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Apartheid at Uganda’s immigration

Inside the discrimination, humiliation and mistreatment of Ugandans of Kinyarwanda culture

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M MWENDA | By And so it was that while going through the Ugandan section of my library this week, I picked a copy of President Yoweri Museveni’s autobiography, Sowing the Mustard Seed; the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda. Chapter Eleven of the revised edition deals with Rwanda and Congo. Museveni says he recruited Banyarwanda into the struggle against Idi Amin. But when he tried to integrate them into the national army, and I quote, “UPC launched a campaign against them, insisting they should not be integrated into the UNLA. Why?” Because they came originally from Rwanda. However, these boys and girls had stayed here (Uganda) for over 20 years, indeed some of them were born here.”

The president says his daughter (I suspect Patience Museveni Rwabwogo) went to the USA to study for only three years and was recruited into the USA army. Yet, in Uganda and I quote again, “one of the priorities of the actors was to exclude their fellow Africans under the slogan of “sovereignty” and “citizenship”… Thus (Fred) Rwigyema, (Paul) Kagame and others could neither be allowed in Monduli or in Jinja senior NCO course…”

As an African who has travelled extensively in Western countries that call themselves liberal-democratic and therefore humane, I have witnessed and experienced some of the worst levels of racist persecution of people from Africa – black and Arab, but not white. One only needs to go to any Western embassy in Kampala to apply for a visa. While they claim the right to freedom of movement, they place barriers to international travel that makes one sick to the stomach. Their own visa application papers clearly state that you are considered trying to immigrate into their countries forever, the burden of proof that you intend to return lies on you.

I was not very conscious of my skin color and its implications before I began to travel and study in the Western countries. In these so-called liberal democracies, my racial consciousness was ruthlessly imposed on me. At every twist and turn of my interaction with their institutions, especially immigration officials, I was a suspected offender until I proved myself otherwise. I became conscious that in spite of their claims to liberalism and democracy, Western countries are institutionally racist. They have built an apartheid global order where black people are treated as second class global citizens. Like all colonial-apartheid systems, they have left some space for a few black people (who suck up to them) to rise through the system and use them to claim colour-blindness while the vast majority are pressed under their feet.

Thus, when Museveni defends the right of Banyarwanda (who have lived in Uganda for 20 years) to equal treatment, he is singing sweet music to my ears. Yet the treatment of Banyarwanda, even those whose parents and grandparents were born in Uganda, is not any different from the one he criticises. I receive tens of Banyarwanda every single day pleading to help them get Ugandan passports. In nearly all these cases, these are Banyarwanda of Ugandan descent, their parents and grandparents having been born in Uganda. Many have never been to Rwanda and cannot even speak Kinyarwanda. They only speak Rutoro, English, Runyankore or Luganda and have no connection or attachment to Rwanda.

Yet Ugandan immigration officials subject them to humiliating treatment under tough interrogation when they mention they are Banyarwanda by tribe. Immediately these officials believe these people descended from Rwanda unless they prove themselves otherwise. They are asked about their ancestors going back to 1926. Many of these kids and their parents were born and raised in Uganda, many are middleclass people in Kampala. How many non-Banyarwanda Ugandans can trace their ancestry to that period?

Innocent Kagame is only 16 years. Him, his brother and sister were born in Uganda to Banyarwanda parents. None of them can speak Kinyarwanda, only English and Luganda. Their father abandoned them. Their mother is an ordinary woman and cannot trace the ancestry of her grandparents and great grandparents to 1926 because her parents died when she was young. I know these kids well because I have been helping support them.

Innocent got a scholarship to go study in Germany, an opportunity of a lifetime. He needed a passport to go study but he had to prove that his ancestors were in Uganda in 1926. Imagine. I got his father to come from Mityana to immigration in Kampala to help his son get a passport. He speaks fluent Rutoro, Luganda, Kinyarwanda and Runyankore. He has never been to Rwanda. He says he was born in Gomba, his father was born in Masaka and that his father told him his grandfather was born in Ntungamo. Nervous before tough immigration officials, he could not “prove” to them that his great grandfather was born in Ntungamo before 1926. Who can?

Ugandan immigration officials denied Innocent a passport and thereby his education opportunity. What would Uganda lose if this kid was given its passport? They insist he applies to be naturalised, but he has no evidence his ancestors are from Rwanda. So, they have declared him stateless. Very many Banyarwanda kids are claiming to be Banyankore, Baganda or otherwise because to be a Munyarwanda by tribe means you have to prove you are not from Rwanda the country. I stopped Innocent from claiming to be a Muganda since he speaks Luganda fluently, and I may have been wrong. This is the most depressing part of Museveni’s Uganda as he writes criticising his predecessors of practicing what his government is doing.

Meanwhile, there are many Batooro, Banyankore, Basamia, Acholi, Kakwa, Teso, Karimojong, etc. who come from border areas. Their relatives straddle the borders into Kenya, DRC, Tanzania and South Sudan. They are never subjected to this humiliating treatment. Why Banyarwanda? In the 1949, 1959 and 1969 census, Banyarwanda were the 5th largest tribe in Uganda. Because of discrimination, some of them re-named themselves Bafumbira and are willing to kill anyone that calls them Banyarwanda. Yet Kisoro was part of the precolonial state of Rwanda. When the colonialists arbitrarily drew borders, those who fell in the modern state of Uganda in Ntungamo have created a new tribe, Abavandimwe, to disassociate themselves from the country called Rwanda.

Back to Museveni and his claims to Pan Africanism and East African integration. If the problem of Banyarwanda in 1979 was backward UPC officials, using claims of “sovereignty” and “citizenship”, what is the problem in 2022, when he has been in power for 36 years?

33 comments

  1. It is not just the Ugandans with Kinyarwanda origins. I was at immigration recently and any one claiming to be a Munyankore but could not speak the language was hounded, shouted at and in some cases security would be called in. The lady interviewing them.was a Munyankre herself. She would insist on speaking Runyankore and many went away sobbing. For her, what qualified one to be a Munyankore was language. We however know that many kids that are growing up in metropolitan arras may not speak their native languages. I know many Bakiga , Banyoro, Alur, Bagisu, etc whose first language is Luganda because they grew up in Kampala or Wakiso and some in Jinja. These people at immigration need re-education!

  2. Of course you are lying. Uganda is almost another Rwanda. Many in government are of Rwandan orign. Many UPDF men and women are from Rwanda. And most of our wives are of Rwandan orign and they have passports. Just join force in fighting corruption because it seems corrupt people are using that loophole to profiteer. It not a government policy. And for your information many Ugandans are mistreated in South Sudan and or killed just because they are Ugandans…..

  3. ugandan-orginal

    You are lying . if that’S the case, let them go to back to RWANDA . it’S also a country why insisting on giving RWANDANS Ugandan Passports?? there must be a secret ajenda.

    • i don’t know if we are allowed to use some violent
      language,but your some mean human being,but cutting the story short t are also a tribe in uganda just like you would travel to America and want to.apply for a greencard

  4. Ndugwa Musa Abdusalam

    I am really very sorry if such things happen to our brothers but one thing I remember when I was getting my passport back in 2017, at Mbale this man refused to issue my book so that he physically see me and speak with me as well. Maybe the issue was about my islamic part of my name as I hold two including that of my father of which we adopted as a family name so may be the name sounded as that of a terrorist but when I reached Mbale I proved myself and the passport was issued. So my communication is to tell those brothers and sisters to locate their background because every where passports are not given easily, some people with the Rwandan origin are not simple as many are more tribal. Lastly I know of a family with a Rwandan background which is fetching alot of Rwandans from Rwanda, give them lineage and other details to look Ugandan and no one cares. This family uses the advantage as leaders in the village so my friends advocating for Rwandans take note.

  5. This article really hit me home and I believe to many others facing similar agony. Although there has always been a few derogatory statements about my tribe during my primary and secondary school, I never thought that I will face serious problems at a big institution of government because of ethnicity. In 2006 when I finished my studies in Europe, I went to renew my passport and someone noticed my tribe, that’s when trouble started. I was asked all kind of humiliating questions. Despite the fact that I provided everything they asked, it took 2years before I was given another passport. My profession and the nature of my work, was probably the reason it was finally given to me.
    If you have never gone through a situation where your own country denies you citizenship, you have no idea. It’s one of the lowest point anyone can reach in life.
    I get contacted by many youngsters chasing their dreams here and broad but they can’t get National IDs or passports. All I can do is recommend legal support, councel and encourage them. When they have opportunities to work or study abroad as groups with other tribes, it’s only them who unfortunately miss out because they can’t get travel docs. The problem has also led to a permanent exodus of highly qualified Ugandans when they get any chance to leave. I contemplated seeking for another citizenship after what I went through but we can’t all run away from our homes. Our communities in Ntungamo, Lwengo, Mbarara, Ngoma etc need to see their children by their side building their country. The situation is exacerbated by unfounded belief amongst many Ugandans about Banyarwanda having privileges in the government . Some believe they’re more Ugandans than Banyarwanda( I see such comments below). Making such comments at the suffering of others is not helpful at all. This problem can only grow if we don’t acknowledge it and address it. It could be affecting me today but it could be you or your children tomorrow.
    All citizens rights under our constitution must be respected. A country that has selective application of the law especially to the youths whose past and present is already difficult, has a bleak future. I also believe this malicious practice is propagated by a few officials for personal gain because of gaps they see in family trails( due to wars, poverty, lack official records at birth or death, internal migrations etc) but my appeal to government is to find a permanent solution today before it affects another innocent Kagame, tomorrow. People are traumatized even before they apply for a travel documents.
    I thank a few officials at the Internal Affairs who have been very objective in handling the matter.

  6. There is a lot of confusion of course, I am a Mufumbira and I have seen many brothers and sisters of mine in Rwanda coming to register for national IDs and even bribing to get them.
    So, it’s a tricky situation but it’s at the extreme at Immigration Office.
    3 weeks ago I was at Immigration’s office applying for a passport, I am a Mufumbira and I had to be subjected to interviews which Banyankore, Baganda, etc were not doing except those coming from Border districts.
    In the line to do interviews were many Banyarwanda (I couldn’t also tell whether Ugandan Banyarwanda or Rwandan Banyarwanda), I had also to prove that I am from Kisoro and that I am a Mufumbira.
    I Banyarwanda who had come previously and had been sent for parents and they had come with them. The ones who had just come for the first time were also sent for parents if they couldn’t prove to be Ugandans by themselves.
    There is also a case where one lady said all her relatives had died (grand parents, parents, uncles and aunts). She was bounced back of course and the day I was there, she had come back and reported that the dead relatives were alive. It was a big fuss until police was called to take her away.
    I think Immigration Office is also facing trouble with differentiating between Banyarwanda of Uganda and Banyarwanda living in Uganda who acquires national IDs and now might come asking for passports

  7. I will never support Rwandans to get Ugandan passports. Let them go back home

    • Ironically, your name alone is Rwandan/Burundian too. Perhaps you are one of those whose ancestors came to Ug in 1926? Don’t come on here and deny mbu you are a munyankore or mutooro or munyoro. You probably also voted for Bobi Wine who has a Rwandan wife that also possesses a Ugandan passport. Irony just!!!

    • This is a shallow mindset, have you realized yet that we have Banyarwanda as a tribe in Uganda, just as one can be an indigenous Ugandan from Buganda, Busoga or Ankole. Another can be one from the banyarwanda tribe. This problem is excerbated with thought of banyarwanda having privileges in the government which might be understandable but this shouldn’t be a way of thought.

  8. Thanks @ Andrew for raising the issue of the Ugandans origin Rwandan who are helpless and stoped by immigration office Uganda to get passport….it’s very quite absurd to hear this happening of Museveni’s government , remember before colonisation Mbarara ,Masaka,Ntungamo,Bufumbira were parts of Rwanda how it comes you refuse to give passports to Ugandans origin from Rwanda

  9. Thank you thank you Andrew Mwenda ,I think listeners they listen what you say. God bless you Mwenda

  10. Thank you so much Andrew.
    This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart.
    I used to disagree even with the categorization munyarwanda.
    I object to all Indians being bayindi as a tribe.
    People should still identify and know where they came from while being granted full legal citizenship.
    I want a Bengali (Indian from Bengal region) to identify as Ugandan as well.
    A proud Hutu or Tutsi from a specific area in Rwanda who can trace their ancestral migration here to also hold a Ugandan passport with full rights to vote and participate in all the foolishment citizenship accords to a Ugandan.
    People should know who they are and then choose personally to participate in this great undertaking that is uganda. They should be able to bring their rich diversity and history (lowly paid) to the table.

  11. Can a Ugandan who has stayed in Rwanda for 20 years get a Rwanda passport?

  12. go back home where, can you go back to a place you’ve never been to, this reasoning, bogus talk

  13. I concur with James; can a Ugandan who has been in Rwanda for 20 years be given A Rwandan passport?
    The answer is outright no! Let them go back to their motherland if the propaganda that their economy is supposedly doing well. What do they want from here? Go back, we helped you and it is high time you went back.

    • Don’t speak from a point of ignorance. There are many Ugandans who have attained Rwandese citizenship and very many Ugandans who are living and working in Rwanda without any persecution and have established themselves to the extent that they find it hard to go back to Uganda and this should be okay. This is how it’s supposed to be.

  14. Bogere Abdulkarim

    How easy is it for a uganda getting a Rwandan passport

  15. It is very difficult for immigration officials to grant legal citizenship
    to anyone who fails to meet the required criteria. Sadly, this affects many Ugandans along “chaotic boarders” and Ugandans whose background origin is associated with other countries yet they are Ugandans. Rwandese and Ugandans from northern Uganda have been affected the most. Whereas Rwandese are well networked with the current Ugandan government and easily get support to get the passport; it is worse for the Luos that come from the boarder of Uganda and South Sudan and Uganda and Congo. TOne of the ways forward is for the government to set up a special section within in immigration, staffed with people who understand the challenges of these categories of people. The focus of such a section would be to focus more on the reasons for giving such people passport than focusing on the reasons to deny them.

  16. Well there are two issues here, but before I address them I want to thank Andrew for highlighting this issue; discrimination anywhere is discrimination everywhere; for those who are gloating over the plight of Rwandese Ugandans ( genuine and not) please realize that first, it is Rwandese then it will be you.
    The two problems here are that there are Rwandese who supported M7 in the bush war and were given passports even when they did not qualify; M7 knows who these are and was willing to dance with them until they turned against him. If these chaps were true Ugandans and wanted to build the country… why did they at first opportunity run back to Rwanda? M7 knew this and used people like Kagame to torture northerners in the early years because they were going to leave anyway so M7 could deny the abuse and point to Kagame and Rwigyema who were military officers in the early NRM govt. Next, you have perhaps the genuine Ugandan Rwandese who 1. Were here before independence 2. Who took advantage of the early NRM regime and became ” Ugandans”. Only M7 and his military know who is genuine. Unfortunately for the genuine ones they have been caught in this travesty of fake UGA/RWA and must pay the price for the fickleness of Kagame. Every dictator who wants to cling to power sees enemies everywhere. Amin killed many tribes remotely linked to the Langi because he thought they supported Obote. So the Acholi, Teso, Japs, Alur, Samia, etc suffered. M7 is borrowing from the same playbook.

  17. Lets not discuss non-citizens accessing citizenship outside the law because of EAC integration. Lets talk about supporting Ugandans of any ethnicity as per the law. As long as people complain of discriminations because of ethnicity, then we have a problem. We are not to blame that we found themselves here when colonizers divided the continent. Yes, its not easy for the authorities but that’s the nature of their job.
    There’s been incredible improvements lately at Internal Affairs to secure travel document but this is one problem needs constant review. Right from the gate, security officers need to be trained to be sensitive on such matters. I hear if you mention that you are Kagame, Hussein Ahmad, or Singh you will be ridiculed right at the gate. You have already killed someone’s self-esteem! Probably a genuine Ugandan.

  18. 1.Countries have grades thats why we have the G7 and G20 why is this so? Certain nations have been both Politically and Economically stable so people naturally envy and desire to either live or work there hence the need for strict immigration laws.
    2.Its easy for a Ugandan to travel to Congo ,TZ or Kenya because naturally these groups of people are social by nature and the EAC had united TZ,Kenya and Uganda while for Rwanda’s case its of recent that Rwanda is now a known state;First of all she was a French colony so her neighbors could not easily bond with her,secondly;Rwanda has only two tribes who are despise each other,Thirdly Rwanda’s rise is attributed to M7’s works which unfortunately Kagame seems not to like.
    3.Every nation has to sieve who enters her territory and who deserves to obtain her passport this is done in Africa for purely security reasons.
    4,Andrew’s involvement in this case seems to have an element of influence pedaling.
    5.Uganda is a flexible state by the time someone is denied a Ugandan passport then you must be having a problem for real.
    6.My cousin sister had never had a passport but she one day thought of traveling to USA to visit her sister who lives there she applied for a visa so because of her job security since she is a government worker she got the visa. Imagine it was her first attempt. What does this mean?You can obtain a visa basing on the authenticity of the documents you present before immigration officers.
    7.Rwanda unfortunately is a nation that can be compared to North Korea or Russia its difficult to tell her genuineness.

    • Winnie you are spot on! E.g., which Ugandan masquerade can get a Rwandese passport or National ID the way Rwandese masquerade to be Banyankole, Batooro or Baganda and with ease get our Passports and National ID.

      From October 1990, When the NRA escorted the RPA to Rwanda how could be allowed to hang around there? Non. After assassinating Habyarimanna and bloody take over powerthe Major Okwii Rwaboni whatever, were empty handedly shown their Exit route to Uganda. And since Kagame took absolute power, and except our shaky condemnation and picking their dead bodies, how many Ugandans were shot point-blank at the Rwanda-Uganda and nothing done about it?

      Who bewitched Ugandans?

  19. But Andrew, according to the law of equality like “an eye for an eye”; now that your Country/Africa is free/independent, why don’t you lobby for building an apartheid global order where in Africa white people are also treated as second class global citizens?

  20. And remember Andrew, Mr. Musevieni is an inherent international wrongdoer because e.g., the Fred Rwigyema, and Paul Kagame he recruited into his subversive and rebel outfit FRONASA/NRA, were Registered refugees with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Therefore it was a violation of international law, which Obote (RIP) could not be party to.

    In other words, what was the logical consequences and ripple effects of Mr. Museveni recruitment of registered refugees into the NRA/UPDF? E.g., how many of the registered refugees were killed and unaccounted for; can Mr. Museveni account for the loses of the hundreds lives of refugee he conscripted into rebellion against their host country, Uganda?

    First of all the same refugees turned the guns purchased by Ugandans tax money on Ugandans (their hosts).

    Secondly, after training and sponsoring the same Rwandese refugees, in 1990 they constituted themselves into a subversive and rebel outfit (RPA), which invaded their countrymen and women in Rwanda and triggered the 1994 Genocide (bloodbath).

    Thirdly, against international law the joint subversive and destructive forces: RPA and NRA invaded DR Congo, deposed president Mobutu, looted the Congolese Natural Resources, turned the guns on themselves (Kisangani clashes) and triggered a mayhem that is yet to come to an end, when the Gen Kagame and Gen Tibuhaburwa are ejected leave power.

    Fourthly, the 1994 Genocide triggered a reverse/revenge genocide that to date is devastating the DR Congo, and potentially will boomerang into Rwanda and Uganda in years to come.

  21. I do not support discrimination of anybody; however, I am quite puzzled that Andrew has never talked about the discrimination that people from Northern Uganda have suffered under the M7 regime but chooses to talk about 3 – 4 people of Rwandese origin who may have been denied passports.

    Andrew makes lit look like discrimination against the Banyarwanda is rampant, which is not true. The fact is, Banyarwanda are the most privileged people in Uganda. They occupy high offices in Uganda, right from the presidency.

    So, Andrew, not talking about the extreme discrimination suffered by people of Northern Uganda but talking aboit discrimination suffered by a few individuals of Rwandese origin is itself discrimination.

    I think I know your motivation to talk about “apartheid” against the Banyarwanda is money, not human rights. You think it will raise your profile/ status in Rwanda and lend you lucrative deals there. Paul Kagame has probably not said a word to you for some time (he has lately been dealing directly with the birthday boy) and you are making noise to attract his attention.

    In conclusion, please let people in the immigration officce do their job. They are trained to ask questions in order to ensure that people who are not Ugandans do not get Ugandan passports and these kinds of criteria are used by all countries in the world.

    • Correct! Where is your anger Mwenda when northerners were and are still being discriminated against? They don’t get jobs, Statehouse Scholarships, etc. at the rate of the privileged tribal groups. I don’t support the mistreatment of Rwandese but hey what’s good for your Runyakitara groups is good for the Nilotics

  22. Mwenda that’s propaganda and impunity as Nyarwanda yourself and brother in law of museveni is not a surprise to read the rubbish you trying to entail to ugandans. NOW RWANDESE LIKE YOU ARE DICTATING TO UGANDANS HOW WE SHOULD CONTROL OUR IMMIGRATION LAWS-
    All Rwandese should return to Rwanda where they belong and be proud of their country than fighting for a country NOT YOURS – ARE YOU ASHAMED OF CALLING YOURSELVES RWANDESE ???????????????
    uGANDANS ARE COMPLETELY FED UP OF RWANDESE AND CA’T WAIT TO GET RID OF THEM

  23. Margaret Luguda

    Mwenda that’s propaganda and impunity as Nyarwanda yourself and brother in law of museveni is not a surprise to read the rubbish you trying to entail to ugandans. NOW RWANDESE LIKE YOU ARE DICTATING TO UGANDANS HOW WE SHOULD CONTROL OUR IMMIGRATION LAWS-
    All Rwandese should return to Rwanda where they belong and be proud of their country than fighting for a country NOT YOURS – ARE YOU ASHAMED OF CALLING YOURSELVES RWANDESE ???????????????
    uGANDANS ARE COMPLETELY FED UP OF RWANDESE AND CA’T WAIT TO GET RID OF THEM

  24. Saddened Ugandan

    As if Margaret Luguda was peepa-peeping and copying from JANNNET ROBERT’s phone when they sat next to each other on the bus from Kigali?

    Both of you… Margaret Luguda and JANNET ROBERT… please speak for yourselves.

    As a Ugandan, I have no problem with Banyarwanda, just as a I choose not to have any problem with any other person based only on their ethnicity or nationality.

    If you get time, try to pray and manage your hate… it doesn’t help anyone and it doesn’t improve any situation.

    I hope you find peace.

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