Jakaya Kikwete shouldn’t have expelled ‘his’ Banyarwanda

By PETER WANYONYI

African elders were traditionally fountains of sagacity, wise old heads that could be relied upon to fly into calm in times of crisis, and dispense valuable counsel to the hotheads that made up the younger bits of the population.

But this seems to have lately escaped the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, who recently ordered the expulsion of hundreds of Banyarwanda from the Kagera region of north-western Tanzania.

Beginning around the 1920s, thousands of Kinyarwanda speakers moved to what is now Kagera in Tanzania. Those were the colonial days when borders were extremely fluid. The Banyarwanda were pastoralists who moved from place to place with their big-horned Watutsi cattle, and there was no problem.

Refugees

But then independence came and brought about immediate anti-Tutsi pogroms in Rwanda and Burundi. Consequently, more Banyarwanda refugees moved into Tanzania. Come 1994, and the tragic Rwandan Genocide resulted in nearly a million Banyarwanda fleeing to Tanzania to escape being butchered by Hutu militias.

Paul Kagame’s Rwandese Patriotic Front eventually ended the genocide, but the Hutu murderers regrouped under the ironic title “Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda” — known by the French acronym FDLR — and disappeared into the vast forests of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. While there, they have continued to loot, rape and pillage, and are said to have gone so far as to visit cannibalism upon the pygmies native to that part of the DRC.

All in all, therefore, the FDLR are a nasty group. Rwanda, however, has been either unable, or unwilling, to finish off the FDLR. East African military talking heads say it is the latter, because President Paul Kagame’s military is so effective and disciplined that they once flew 1,000km to Kinshasa and took over the entire city for days — holding off Angolan and Zimbabwean attackers and airforce jets with not more than a handful of soldiers. That such a ruthless military force could fail to finish off the FDLR is largely thought to be by design. At any rate, President Kikwete got tired of the fighting in Eastern DRC and offered his troops to the UN, to impose order.

Ballistic

Tanzania is no military slouch itself, and this was swiftly followed by a suggestion from Tanzania that Rwanda should sit down with the FDLR and negotiate a truce. Rwanda went apoplectic at the suggestion, calling Kikwete all manner of names. Kikwete retaliated by expelling the Banyarwanda who have been living in Kagera for the last century. People that were born and raised in Tanzania by parents who, too, were born and raised in Tanzania suddenly find themselves stateless.

President Kikwete is misbehaving. He should have resisted the temptation to go ballistic on Rwanda, and instead maintained the cool demeanour of the military spy and regional statesman who negotiated Kenya’s governing accord back in 2008. Villagers will tell you that real men are calm and self-controlled — a yardstick against which Kikwete has come up awfully short.

Banyarwanda Jakaya Kikwete Rwanda Burundi.