Childhood village tales and Rwanda’s border closure

Saturday May 25 2019

Asuman Bisiika

Asuman Bisiika  

By Asuman Bisiika

About three months ago, the Government of Rwanda issued a travel advisory ‘guiding’ Rwandan citizens against going to Uganda. Rwandan citizens, at the risk of death, are using un-gazetted routes to cross to Uganda.
A pregnant woman is said to have died as she tried to run away from Rwanda’s armed forces enforcing the advisory. And a man is said to have been killed when he tried to beat the advisory. As someone from Kasese, I know what an international border means to household incomes of the locals. And I know what that border means when the national economy of one of the two countries falters.

In Kasese, an entire generation was wasted as smuggling coffee to Mobutu’s Zaire (now DR Congo) became the only way to climb the ladders of social mobility. Unfortunately, this was built on quicksand. But I would like to share two stories about smuggling in my part of Kasese:

During president Idi Amin’s Economic War, communities near international borders took advantages of the relatively better run economies of neighbouring countries. In Kasese, our people smuggled coffee to Zaire. Of course, it was illegal to sell coffee outside the co-operative system.

George was a Karimojong working as a local government askari at Kisiinga (or Kyalhumba?) Sub-county. The Bazzukulu may wonder how a Karimojong could work as a local government askari in rural Kasese.
Dear Bazzukulu, before Jajja happened, we used to have a contiguous country running from Kotido to Kisoro and from Koboko to Busia. Indeed, the first university graduate in Kiburara did six years at Kitgum High School in Kitgum District.

With a bolt lock rifle (kisasi kimu), George was an anti-smuggling doyen. He could lay an ambush and shout at the smugglers walking in single file. The smugglers would drop their luggage and run for dear life. George would collect their coffee and sell it to a co-operative society (or sometimes to other smugglers) for his personal benefit.
One day, George lay an ambush at a place called Kasisyo (near Kabiri, now in Kyondo Sub-county). At 1am, the smugglers fell into his ambush. George only had to challenge them in Kiswahili and act as if he was going to shoot. The smugglers ran in disarray leaving their coffee bags behind.

But typical of the warrior Bakonzo tribesmen, they re-grouped and… And they made a frontal attack on George who was still collecting the dropped off coffee bags. George did the next best thing: He ran. The warrior Bakonzo ran after him, caught and stabbed him to near death. He later died of his wounds at Kagando Hospital. And a popular song titled George Bamutimba (George was stabbed) was composed about George’s death.

There is now a rumour that one of the countries (Uganda or Rwanda) may close its embassy in one of the two capitals (Kampala or Kigali). It is my contention that closure of embassies (and indeed border closure) would not take away the issues affecting the relationship between the two neighbouring countries.
I wish the actions of the two governments (actually Museveni and Kagame) represented popular interests on both sides. But the actions of these two men are driven by their huge egos. They will do anything; even shooting to death poor peasant seeking ‘relief’ needs from across the border if such action serves their ego.

Commerce in the Uganda-Rwanda border towns is in its early stages of total collapse. There are negative stats on trade between the two countries. If only the two men realised that their egos were hurting people (under whose name they claim leadership).


Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East African Flagpost.