People who come to Uganda do not leave, do not mix

This message is addressed primarily to Uganda youth and their present and future leaders. The raison d’etre (purpose) of governments is first and foremost to protect the independence, territorial integrity, lives, welfare and property of Uganda and her citizens. This message should be accorded serious attention because of rapid and uncontrolled influx of people and animals into Uganda in the wake of globalization and its borderless ramifications and consolidation of expanded East African community and possible political integration with a component of free human and animal mobility across East African borders.

The subject of population movements across international borders for economic and security reasons has become one of the most intractable challenges in international relations. Everywhere there are complaints about immigrants – they bring diseases, take jobs from nationals, become richer than their hosts, occupy key political, economic and public service positions in foreign countries and undermine cultural values. Above all new comers do not mix with nationals. Recent developments in France and Sweden are a vivid illustration of what lies in store.

Uganda is one of those countries that have attracted many people even before it became a nation under British colonial rule in 1894. For various reasons, Uganda governments since colonial times have adopted a liberal immigration and refugee policy starting with Nubians who were allowed to stay in Uganda after the political instability due to the Mahdist revolt had ended in southern Sudan. Economic opportunity in Uganda, political instability in neighboring countries particularly in Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and DRC and more recently in Kenya and Somalia, have sucked into Uganda many people who arrive for a short period but end up staying and participating in economic and political affairs that have contributed to economic and political problems causing much suffering to the native population. There are areas in Uganda where foreigners outnumber natives. The principal challenge is that these new comers do not even mix with natives socially and economically. They have also participated in destabilizing Uganda politically by military means. Yet Ugandans are afraid of addressing these challenges, including the role of migrants in Uganda’s ‘rapid’ population growth. Let us review a few cases of economic and political instability associated with foreigners in Uganda so that mechanisms to address them are put in place.

For strategic reasons the Khedive of Egypt stationed Nubians and other Sudanese from Equatoria Province along the Nile River including in present-day northern Uganda. The Madhist revolt that started in 1882 cut them off and were moved further south as far as Lake Albert for safety. In 1891 Captain Lugard recruited Nubians in his army that suppressed Bunyoro colonial resistance under Kabarega and ‘pacified’ other areas of Uganda with heavy losses in lives and property. When the Khedive refused to accept them back after they had fought for Britain, the Nubians were settled in Uganda mainly in Bombo and other towns as they did not like rural life. They kept to themselves economically and socially, avoiding intermarriage with native population. They kept a low profile until 1971 when they burst onto Uganda’s military stage in the company of Amin whom they helped to remove the government of Obote in 1971 and launch one of the most brutal human rights violations with impunity until they were overthrown in 1979. By this time, Nubians and Anyanya from southern Sudan constituted up to 25 percent of Uganda’s army. Some criminals and murderers came back and participated in the NRM government.

On the economic stage has been the intricate issue of Asians. They came to Uganda to participate in the export/import economy after the completion of the Uganda railway at the start of the 20th century. Winston Churchill who visited Uganda in 1907 gave full support to Asians to live and thrive in Uganda. However, he observed and apparently endorsed Asian exclusiveness from other races in economic and social terms. The 1959 Uganda census recorded 71,000 Asians. They dominated trade and industry and blocked participation of Africans leading to economic conflicts made worse by their social exclusion. By 1972, the Asian community had grown to about 80,000 strong. Amin ordered non-Uganda citizen Asians to leave Uganda. He accused them, inter alia, of milking a cow they did not feed, sabotaging Uganda’s economy and living in a world of their own.

As part of a deal with Britain in return for assistance the Asians were invited back, to the disappointment of Ugandans. Apparently, they did not learn a lesson from their expulsion by Amin. Since their return, they have continued to dominate Uganda’s economy, have demanded more land to expand their business and continued to isolate themselves from others socially. The NRM government has created a favorable environment for them that may not last indefinitely. Meanwhile, Asians need to begin to examine ways to be an integral part of Uganda to avoid a repeat of 1972 experience.

The influence of Rwandese in Uganda goes back to the 1920s when a combination of economic ‘pull’ factors in Uganda and political and economic ‘push’ factors in Rwanda and Burundi resulted in a large flow of Banyarwanda who sought work in Uganda. Bahutu worked on cotton and coffee farms in Buganda while Batutsi worked in areas of cattle herding. They included former Ankole district, drier western parts of Buganda including in the Luwero Triangle and eastern and northern parts of Uganda especially in Lango and Teso. These workers were supposed to be temporary but most of them ended up staying permanently in large part due to a liberal colonial labor policy. At one time the sex ratio in Buganda had the unusual characteristics of more males than females. In normal circumstances there are more females than males.

The Rwandese Social Revolution of 1959 reversed the political formula that had existed in Rwanda for centuries. Batutsi who had ruled were defeated by Bahutu at the polls and fled the country in large numbers especially to Uganda where they had relatives across the border. Britain which had decided that Uganda must become independent in 1962 did not want this time table to be upset by refugee problems. The colonial administration in Uganda then decided that as many Tutsi as possible should settle with relatives, others should filter in small numbers with their cattle to other parts of Uganda without causing an alarm from the natives. Consequently, very few refugees were accommodated in camps. Immediately one third of Batutsi refugees were absorbed in Kigezi and Ankole districts raising population densities in already densely populated Kigezi district pushing Bakiga to resettle in other areas in western Uganda. Human and cattle population pressure also increased in Ankole, a situation that was made worse by drought that forced both Bahima and Batutsi refugees to drift into other parts of Uganda including in the dry grazing areas of Buganda particularly in Sembabule and Mawokota.

In 1982 attempts were made to return Tutsi to Rwanda without much success. The destabilized Tutsi refugees joined Museveni guerrilla fighters (constituted up to 25 percent of the guerrillas), and helped Okello to mount a successful overthrow of the UPC government in 1985. Museveni with Tutsi refugee backers then took over the government in 1986. Batutsi joined the government occupying high positions in the security forces, public service and private sector. While in Uganda, Tutsi refugee males, like Nubians and Asians have refrained from social integration including intermarriage with natives whom they despise as inferior. Ugandans were totally surprised when Rwandese thought all along to be Ugandans and had occupied key positions left for Rwanda in 1994 when Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) captured power. Ugandans still believe that Batutsi are still exercising tremendous influence in Uganda’s politics, economy and security forces.

With rapid population growth, insufficient job opportunities, shrinking land frontier, displacement of indigenous people and political rivalries that have raised the issue of native and foreign candidates, time has come for an open reflection about what needs to be done to avoid complications resulting from population mobility into Uganda. Globalization, consolidation of the expanded East African community and a possible political federation will be associated with unprecedented population mobility with more ending up in Uganda because of a liberal policy towards immigrants. This warning is particularly significant mindful that people who enter Uganda do not leave or integrate with native peoples. Governments in Uganda since colonial days have avoided addressing the issue at the expense of Ugandans.

All in all, Uganda authorities cannot keep silent about possible conflicts and worse from immigration into the country. Stories that refugees and illegal immigrants have registered to vote in 2011 elections have heightened the urgency with which the immigration question should be addressed. It is important to underscore that the destructive civil war in Cote d’voire is between native and foreign-born populations.

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