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An open letter to Frank Gashumba from Kelly Rwamapera who wants to change Banyarwanda identity to Bavandimwe

Dear brother Frank Gashumba,

I’m writing to share my ideas with you in your endeavours to change the name and identity of the Banyarwanda people in Uganda from being called Banyarwanda (people of Rwanda origin) to Bavandimwe (born of the same womb).

I am aware of your arguments that the name Banyarwanda identifies you with the Banyarwanda of Rwandan nationality when you actually do not have any relationship with Rwanda apart from being the land of your origin.

You also argue that Banyarwanda are persecuted in Uganda and denied some basic rights that other Ugandan nationals enjoy, categorising them as Banyarwanda of Rwandan nationality where their forefathers left long ago.

I would like to talk about your idea in the perception of history and law.

History has some clue

I won’t go into the history of how the name Banyarwanda came to be our identity about 1000 years ago but let me rush to an incident in history where the Banyamurenge tried to change their identity.

Most of the Banyamurenge are from Banyabyinshi lineage of Byinshi son of Bamara son of King Yuhi Gahima of Rwanda who ruled in the early 1500s before Buganda and Ankole became kingdoms.

Byinshi conspired in an attack that killed his paternal uncle, King Ndahiro Cyamatare son of King Yuhi Gahima and his children save one Ndori who was in Karagwe (Tanzania) with the paternal aunt who had married King Karemera of Karagwe.

For over a dozen years, Rwanda was divided into chiefdoms, until Prince Ndori son of Cyamatare who grew up in Karagwe returned and ascended the throne as Ruganzu Ndori.

Byinshi, fearing that Ndori would avenge his father’s death, fled with his family to Murenge the furthest part of Rwanda Kingdom at the time, currently in DR Congo.

The Banyabyinshi changed their identity from being called Banyarwanda to Banyamurenge in reference to the Murenge (Runyarwanda word for hillside) they occupied until the identity Banyamurenge was officially accepted in 1970s.

As you are aware, 500 years down the road, the Banyamurenge are more known as Banyarwanda than Banyamurenge and are suffering or enjoying what any Rwandan would face in DR Congo.

It looks like the Banyarwanda substance doesn’t go away even after 500 years but one shouldn’t worry if he/ she doesn’t want to be identified among the Banyarwanda.

At a personal level, one can dilute the Banyarwanda substance with intermarriages and not speaking Runyarwanda (which many have already achieved and don’t suffer the persecution you said).

Many Banyarwanda have succeeded in not being identified as Banyarwanda without molesting the whole tribe that has endured challenges for hundreds of years in the region.

The presence of Banyarwanda in Uganda, particularly central Uganda

Official records indicating the presence of Banyarwanda as well as other tribes in Uganda start with the 1900 census, officially confirmed in the 1911 administrative census.

All other censuses that followed had no problem with documenting Banyarwanda as citizens in Uganda until it was sealed in the 1995 Ugandan constitution under Article 10.

Even without official records, there is irrefutable evidence that Banyarwanda have been in present-day Uganda especially in west and central regions and occupied several places way before others did.

I’m sure even non-Banyarwanda do affirm that they don’t know what the name of places such as Masaka, Mpigi or your home district Karungu mean, not forgetting the places called Rwanda in Ankole, Buganda and other regions.

In Gomba, where I come from, there are places called Kampefu from Runyarwanda word imihefu/impefu grass, Rwabayaga from abayaga lineage of Abasinga clan, Mirambi meaning flat land, Kagongero to mention but a few and it’s a fact that there are just a few places in Buganda that bear Luganda names.

I want to assume that you know that names of places are given by the first inhabitants, meaning that makes Banyarwanda inhabited those hills before any others.

Some of us who know these facts don’t marvel at the act of Rwandan refugees who dared join a bush war in the country of their exile, toppled one government and installed another and work in that government with due popularity.

We don’t wonder about it because we know that history gives Banyarwanda an authority in Uganda as natives of the land and anyone who despises that will always fall victim to this reality.

Particularly in Buganda

It is also worth mentioning that the name Buganda is no strange in the Runyarwanda language in two ways:

Ubuganda/ Obuganda – the use of “ubu-” to mean a certain place is typically Runyarwanda style. The Luganda language does not use “obu-”/ “ubu-” prefixes to mean places like it is in Runyarwanda.

When you examine the stem word “-ganda” in the word Buganda, the word can be loosely translated as “bundle” in both Runyarwanda and Luganda and unfortunately this does not in any way explain the beginning of the kingdom.

However, “-ganda” in Runyarwanda further means ‘to defy laws’ or ‘to secede from’ which gives a clear explanation of the beginning of Buganda kingdom that started at the shores of Lake Victoria through rebellion and secession.

For your information, there is another Buganda in the nation of Burundi at an area that formally belonged to Rwanda but was lost in secession wars.

You may also consider that while the spelling for the word Rwanda suggests a ‘w’, the pronunciation suggests a ‘g’ and in the first spelling rules, Rwanda could be written as « Rganda » which carries the same stem word « -ganda ».

You shouldn’t be surprised to find that the name Buganda is not a Luganda but Runyarwanda name given to the group of people who rebelled and seceded from a kingdom.

I hope that after you have heard these things that few don’t want to say or accept, and the fact that Banyarwanda are one of the tribes in Uganda with many people, stay firm where you are and claim your rights.

The Bavandimwe idea

I first heard the insinuation against Banyarwanda identity in 2007 from a friend of mine Robert Barigye who also said he had heard from some senior leaders at the UMUBANO association that Banyarwanda in Uganda should have a different identity from the rest of the Banyarwanda in the Interlacustrine region.

That was before the start of the alleged persecution that was made the current rationale for changing the identity to Bavandimwe which makes the whole ideas “mpemuke ndamuke”

In late 2010, at the elections of the leaders of the UMUBANO association, some were blaming Mr Donat Kananura for refusing to spearhead an agenda for differentiating the Banyarwanda in Uganda from the rest in the region.

The idea of changing the identity has since been very infamous because it doesn’t make sense in face of the fact that our forefathers never tried it even when they were just few and now that the Banyarwanda in Uganda are over 11 million, more numerous than most other tribes.

Our fathers did not attempt changing identity when Banyarwanda were facing forced banishment to Rwanda in the 1980s, and one wonders why trying to change our identity at a time when we have established families with plots, miles of land and homes!

The admissibility and legality of the Bavandimwe idea

What you’re advocating for is against the constitution of the Republic of Uganda where there is no tribe called Bavandimwe but Banyarwanda.

So, Bavandimwe is an organisation not a tribe and it must not attack elements of the constitution such as degrading the nationality of the Banyarwanda, a constitutionally recognised tribe.

The Bavandimwe organization thus shall not be registered because the 2016 Non-Governmental Organisations Act, bars registration of any organisation “where the objectives of the organisation as specified in its constitution are in contravention of the laws of Uganda”.

I would advise your organization to start to claim the rights of the Banyarwanda as nationals as enshrined in the Ugandan constitution instead of endeavouring to remove Banyarwanda identity after which you’ll be required to have the constitution amended to replace Banyarwanda with Bavandimwe.

As I mentioned earlier, you may opt for individual identity change and leave the rest to live as Banyarwanda, the identity our forefathers enjoyed and were not ashamed of in the face of trials.

By the way, if our identity was just a name, we would just pronounce another name and change forever.

Think of what we are, brother.

Kelly Rwamapera

« Inshuti ya Semugaza »

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