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Is Museveni a Rwandan?


Article Summary: The article traces the ethnicity of a man whose Ugandan identity is widely disputed.

Author Biography: Yahya Sseremba is the publisher of The Campus Journal news website.

There is no question that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has a lot in common with ethnic Tutsis whose stronghold is Rwanda and whose presence is spread across east and central Africa. With them he shares a complicated past, a triumphant present and an uncertain future.

Let us start with the past. The five-year destructive war that propelled Museveni to power in 1986 was fought largely by Tutsi refugees in the country. These Rwandan exiles constituted not only most of the rank and file but also the topmost leadership of the National Resistance Army.

Many of them, including Fred Rwigyema, Paul Kagame and Chris Bunyenyezi, assumed key government and military positions following the fall of Kampala. In the defense and intelligence spheres their influence was particularly compelling.

It is this group in the Kampala establishment that formed the vanguard of the Tutsi invasion and consequent conquest of Rwanda. The conquest appeared to give some credence to the conspiracy theory that this ethnic group harbours a secret plan to conquer and rule the Great Lakes Region.

Proponents of this supposition seem to compare the Tutsis with the Jews whose covert strategies for global dominance are laid down in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Whereas the authenticity of the Protocols is sternly disputed, the children of Israel have an old and rich civilisation capable of nurturing and developing such worldwide aspirations. But the same cannot be said of the Tutsis who started wearing clothes only in the 20th Century.

Such a primitive people, far from conceiving universalist ambitions, can only think parochial and aim local. Their most ambitious goal ever was to overcome their humiliating refugee status and assume the leadership of Rwanda. Their invasion and continued destabilisation of eastern Congo doesn’t indicate a wish to export Tutsi hegemony; it rather reflects an overexcitement and a failure to manage their military and political success.

Thus regardless of whether Museveni is a Tutsi or otherwise, his rise to power, though greatly aided by the Tutsis, had nothing to do with a Tutsi conspiracy to take control of the region because no such plan has ever been conceived, let alone formulated.  Many Rwandan refugees joined his rebellion not because they wanted to establish a Tutsi empire, but because the governments of Milton Obote – both Obote I and II – were determined to treat them as second class citizens at best and to repatriate them at worst. 

Obote’s anti-refugee policy explains why many Banyarwanda celebrated Amin’s coup in 1971 and even joined his army and intelligence agencies. It is for the same reason that they rushed in the 1980s to join Museveni in the bush.

Museveni, in turn, helped these refugees to conquer Kigali. Far from simply being a Tutsi conspiracy, the Uganda-RPA invasion of Rwanda is rooted in much more complex factors. In the first place, whereas the Tutsis had played a pivotal role in enthroning the regime in Kampala, their presence in government faced fierce opposition from indigenous Ugandans who regarded them as aliens undeserving of the powerful positions they occupied.

Outside government, land disputes between the refugees and the citizens had become a security threat too severe to overlook. It became abundantly clear to the Rwandese that they had no home apart from their homeland. Museveni equally came to learn that the continued presence of Rwandan refugees in Uganda could only create one catastrophe after another. It is these circumstances that made the 1990 invasion of Rwanda inevitable.

Far from seeking to establish a Tutsi empire, Museveni, as Mahmood Mamdani has observed, invaded Rwanda to export his Banyarwanda problem. But is Museveni a Nyarwanda anyway?

The Nyarwanda in Uganda are divided into three groups, according to Mamdani’s book, When Victims Become Killers. And these are the nationals, immigrants and refugees.

The nationals, otherwise known as Ugandan Banyarwanda, are those who were already on Ugandan soil when “the country’s western boarders were defined by the 1910 agreement between Germany and Britain.” These were the Bafumbira community of Kisoro District “estimated at roughly 600,000 in the early 1990s.” Museveni doesn’t belong, and has never been linked, to this category. 

The Bafumbira are nevertheless not the only Nyarwanda that Mamdani calls Ugandan nationals, as he explains:

Besides the Bafumbira, who were mostly impoverished cultivators, there was a second group of Banyarwanda nationals in Uganda. These were the nomadic Tutsi who had long been resident in Ankole, and some of whom still roamed the drylands with cattle. Others had bought land and practiced a mixed agriculture, while the rest had scattered, either moving to other pastoral areas to work as cattle keepers or adapting to an urban life. (Mamdani, 2001, p.162)

Estimates by researchers put this sub-category of nationals at 120,000 Tutsis.

The second category – the immigrants – came to Uganda during the colonial period to work as cattle keepers, cane cutters and miners. Though some Tutsis were involved, the immigrants were largely Hutu peasants in pursuit of greener pastures. Mamdani says they numbered between 500,000 and 700,000.

The last and final category – the refugees – consisted almost entirely of Tutsis who started crossing into Uganda in 1959 following the Hutu revolution that overthrew the Tutsi monarchy in Kigali. This group, which by 1990 reportedly numbered around 200,000, came too late to have involved Museveni.

I strongly believe that if Museveni has any Rwandan roots, his ancestors should be traced in the tens of thousands of Tutsi pastoralists who had settled in Ankole by the beginning of colonial rule. If these early Banyarwanda are indigenous Ugandans as the Third Schedule to the 1995 Constitution indicates, it follows that Museveni is a pure Ugandan. The law recognizes all communities that had settled in Uganda by 1, February 1926 as indigenous Ugandans.

Museveni himself claims to be a Nyankole, a Ugandan tribe that – unlike the Nyarwanda which has foreign connotations – is indisputably indigenous. I have not found sufficient grounds to confirm or dismiss his claim. He says he was born to Amos Kaguta, a herdsman whose family tree is insufficiently clear. Museveni’s own account is that Kaguta, who died last month at 96, was a Nyankole of the Hima clan.  

In their physical features the Hima have a lot in common with the Tutsis. Besides their tallness, both tend to have long and narrow heads, faces and noses.

These elongated East Africans, as anthropologist Jean Hiernaux describes them, also share pastoralism as an economic activity and have a rare adulthood ability to digest a milk sugar known as lactose. It is these similarities between the two ethnic groups that probably prompted some people to regard Museveni as a Tutsi.




0 #1 kuteesa micheal 2013-03-26 10:17
my friend,u based most of your theory on the fact that the Tutsi invaded Rwanda with museveni's help to conquer kigali and overthrow the hutu government but you left out the most sensitive reason which was the genocide that was being carried out on the tutsi by the hutu next time u write something first get the right info then write whatever u write dnt wait for us to educate you.
0 #2 Fr. D.S.Mayanja 2013-04-07 09:35
Timeo laudare quemquam presentem - I fear to praise anyone while present, was the Roman's saying. May facts about these big men cannot come to light while they are still in power. They surface after. But sad as it will be, to surface after so much damage has been done. It is too sad that the common man in many countries especially in Africa due to the wrong leadership, who often are parapets of the G8 Look at the wars in Congo, the wars in Uganda for the last fifty years, the Darfur Region, The Kony saga etc. While a person living in the Great Lakes Region to read Kuteesa Micheal's above remark one wonders whether we will ever get a patriot in Region!
0 #3 Anthony 2013-05-14 01:32
Wow. You say "... the same cannot be said of the Tutsis who started wearing clothes only in the 20th Century. Such a primitive people, far from conceiving universalist ambitions, can only think parochial and aim local."

My question is how many years/generatio ns must one have been wearing clothes to actually be credible enough to have high ambition, and not have a narrow outlook on life?
0 #4 baker duhimbaze 2016-03-14 22:48
Ua not very imformed please carry moresearch, u have a skeleton imformation