Last Updated: Monday, 16 October 2017, 14:54 GMT

Uganda: Current treatment of Ugandan citizens with Rwandese ethnicity (2002)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 8 July 2002
Citation / Document Symbol UGA39536.E
Reference 5
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Uganda: Current treatment of Ugandan citizens with Rwandese ethnicity (2002), 8 July 2002, UGA39536.E, available at: [accessed 17 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In the context of the political climate between Rwanda and Uganda, a recent article published by a Ugandan newspaper, The Monitor, describes the situation of Banyarwanda [people from Rwanda or of Rwandan origin] in Uganda (5 July 2002]. The following is from the article.

Thirty Banyarwanda elders last week met President Yoweri Museveni to, among other things, petition for protection against harassment by security agencies, especially the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and to a certain extent the Military Intelligence (CMI).

As at Tuesday, eight Banyarwanda - all Ugandan citizens - were illegally being held in safe houses reportedly on the orders of ISO boss Brig. Henry Tumukunde.

Other sources claim up to 20 Banyarwanda are illegally held without being taken to court within 48 hours as required by law.

According to Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, even Rwandese transiting through Entebbe Airport are harassed.

Speaking on the Andrew Mwenda Live talk show on Monitor FM this week Kagame said: "I was being told of how Rwandese are being arrested in Kampala and in bikuubo - wherever they are found, even people going through Entebbe. They discover you are a Munyarwanda, they really ransack you, check your bags and turn everything inside out."

Banyarwanda (whether Ugandan or Rwandan citizens) who are being harassed are by and large innocent victims of circumstances. Their plight reflects the still bad blood between Uganda and Rwanda, especially the personal feud between presidents Museveni and his former buddy and close ally, Kagame.

Kagame and Museveni have come a long way in mending fences since those Kisangani clashes between the Rwanda Patriotic Army (APR) and the UPDF. There was a point when Kagame wouldn't take a call from Museveni. But a Museveni aide tells me the two leaders now occasionally speak on phone.

[ ...]

The Banyarwanda factor had earlier also stood in the way of the failed constitutional proposal for "dual citizenship".

The proposal was blocked in the Constituency Assembly (CA) largely because many delegates nursed the fear that "Rwandese" would "swamp" Uganda once the new Constitution opened the way to dual citizenship.

None of the then CA delegates openly admits that, but privately many concede it was the Banyarwanda factor that largely influenced their stand on dual citizenship.

But how can we allow anti-Banyarwandism to blind us to the broader benefits of dual citizenship, for example?.

Why should someone with a Ugandan parent and a Sudanese or Canadian mother or father be denied to be a dual citizen simply because we are scared of Banyarwanda "taking over" Uganda?

Ironically - as the 30 elders reminded Museveni - the ongoing witch-hunt against Banyarwanda brings back traumatic memories of 1982 when the Obote II Government hounded and persecuted Banyarwanda, especially in western Uganda.

Their only crime then - as now - was their ethnicity. Obote, Chris Rwakasisi and Co. suspected they were sympathetic to then NRA guerilla leader Yoweri Museveni who they claimed was "Rwandese"!

Today security agencies see every other Munyarwanda - Ugandan citizen or not - as a Kagame spy. It is like 1982 all over again!

Interestingly all eight Banyarwanda who have for three weeks been illegally locked up in safe houses for allegedly spying for Rwanda are all - technically – Ugandan citizens.

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within time constraints.

Referring to people of Rwandan origin, Mahmood Mamdani [author of 2001 When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press: Princeton] wrote the following:

The Banyarwanda who live outside Rwanda can be defined as a cultural diaspora. The Banyarwanda cultural diaspora divides into three groups: nationals, migrants and refugees. When we speak of Banyarwanda who are nationals of Uganda, we usually refer to those Banyarwanda who we consider indigenous to Uganda. This term refers to those who can establish a presence on Ugandan soil prior to the beginning of colonialism. In contrast, we tend to consider those who came to Uganda in the colonial period, as non-indigenous migrants. Unlike nationals of pre-colonial vintage, and migrants from the colonial period, refugees are by and large a post-colonial phenomenon (Expression Today Oct. 2000)

In a Journal of Humanitarian Assistance article, the Steering Committee of Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda noted the following that may be of interest:

Outside Rwanda itself, the Banyarwanda in Uganda form the biggest sub-group, and are also the best documented (Watson, 1991). In 1991, they numbered slightly over 1.3 million and fell into three categories:

(1) One third were truly Ugandan Banyarwanda, whose families lived inside Uganda when the colonial boundaries were finally drawn in 1910. The settlement of the colonial borders added Banyarwanda population in the south-west of Uganda, the so-called Bafumbira. They were mostly Hutu agriculturalists, but intense land-pressure has since driven thousands to migrate to Kampala. Other Banyarwanda, mostly Tutsi, have long been living in Ankole.

(2) About half were descendants of migrants who came to Uganda in search of a better life between 1920 and 1959, i.e. before the so-called peasant revolt and the process to independence in Rwanda. They came as labourers, responding to the acute lack of manpower following the introduction of cash crops in Uganda. Life is reported to have been easier there than in Rwanda (and Burundi). Baganda employers paid twice the rate compared to those in Rwanda, work and food were plentiful and corporal punishment rare. Both Hutu and Tutsi migrated. Hutu, however, appear to have assimilated more easily.

(3) Finally, some 15% were refugees, mostly Tutsi, who had arrived mainly between 1959 and 1964. Ugandan authorities have over time ruled that the offspring of these refugees are also to be considered refugees, thus increasing the original count threefold in the early 1990s. Although supported by UNHCR, many of them were able to feed themselves and produce a surplus for sale. The settlements were solid and permanent - more like villages than refugee camps. By and large, the second generation acquired education and moved into towns or to Europe or North America. This level of education (often gained through scholarships from UNHCR) and relative "success" distinguished the refugees from the other two groups of Banyarwanda in Uganda. The distinction caused resentment from the local population, but also kept them aware of their heritage and was a basis for their strong urge to return to Rwanda. This was also strengthened by the fact that as refugees - and in spite of their education - they were excluded from employment in the Ugandan public service. They tried to influence the world community to let them return by peaceful means, and when this did not succeed they took to arms (Watson, 1991) (Journal of Humanitarian Assistance Mar. 1996).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Expression Today. October 2000. Mahmood Mamdani. "Citizenship, Civil Society and Political Majority: The Banyarwanda Experience." [Accessed 4 July 2002]

The Monitor [Kampala]. 5 July 2002. Ogen Kevin Aliro. "We Deserve Better From Kagame, Museveni." [Accessed 8 July 2002].

Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda. March 1996. Tor Sellström and Lennart Wohlgemuth. The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lesson from the Rwanda Experience: Study 1: Historical Perspectives: Some Explanatory Factors. [Accessed 4 July 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

Africa Confidential 2001-May 2002.

Africa Research Bulletin 2001-February 2002.

Amnesty International. 2002. Annual Reports. Electronic Version.


Resources Centre country file. Uganda.

Internet Websites including:



Amnesty International.

BBC Africa.



Minorities at Risk Project.


Relief Web.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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