By Jackson Mutabazi
Every time there is a reshuffle within Rwanda’s leadership, Ugandan media, particularly those close to the regime like Chimp Reports, RPF Gakwerere, Commandpost and Spyreports plus Softpower, and their proxy Himbara, is quick to spin it in either tribal terms or in terms of alleged foreign origins of those involved. A particularly interesting spin is that President Kagame has purportedly been purging the government of “Ugandans.” This is used to refer to those who were refugees in Uganda before 1994.
Of course, there is no Ugandan in the Rwandan government. Most importantly, this is the fundamental problem that Rwanda has with Uganda: An attitude of the Ugandan top leadership towards Rwanda in which it treats it as its backyard or some kind of a “Ugandan extension”.
By referring to individuals in the Rwandan government as “Ugandans”, the Ugandan leadership is still trying to peddle its narrative that Rwanda’s leadership is somehow indebted to them and that it is ungrateful when it refuses to subordinate itself to Kampala. Needless to say, this argument is totally without merit. Leave alone the fact that were anyone who liberated their country paid back by subordinating themselves, then there would have been no liberation; equally importantly, were that argument to hold any water, then Uganda should forever subordinate itself to Tanzania that helped it get rid of Amin. Uganda should equally subordinate itself to Rwanda, in acknowledgement of the thousands of Rwandans who paid the ultimate price when they, in large numbers, joined the Museveni rebellion to get rid of Obote in the 1980s.
Ironically, Tanzanians and Rwandans that put their lives on the line and had hundreds of their people killed as a result, have never claimed any debt owed to them by Uganda. Neither have they ever sought to interfere in Uganda’s internal affairs, as some kind of right arising out of their support to Museveni’s successful struggle. Only Uganda, that never sent a single fighter to fight for Rwandans and that only provided logistical support that allowed RPA weapons to pass its territory from Mombasa port thinks it is owed a debt to be repaid, as well as a right to perpetually dictate the direction Rwanda should take. This desire to feel indebted also has the leadership in Uganda thinking that it should harass Rwandans – hundreds picked up on streets, detained and tortured in CMI cells – without anyone having the right to say anything about it.
It is sheer arrogance, but the irony is lost on Uganda’s leadership.
Not only does Rwanda not owe Uganda anything, no single Rwandan leader is Ugandan. On the contrary, many Ugandan leaders are of Rwandan origin. As this article shows in great detail, not only is President Museveni himself a Munyarwanda, his wife too, Janet Kataha Museveni, originates from Mutara through her grandfather who was a veterinary assistant in Rwanda during the colonial period before fleeing to Uganda following a great cattle epidemic in the early 1950s, when irate pastoralists accused him of poisoning their cattle. Gen Abel Kandiho’s late mother, Daisy, was Rwandan. The list is long. Even Uganda’s Minister of State for Regional Affairs, Philemon Mateke, is Rwandan. He claims to be a Mufumbira (itself part of Rwanda until 1913). He immigrated to Kisoro from Rwanda’s Bulera region, in the 1960s, decades after Bufumbira was annexed from Rwanda.
In other words, not only isn’t there any Rwandan leader who is Ugandan but there are hundreds of Rwandans in Uganda’s leadership; there is not the slightest sliver of Rwanda that has ever been part of Uganda. On the contrary, large parts of Uganda today were part of Rwanda, and were added to Uganda as recently as in the 1910s (within the lifetime of some of our compatriots).
Uganda’s attitude to Rwanda has won it a few individuals of questionable character and loyalty to their country. They have allowed themselves to be used in this narrative that belittles their own country. Before claiming Rwandans who are inside Rwanda, the Ugandan leadership should first treat humanely those who are in Uganda rather than harass, arrest, torture, and even murder them without cause. Like Museveni, many now feel the need to forge false identities in fear of being identified as Rwandans and tortured to death.
It goes without saying that after 1994 when they liberated their country, all Rwandans, regardless of their previous country of exile, considered themselves citizens of Rwanda. This is what their struggle for liberation was all about – to secure their identity and citizenship rather than continue to be mistreated as stateless people without nationality rights in foreign countries. The Ugandan leadership probably misses not having people around it can use and abuse as it wishes because they don’t have any rights. However, after regaining their citizenship rights, Rwandans can’t be divided by the narrative of country of exile. No Rwandan refers to another as being from here or from there, most especially as members of many Rwandan families were scattered all across the subregion and beyond.
Liberation reunited many families back in their homeland after decades of cruel separation. This is probably too difficult to grasp for a Ugandan leadership that has reduced its liberation to locking up, killing, mistreating and harassing, or reserving opportunities based on one’s origins or tribe. As Rwanda has consolidated her liberation and worked tirelessly to improve her people’s general welfare, one’s country of exile is a thing of a fast-receding past that none is nostalgic about. It is the law and merit that decides who is to be promoted or penalized. No individual is above the law and accountability cuts across all Rwandans with any responsibility. This is what liberation should be about. If in Uganda some people of this origin or tribe are above the law, then that’s the business of Ugandans to sort out. Analyzing changes of leadership in Rwanda based on how Uganda is managed, means that the leadership in Uganda wishes it could control Rwanda and export its failed version of liberation that discriminates based on origin to Rwanda. They seem to want this so badly they are willing to confiscate the passports and identity cards of Rwandans in Uganda to ensure they don’t travel to their country, treat well only those who are recruited to destabilize their country so that they may be the means of exporting Uganda’s model of failed liberation to Rwanda. Why should Rwandans be stopped from traveling when Ugandans are free to go anywhere in the world, including visiting Rwanda without being harassed?
The Ugandan leadership should know every Rwandan knows what’s at stake and will all together resist any of Kampala’s attempts to encroach on our sovereignty, history and identity.
To recap: No Rwandan aside from the few bought mercenaries on Museveni’s payroll consider themselves Ugandan. By contrast, many in Uganda’s leadership, including the First Couple, are either Rwandan or of Rwandan origin. Ironically, the more Rwandan they are, the more they seem to want to subordinate Rwanda to Uganda’s diktat. There is a lot of fertile ground here for a psychological research regarding the reasons some Ugandans of Rwandan origin think this way.