The Banyarwanda Citizenship Question Revisited: There is Need for Inter-Community Dialogue

By, Edgar Tabaro

On the 10th of November 2013 I did pen on this page a missive entitled “Rwandaphones and the Question of Citizenship in the Great Lakes Region: Arms vis avis Dialogue” to inform and deepen the debate on the question of citizenship of the Banyarwanda people who straddle across the territories of what is now modern day DRC (Sud Kivu, Nord Kivu, Maniema, and Shaba/Katanga Pronvices), Tanzania (Ngara, Karagwe- Buhanganza), Uganda (Bufumbira/Kisoro, Kabale- Kamwezi Sub County and Ntungamo Districts). The said missive went into fair detail on the history of the Banyarwanda people in those territories and as to how they became bonafide citizens of the said territories. To my utter shock and consternation, a senior journalist and editor at one of the leading dailies in an ill-advised diatribe wrote on his facebook wall vulgar vituperations against the Banyarwanda Community- labeling them refugees in Uganda who ought to be deported back to Rwanda their alleged country of nationality. The said journo did comment in passing on the KFM Friday panel of journalists on 29 November 2013 where he appeared together with Onapito Ekomoloit, Nicholas Ssengooba, Timothy Kalyegira and James Tumusiime wherein he admitted to making uncharitable comments on facebook that have put him in a spot of bother. When the going got tougher as a result of the backlash from mainly Banyarwanda and Banyarwanda sympaithisers he changed the script to “his facebook account had been hacked into”.

I did post a comment on my facebook timeline calling for fellow Banyarwanda to forgive the said journalist and instead educate (this is on the assumption that he is poorly informed) him on the subject as to how Banyarwanda like any other community (the said journo is believed to be an Itesot- the same are found in Kenya as well) of Uganda can be found domiciled as natives of other countries as well. What followed was utterly shocking, persons I hitherto regarded as enlightened (my assumption is based on the “elite” schools they attended, the religious assemblies they attend and the somewhat cosmopolitan work places and friends they fraternize with) and my friends re-echoed the same opinions of the journalist totally ignoring the message I had put out. The bigotry and phobia against Banyarwanda citizenship is deep and largely based on prejudice itself arising out of ignorance or obscurantism. The same challenge is faced by Congolese Banyarwanda! The questions they posed, were mainly- how can we have Rwandan Banyarwanda and Ugandan Banyarwanda? That Banyarwanda are divided into the tribes of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa, so who are those Banyarwanda in Uganda, and that Banyarwanda in Uganda regard the rest as subhuman and it is the reason they dominate in all spheres of life in Uganda thereby suffocating other communities. It is my intention to throw some light on some of these issues.

Firstly, the stratification of Banyarwanda into Hutu Tutsi and Twa is not tribal or ethnic- it is socio-economic. The class system developed in response to the mode of production prevailing under the pre-colonial epoch in the ancient kingdom of Rwanda. Thus, the cattle keepers became Tutsi and the cultivators became Hutus and the hunter gatherers became Twas. Over the years, depending on one’s means of livelihood there would be mobility between the socio-economic strata. Because cattle keeping was considered nobler than the other economic activities there developed mannerisms associated with this class, perfection of language, poetry, dance and drama, and marrying into aristocracy thereby ensuring the progeny of this class looked a lot more different from the others (I am reliably informed that the present generation of the Chinese population is taller than the previous one owing to improved socio-economic conditions). When the German colonists and later the Belgian ones took over Rwanda, bewildered by the organic composition of the Rwanda Kingdom, they formed the opinion that tribal (etymology connotes primitive grouping) Africans could never have developed sophisticated systems of statehood and as such the aristocrats in Rwanda were a lost community from Europe thereby solidifying the so-called racial theory. Over the years political divisions crystallized upon this false premise hence the Hutu Tutsi rivalry that has been wrongly prescribed as ethnic.

Early recorded migrations of Banyarwanda to Uganda in their hordes was at the beginning of the first decade of the 20th Century when cash crop production was introduced by Mitchel Cotts- the successor to the Uganda Company (incorporated 1896) itself a successor to the IBEACO that had a royal charter. This early migrants are mainly in areas of tea production Namutamba and Tooro areas where they worked as wage earners and a good number took up other menial jobs in other counties of Buganda where their descendants continue to live.

In 1910 the Anglo – German – Belgian conference was held in Brussels, which resulted in an agreement on Volcano Sabinyo as the tripoint of the territories of the three states, delimited the present Congo – Rwanda and Burundi – Congo boundaries, and delimited the parts of the Congo – Uganda and Tanzania – Uganda boundaries adjoining the tripoint. This Convention between Belgium and Germany confirming the Agreement signed at Brussels, May 14, 1910, settling the Boundary between German East Africa and the Belgian Colony of the Congo. Also signed at Brussels, on August 11, 1910 was a Protocol between Great Britain and Germany describing the frontier between the Uganda Protectorate and German East Africa signed and another at Kamwezi, October 30, 1911. Memorandum attached to the Protocol List of Boundary Pillars on the Anglo – German Boundary, Sabinio to River Chizingo, with approximate Co-ordinates. These two legal documents transferred territories of Rwanda Kingdom’s Provinces of Bufumbira (present day Kisoro District), and Ndorwa (present day Kabale District) and areas of present day Ntungamo District that were inhabited by native Banyarwanda communities to Uganda. It is worth noting that these are the persons referred to Banyarwanda as an indigenous community of Uganda as per the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution. Though the ones of Bufumbira assumed the identity of Bafumbira (the column of 10th November 2013 explains the basis for this) arising mainly from the same prejudices the journalist showed on his timeline, they nevertheless are of the same realm of identity.

For a long time under both colonial and post-colonial administrations in Uganda, the areas inhabited by the Banyarwanda communities did not benefit from any form of affirmative action a result of which the community was heavily impoverished. In fact, it was deliberate Government policy to reserve the areas as a cheap source for labor for the plantations and other richer agricultural regions. However, over the years descendants of these people have been lifted out of the shackles of poverty and ignorance. Many are well integrated and live in harmony with their neighbours but prejudices die hard.

To this end, the constitution of the Republic of Uganda under article 10, reads:

The following persons shall be citizens of Uganda by birth—
(a) every person born in Uganda one of whose parents or grandparents is or was a member of any of the indigenous communities existing and residing within the borders of Uganda as at the first day of February, 1926, and set out in the Third Schedule to this Constitution; Uganda’s indigenous communities as at1st February, 1926 which forms the date to the last border adjustment to the Protectorate of Uganda that transferred the Easter Pronvice to the Kenya Colony which is now the Rift Valley upto Lake Rudolf (Turkana). This 1926 adjustment is at the centre of the conflict over Migingo Islands! In this regard, the question of the Banyarwanda citizenship should not arise in the first and reiterate my earlier stand to forgive the journalist and furthermore foster dialogue between communities so as to forge a peaceful way forward. In conclusion, the great majority of Banyarwanda are citizens of Uganda consequent upon the partition of Africa. Incidentally in Rwanda itself the region of Byumba in the North is inhabitated by Bakiga who provided a President for Rwanda at one time.

The writer is an Advocate with Karuhanga, Tabaro & Associates and can be reached on


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Jonny Rubin,

    Mr. Edgar Tabaro, This is to convey my appreciation for your clarification of this subject, ‘The Banyarwanda Citzenship’.
    I also hope for the realization of the Political Federation of East Africa, so that we shall all live, hopefully in harmony as East Africans.

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