mwami who lived in palaces as well as chiefs and a system of law and order based on resolving disputes largely by peaceful means. They settled in their new places peacefully. “The Bantu did not come as conquerors but as farmers with a superior technology …”(Robert O. Collins 2006; Bethwell A. Ogot 1976 and Robert W. July 1998).
As noted above, in Burundi and Rwanda Hutu kings were called Mwami, a title that Tutsi adopted for their kings after they conquered Hutu in those two areas that later became Burundi and Rwanda.
THE TUTSI PEOPLE
Tutsi or Batutsi are Nilotic people whose ancestors spoke Luo. They entered Uganda from South Sudan in a place called Bahr el Ghazel.
In Buganda and Bunyoro they intermarried extensively with Bantu people and produced different farming communities. The kings of Buganda and Bunyoro married from different ethnic groups and encouraged their subjects to intermarry. Consequently there were no ethnic differences in these areas until recently following the unregulated wave of migrants and refugees.
As the Nilotic people moved southwards with their long-horn cattle, they changed their mind against intermarriage with Bantu people. Instead, they chose to conquer, dispossess the conquered Bantu people of their properties and institutions and convert them into slaves or servants for the new rulers. “Some immigrant pastoralist groups intermarried with settled cultivators and between them produced new mixed-farming populations. But the Hima and Tutsi of the southwestern highland zones did not mix so freely. They avoided intermarriage and by keeping themselves distinct they managed, in time, to establish a position of domination over the majority peasant cultivators of the region” (Kevin Shillington 1989).
Additionally, “It is generally accepted by historians that the Bantu agriculturists spread their settlements into Bantu Africa from a south-westerly direction while pastoralists came from the north-east. It was the political domination by the pastoralists that brought the two groups to live together”(Bethwell A. Ogot 1976).
When these Nilotic people migrate into a new area, they change names. In Ankole they are Hima or Bahima. In Burundi and Rwanda they are Tutsi or Batutsi. Those Tutsi who moved into northern Rwanda, northern Kabale and present-day Ntungamo and formed Mpororo kingdom which later disintegrated due to internal feuding became Bahororo. Those who migrated to the eastern part of present-day DRC became Banyamulenge.
The fighting between Bahima and Bahororo for control of areas under former Mpororo kingdom resulted in the scattering of Bahororo. Those who stayed became commoners under Nkore Hima dynasty or intermarried with Hima. Some returned to Rwanda. Some migrated under the leadership of Rwebiraro to Nyakinengo in present-day Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district around 1900 as refugees.
Until recently they were known as Bahima because Bahororo had become commoners, a designation they were not prepared to accept (Bahororo in Ankole resurfaced during the negotiations for independence when they demanded a separate district (Victor A. Olorunsola 1972) but were unsuccessful. They hibernated again until after Museveni became president).
Bahororo in Rujumbura, through collaboration with slave traders defeated Bantu people and later with British colonialists dominated and dispossessed them especially of their short-horn cattle and industrial activities and reduced them to slaves or servants under the collective derogatory name of Bairu/Bahororo to cater for the interests of Bahororo especially producing food for them and paying taxes for the colonial administration.
Wherever they settle, these Nilotic people adopt local names and local languages. Since Tutsi men don’t intermarry, they have retained their Nilotic ethnicity.
However, where recent intermarriages have taken place, it is between Tutsi women marrying non-Tutsi men and it is alleged from oral research and subject to confirmation, that they produce some children with Tutsi men. To have a generic designation to eliminate or minimize confusion the term Tutsi is used to refer collectively to Hima, Tutsi, Tutsi/Bahororo (except Bantu/Bahororo in Rujumbura) and Banyamulenge. For example, Gerard Prunier (1995) refers to Bahima as a Tutsi clan.
When the Nilotic people arrived in Burundi and Rwanda in the 15th century, they adopted the name of Tutsi. “Tutsi cattle-breeders came to Rwanda, in the 15th century and slowly conquered the native Hutu farmers. The Tutsi established a monarchy, forcing the Hutu [slaves or servants] into serfdom [as in Medieval Europe]. … Tutsi traditionalists resisted Belgium attempts in the 1950s to institute democratic institutions.
In 1959, the Hutu revolted against the monarchy in a bloody conflict which led to a mass exodus of Tutsis”(The New York Times Almanac 2006). Some of these refugees entered Uganda in large numbers, were absorbed by kith and kin and/or spread to all parts of Uganda (B. L. Jacobs 1965 and Dixon Kamukama 1997).
These Tutsi refugees arrived with education, administration experience and perhaps money at the time when the British were preparing to leave in 1962 and absorbed them in key national positions. The Tutsis together with Hutus that had come earlier since the 1920s were different. They were poor, uneducated and came to Uganda as temporary workers when there was a labor shortage. Although some settled and Hutus especially integrated fully culturally, they posed no political or economic threat to indigenous people.
The exodus of Tutsi into Uganda
It is the exodus of Tutsi into Uganda since 1959 social revolution in Rwanda and especially since NRM came to power in 1986 that poses the challenge forcing indigenous Ugandans to demand that they leave. To disguise and facilitate the Tutsi domination of Uganda, the Uganda constitution of 1995 promulgated during the NRM government recognized them not as Tutsi but as Banyarwanda.
Since 1959, relatively few Hutus entered Uganda and those that had settled in parts of western Uganda were evicted from their settlements by the NRM regime disguised as protecting ecological systems in designated areas that many have since been occupied by Tutsi. Thus, it is the Tutsi in Uganda since 1958 that are at the center of the debate.
There are conditions that have favored the settlement of Tutsis and their domination of indigenous people in Uganda.
1. Tutsi refugees first arrived in Uganda in 1959 at a time when the Great Lakes region was experiencing political earthquakes in Sudan, Kenya and Congo. The British didn’t want political troubles from refugee camps. Ugandans were therefore encouraged to integrate them into their communities. Others were advised to move to wherever they wanted in small unrecognized groups. In Ankole, Bunyoro and Toro the rulers agreed to accommodate Tutsi refugees on humanitarian grounds. In northern Kigezi, Rujumbura in particular controlled by Tutsi-Bahororo officially known as Bahima under colonial indirect rule, Tutsi refugees were easily accommodated, in some cases displacing settled Bantu-Bairu people.
- Because Uganda politics in the 1960s was religious-based, Catholics who dominated the Democratic Party (DP) welcomed Tutsi that were predominantly Catholic so they could boost their numbers and defeat UPC that was Protestant-dominated.
- The shortage of skilled and experienced human power in Uganda at the time of independence and the exodus of British colonial officials, opened opportunities for the refugees in all areas of human activities. All they needed to do was to learn English which they did and mastered quickly. Then they quickly took up key and strategic positions in central and local governments including in institutions of higher learning and civil service and possibly in security forces. This is the time when Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) was in power and integrating everyone to destroy other parties. Tutsi presence was visible and felt during the Amin regime.
- Under NRM’s or Tutsi fifty-year master plan, the acceleration of Tutsi domination has been galloping at breakneck speed for all to see including some development partners.
The defining difference under Museveni regime is that all sectors are dominated or led by Tutsi especially security, economic, foreign affairs and oil. Parliament and cabinet are packed with Tutsis.
In collaboration with weak or greedy local leaders, Tutsi are pushing peasants into urban slums where there is no hope of progress and taking over their land as a long-term strategy to impoverish the peasants and render them politically, economically and socially powerless and voiceless. Impoverished and undernourished people don’t even have the energy to fight. For example, in Kenya, “Hunger was widespread, which the British should have realized because they rejected 90 percent of Kikuyu recruits for the British army at the start of World War II because of malnutrition” (Richard H. Robbins 2011).
Those speaking on behalf of peasants are being abused, jailed, exiled, humiliated,
impoverished and marginalized through different methods including by destroying their hard-earned properties.
Given the situation outlined above, do indigenous Ugandans have a convincing and legitimate case to demand that Tutsis return to their country as illegal immigrants elsewhere around the globe are being pushed back to where they came from?
April 22, 2017
Eric Micheal Kashambuzi is a Ugandan living in exile after falling out with the regime, he is Currently a consultant with the United Nations Foundation and Center on International Cooperation of New York University on Post-2015 Development Agenda (2016-2030). He was born at Nyarurambi village, Rwentondo parish, Kagunga County, Rukungiri district in South West Uganda to Rev.Canon Samwiri Kashambuzi.
This article first appeared on his Facebook account Eric Kashambuzi.