Aliens in their  own country

Bugango village which straddles the Uganda-Tanzanian border in Isingiro District. 

What you need to know:

The exact cause of President Idi Amin’s annexation of the Kagera salient—1,800km2 strip of land bestriding the Kagera River, in the corridor between Rwanda and Lake Victoria—in Tanzania has for long spells remained a subject of debate. While the incident 42 years ago was climacteric in Amin’s downfall in April 1979 after the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force mounted a repulsive counterattack, it also renewed another problem—a long-standing, low-level, boundary dispute—between Uganda and her southern neighbour in which hundreds of thousands of people are caught up, writes Frederic Musisi.

“Maybe it is a dream,” Abdallah Shigongo initially thought to himself whenever the thought of being expelled from a country—Tanzania—he was born and bred crosses his mind. “Maybe it was a misunderstanding.”
“But it is painful to even think about it,” the 56-year-old father of nine recounted in an interview in Bugango village, a remote outpost in Isingiro District at the Uganda-Tanzania border.
Shigongo was born in Bugango village, Kakunyu Sub-county in Misenyi District on the Tanzanian side to Tanzanian parents. 
Save for routinely crossing into Uganda as trader, he and his family lived in Tanzania all their life.

One day in August 2020, Tanzanian authorities ejected him and his family on grounds of being aliens. The documents, like national ID, voting card, Local Council letters, driving permit, he carried at all times, authorities told him, were insufficient to prove that he is Tanzanian.
“They took away everything I owned; land, house, and garden. Now I cannot even take care of my family,” he said. “I used to come here (Isingiro) a lot so it was the second closest familiar place.”

As a trader crisscrossing the border over the years, he learnt Luganda and Runyakitara dialects which have helped him cope. East or West home is best, as the saying goes; Shigongo, like Yoseri Karugaba, the chairperson of expelled communities living in Uganda, want to return home.
“Tanzania said we were illegal immigrants who settled around the Kagera basin. So, they chased all of us away, back to our countries where we don’t belong,” said Mr Karugaba, whose pastoralist paternal great grandfather migrated from the greater Ankore (Nkore) Kingdom to north-western Tangayika in the 1920s. Karugaba’s mother, he claims, was a daughter of King Rumanyika of the Karagwe Kingdom.

The Tanzanian immigration authorities expelled Shigongo on the basis of one claim. That when President Idi Amin invaded the Kagera salient, an 1,800 square kilometres corridor bestriding the Kagera River between Rwanda and Lake Victoria, in October 1978 his family was among the Ugandan settlers who moved into the area.
The then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor body of the current African Unity (AU), condemned Amin’s military campaign which displaced an estimated 40,000 people and 12,000 cattle stolen.

During the attack Amin’s soldiers removed several border beacons from the area. Though the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force repulsed the Uganda army from the area in November 1978 and eventually assisted in toppling Amin five months later, the contested area was left open to a floodgate of settlers, especially pastoralists, from Uganda and Rwanda who destroyed more border markings.
The British, then as colonial administrators of present-day Uganda, and Germany, as administrators of then Tanganyika (present day Tanzania) fought over the same border twice.
 After Germany’s defeat in the First World War and its African colonial territories placed under the League of Nations, the predecessor body of the United Nations, the Buganda Kingdom in 1929 appealed to the former to redraw the border—to extend south of Kagera River as before. The British colonial government, which had been assigned responsibility over Tanganyika, thwarted the process.

However, the border crisis remained prevalent over the years until June 2002 when both governments agreed to establish a joint technical committee to re-demarcate the border. The border reaffirmation exercise was conducted in 2003.
The complex terrain
The State-minister for International Relations, Mr Oryem Okello, told this newspaper that “this particular issue is as complicated as that of Migingo Islands”—east of Lake Victoria claimed by both Uganda and Kenya.

“It was agreed that all countries should respect the borders as they were at independence. If we were to go against that then there would be endless conflict,” Mr Oryem averred. 
He added: “You know well that the now DRC territory once extended into Uganda almost in Adjumani. Part of Uganda stretched into Kenya, and the entire northern Tanzania was once part of Buganda. Once the lines were drawn it’s a rule we have to respect.”  
During the two years of negotiations for the border reaffirmation, Uganda attempted to contest the legitimacy of the known border which complicated matters until early 2003 when Kampala dropped its territorial claim. This paved way for a reaffirmation exercise using the satellite-based GPS technology. But even today some areas remain unmarked complicating matters, especially for border communities who have property and kinsmen on both sides.

The Bugango County (Isingiro) MP, Mr Stephen Kangwagye, in whose constituency the dispute revolved, said relations have thawed ever since the border was reaffirmed but the lingering challenge is the gross unfair treatment of Ugandans on the Tanzanian side.
“I am one of those people who were affected by the way. Most of my father’s land which he acquired through lawful means after the border was redrawn it merged it fell in Tanzania,” Mr Kangwagye revealed. “After the reaffirmation exercise it was agreed that all people will be treated fairly and they should remain where they are as long as they respect the laws of that country. Tanzania just woke up one day and expelled everybody.”
As such anger, despair and a sense of hopelessness runs deep in Bugango.

Mr Kangwagye said: “If we are to achieve the East African Cooperation, we have to look away from some of these things. Of course, we know it’s only Uganda emphasizing this while in other countries cooperation remains in books but we have to start somewhere.”
In 2003 the two governments, according to documents seen by Daily Monitor, also agreed to modalities of dealing with especially Ugandan settlers on the Tanzanian side. 
A decade later in 2013 the Tanzanian government mounted “Operation Kimbunga” in which hundreds of thousands “illegal immigrants” were expelled following complaints by residents about an influx of immigrants from Rwanda, Burundi and DRC in the area.

The operation, according to media reports, though successful was mired by complaints of bribery for some aliens to remain and expulsion of genuine Tanzanian nationals and residents. In Isingiro District, which shares the boundary with Tanzania’s Misenyi and Kagera districts, Ugandans complained of being routinely victimised by Tanzanian authorities and yet on the Ugandan side, Tanzanians live freely.
At least 5,300 people ran to Uganda in 2013 settling in the Sango Bay area in Kyotera District, and another 3,500 were relocated to Nakivaale. In Sango Bay, they have been told to vacate the area to pave way for a large palm-oil growing project.

Stephen Kangwagye, Bugango County MP

Inherited problems 
Yusuf Isingoma’s farmland straddled Uganda and Tanzania before the 2003 border reaffirmation. Following the exercise, he was told the status quo would not change, only until 2019 when Tanzanian police pushed him off the land and handed it to someone else.
“It is really painful because we have Tanzanians here [Uganda] but we treat them well,” Mr Isingoma said. “It’s more painful that our government doesn’t and cannot stand up for us.”  Ms Lillian Tumusime, and several residents, narrated a similar ordeal.
President Museveni and his Tanzanian counterparts—Jakaya Kikwete and John Magufuli, according to correspondences, directed their technocrats to put in place a commission to deal with the issue, including compensation, of Ugandan settlers in the Kagera salient but this is yet to materialise.
Mr Oryem acknowledged this anomaly which he attributed to “constant change of office occupants” of the respective ministries in charge which means the matter is not prioritised.  

The Tanzanian High Commission, Aziz Mlima, declined to comment on the story when contacted.
Prior to President Amin’s annexation of Kagera, according to several records, he had proclaimed publically the historical and territorial injustice suffered by Uganda during the drawing of the borders by the European colonialists.
The once mighty Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom straddled the northern parts of Tanganyika to the Karagwe and Bukoba regions as a result of the kingdom’s successive kings’ expansionist wars that sucked several smaller kingdoms such as Karagwe, Uzinja, Kiziba, among others.
As Bunyoro’s strength waned including losing much of its territory, Buganda claimed parts of this territory including the Kagera basin by the time of becoming a British Protectorate in 1894.

Researchers Henri Médarda and Ikram Kidarib in a paper titled The Kagera River and the Making of a Contested Boundary: Territorial Legacies and Colonial Demarcations in Buganda (19th– 20th Centuries)  note that in 1890, the Germans—like the British—felt the need to quickly complete the process of marking out the boundaries between their spheres of influence in East Africa.
The previous agreement, signed in 1886, established the border between the two empires to the east of Lake Victoria; the question of the territories to the west of the lake had only been vaguely referred to. This uncertainty regarding the limits between the two empires, combined with the blurred geographical knowledge dating from Henry Morton Stanley’s map, was soon the cause of misunderstandings and tensions between the chartered companies entrusted with the management of the African colonial possessions.

Negotiations commenced in Berlin on May  5, 1890, during which several scenarios were discussed. To begin with, Percy Anderson, the British negotiator, claimed all the territories to the west of Lake Victoria, but this was rebutted by his German counterpart, Doctor Krauel. 
The two men finally managed to agree on a border along the first parallel south; however, they still had to convince their respective governments to renounce their ambitions.
Between 1890 and 1902, voices were raised among missionaries and German and British officers to point out the “disadvantages” of this delineation.4.  In 1902, a mixed Commission for the delimitation of the border was set up. Even before work started, certain British members of the boundary commission emphasised the disadvantages of the first parallel and put forward the idea that the Kagera River could be the “natural” boundary between the two states.

In the end, according to Henri Médarda and Ikram Kidarib, despite numerous recommendations, British colonial authorities did not redraw the border. 
The Uganda southern border, following the first parallel south and cutting across the meanders of the Kagera River, is both a schoolbook example of (seemingly) arbitrary colonial border drawing and undeniably linked to the presence of the Kagera and the precolonial border of Buganda
Protracted problem
Unlike Amin, President Museveni, a notable proponent for African integration, has largely approached the Tanzania border issue cautiously. 
In power for 36 years, Mr Museveni has on various occasions spoken against international borders calling them “a creation of European colonialists”, the assertion supported by countless history research studies.

The University of Witwatersrand’s international relations don, Gilbert Khadiagala in a 2010 paper titled Boundaries in Eastern Africa detailed the that colonial patterns of making boundaries in Eastern Africa reflected the superimposition of physical and political limits on socioeconomic, cultural, and linguistic discontinuities. 
A pattern that applies across large swathes of the continent and is contributory to numerous problems including conflicts in post-independence Africa.
Following the 1884 Berlin Conference where European powers set the rules for Africa’s colonisation—known as the Scramble and Partition of the continent— then followed the drawing of boundaries negotiated through a series of agreements. The Uganda-Tanzania-Rwanda boundary was set in the Anglo-German agreements of 1890 and 1910.

“Lacking precise data on topography, demography, and socio-cultural patterns, colonial powers struggled during the demarcation processes to ensure a degree of conformity between the new jurisdictions and the existing distribution of political and cultural groups,” Prof Khadiagala wrote.
For instance, according to Talaat Ahmed Ibrahim in International Boundaries and Inter-State Relations in the Nile Basin published in 1984 by the University of London, the eastern two-thirds of the Tanzania-Uganda boundary simply follows the 1st degree parallel south— a circle of latitude that is 1 degree south of the Earth’s equatorial plane—commencing at the tripoint between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda near the eastern shore of Lake Victoria to the west, following the parallel to as far as the second crossing of this line by the River Kagera; from there the boundary follows River Kagera to its confluence with the River Kakitumba on the Rwanda side.

“The main issue to note in more detail here is the way in which the parallel is used for part of the land boundary rather than the thalweg of River Kagera from its mouth to the tripoint with Uganda and Rwanda,” Mr Talaat notes.
The use of the straight line parallel, Talaat wrote, created the Kagera Triangle and Kagera Salient—which is the crux of the Uganda-Tanzania border dispute. 

The Kagera Salient, a triangle of land and marshland straddling the area between the border and the river was prior to the drawing the boundary by the British/Germans, constituted the boundary between Buganda and Ankole Kingdoms and Kingdoms of Kiziba and Karagwe (in Tanganyika) while the Kagera Triangle in Uganda is occupied by the Bahaya community who fall on both sides of the border.
In effect, Ikram Kidari writing in “The Kagera River and the Making of a Contested Boundary: Territorial Legacies and Colonial Demarcations in Buganda (19th–20th Centuries”) notes that, the Germans and the British stuck to a parallel straight line they drew, ignoring human and physical geography, when at an insignificant distance, a river constituted an old and clear demarcation.

Yoseri Karugaba, chairperson expelled communities

The Welsh-American explorer and colonial administrator, Henry Morton Stanley writing in his 1890 memoirs In Darkest Africa, noted the absurdity of using the1st parallel south latitude because it cut the Buganda Kingdom into two halves - in other words it was yet another case of dividing an ethnic group.
Stanley believed that the natural boundary between the Buganda Kingdom in the north and the peoples to the south was the R. Kagera.
On the other hand, Maj Radcliffe Delme, one of the officials who superintended over demarcation of the Uganda-Tanganyika border, according to accounts, specifically recommended that the boundary should follow the course of River Kagera from Lake Victoria to its confluence with River Kagitumba at the Rwanda-Uganda border.

Decades later the border dispute remains, albeit low key. Officials say the issue of the Kagera Salient and Kagera Triangle are related. The dispute area is about 300 feet wide depending on which side of the border one comes from; in Uganda, is about 115k long, stretching from Kakuuto County in Kyotera district near Lake Victoria to Bukanga near R. Kagera.
Officials also intimated that there is a long-standing dispute about the accuracy of the existing border line. While Uganda is open to correcting this territorial, Tanzania wants the colonial record to remain, despite the 2003 border reaffirmation exercise. Matters are worse that some border beacons were not properly coordinated.
Anger, despair

Mr Karugaba, the chairperson of communities expelled from northern Tanzania, placed the number of affected people to about one million. They were five categories he said; there were Ugandan pastoralists who crisscrossed the border for pasture and water for their animals: Ugandans whose land straddled both sides of the border prior to the border affirmation, Tanzanians of Ugandan origin by virtue of nationality of their parents, other nationalities offered citizenship by naturalization, and the category of Rwandans and Burundian nationals.

“Everything that belonged to us was taken,” Mr Karugaba said. “But the animosity started in the 1990s when the RPF went back to liberate their country. So even us would be Ugandans with heritage from Ankole were characterised as Banyarwanda, so they would say we should go back to Rwanda. That’s why we think there should be a committee to select those who are Ugandans, Tanzanians or Rwandans.”
Mr Oryem said: “Naturally the Tanzanians are wary that maybe these are spies or are trying to grab our land by settling here. And yet they know these are pastoralists. The other problem was the ignorant pastoralists who just wandered any how; in their heads the international boundary doesn’t exist. Where they find good pasture and water they call it home.”

Both Mr Karugaba and Oryem also indicated that corrupt immigration officials both in Tanzania and Uganda were part of the problem. The officials would allow Ugandan pastoralists to freely move into Tanzania and upon crossing back would ask for money or force pastoralists to surrender some of their cattle.
In March 2015, President Museveni wrote to then Tanzanian President Kikwete raising issue of the longstanding complaints by Ugandans whose land straddled both sides and whose property including cattle, livestock and houses were forcefully taken over by Tanzanians.
“I suggest that a proper inventory should be made of the claims with pertinent recommendations on the corrective measures taken,” Mr Museveni wrote. He further proposed the establishment of a joint-cross border cooperation commission to look into the matters and propose ways of dealing with them, including developing a plan of action of dealing with issues.

President Kikwete responded in July referring to an October 2007 correspondence to Kampala in which he raised the issue of the poorly-marked border beacons which used the colonial 1st degree parallel south, but got no response. He also agreed to the establishment of a joint-cross border cooperation commission comprising of ministers of Foreign Affairs, East African Cooperation, Internal Affairs, Local Government, among others.
“These colonial borders are irrational and fragmented our people and our resources. However, at Independence we accepted the borders the way they are so as to avoid to being diverted by arguments about them,” President Kikwete wrote.

During a state visit to Tanzania in March 2016, the then Tanzanian President John Magufuli and President Museveni directed officials to meet and find a plan of action in regard to concerns raised by border communities. The officials met in Bukoba, Tanzania later April and resolved among others, to determine and resolve uncertainties on the citizenship of communities affected, ascertain longstanding complaints of claimants from both sides and identify and address cross-border cooperation issues, and verify claims of loss of nationality and property by people on both sides.
The officials made a series of recommendations which remain on paper six years later while affected communities continue to live in anguish and despair.
 

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