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There is no quarrel between Ugandans and Rwandans

There is no quarrel between Ugandans and Rwandans

Newspapers and other news media are perpetuating a falsehood that there is tension between Ugandans and Banyarwanda (Rwandans). In fact, there is no quarrel between the citizens of the two neighbouring countries. 


Obviously there is tension between the two countries’ rulers and some of their courtiers, over extremely serious matters, I should add. Uganda’s Yoweri K. Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame have legitimate claims of mutual sins, one against the other. I understand that it has to do with threats to each other’s tenure at the top, allegedly using whatever means necessary. 


As I wrote last week, whether true or not, those allegations are enough to create fear and defensiveness that could easily spill over into a war that neither side can win. However, the greater danger is the risk of dragging citizens of the two countries into a conflict whose genesis they do not know. We have seen this before.


In 1987, the young Museveni and his courtiers were at loggerheads with Kenya’s President Daniel arap Moi. The latter was persuaded, with good reason, that Museveni was up to some mischief, including supporting  Muungano wa Wazalendo wa Kenya (Mwakenya) to fight the Kenyan ruler who was glued to his seat. The Mwakenya folks were advocating a violent socialist democratic revolution in their country, which was consistent with Museveni’s ideological claims at the time. 


Moi, an autocratic capitalist who was steadily ruining his country, considered the young man in Kampala to be such a serious threat that he sought to clip his wings by supporting an assortment of armed Ugandan rebels that were fighting  Museveni’s government. 


Each ruler let it be known that his counterpart was sponsoring said ruler’s armed enemies. Museveni amassed Ugandan troops along our eastern border and imposed measures that the Kenyans claimed restricted inter-state trade. Moi closed the border and cut off direct-dial telephone links. Then Museveni cut off electric power supply to Kenya. 


It was in this atmosphere that my wife and flew from Entebbe to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in January 1988. A Kenyan immigration officer announced that all Ugandan passport holders had to wait until all arriving passengers had been served. My wife and I, along with dozens of other Ugandans, watched as Europeans and Asians were welcomed to Kenya, their passports stamped after cursory interviews.


When our turn came to be “processed”, a Kenyan Immigration officer asked me with a stern voice: “Why are you coming to Kenya?” I told him I was visiting my brothers and sisters. “You have brothers and sisters here?” he asked. “Oh yes I do!” I told him. “You are one of them!” I added with a genuine smile.


“How can you say you are my brother when you people hate us and are fighting us?” the gentleman asked. “My dear brother,” I replied, “I do not hate you and I am not fighting with you. Please do not mistake a quarrel between Moi and Museveni to include you and me. Those two men know why they are fighting. What I know is that they are not fighting for you or for me. And their fight will not change the circumstances in which our families live.” 


Thirty-one years later, the memory of the man’s smile and his brightening eyes lingers.  “Karibuni ndugu (welcome brother)”, he said as he stamped our passports. “Enjoy your stay in Kenya.”  


I  smiled back, thanked him, gave him a thumbs up sign and entered Kenya, a country I had considered to be home for over a decade, even when I lived in Canada. I still claim Kenya to be “my place.”  


Within a few years, Moi and Museveni made up, became very good friends and the younger man borrowed the Kenyan ruler’s script for sabotaging his people’s struggle for democracy. 


What I told the Kenyan immigration officer 31 years ago is exactly what I would say to his Rwandan counterpart in 2019. The people of Rwanda are my people through and through. I have such a long and good relationship with many Rwandans that their ruler’s unhappiness with mine will not alter our kinship one bit. Happily, this is a sentiment I have heard expressed by many Ugandans that I have spoken with since the escalation of the quarrel between Kagame and Museveni. 


No doubt the two men’s quarrels have triggered actions that are inconvenient for many citizens of both countries. However, the best course of action is for Ugandans and Rwandans to stand in a solidarity of brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends the temporary quarrels of their rulers.  


Whereas I am aware of some details of the serious allegations of sabotage on both sides, I have chosen to “leave things of the generals to the generals.”  Instead I affirm my genuine friendship and goodwill towards the people of Rwanda. I am confident that my feelings are shared by very many Ugandans, including some who have the capacity to influence the attitudes and actions of the generals. I hope that the same is true of the majority of Rwandans.





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