By David Himbara
In the aftermath of Uganda’s deportation of 72 Rwandan illegal immigrants, President Paul Kagame made a speech about the incident. Kagame did not mention Uganda by name. The speech was delivered in Kinyarwanda. It was a strange speech. — to say the least. Here is my own translation of the speech into English.
Kagame remarks on children border crossing, made at Muhanga, July 4, 2018
”Those living near the borders. I have been hearing stories about illegal crossings which the authorities must urgently deal with. I don’t want to ever hear this matter again.
The problem is that there are no schools near the Rwandan communities who live in the border regions. People have to travel longer distances of five or more kilometers to school in Rwanda. But there are schools within three kilometers across the border.
I have even heard that children leave schools and cross borders to seek medical attention. Primary school children. Some of these children get arrested for illegally sneaking across borders at porous border entry points. This must stop.
Those living in border areas must listen to what I am saying. These border crossing activities are not right. You can’t possibly get better services across the border than you receive here in Rwanda, your own country. Whether crossing for health services, education or whatever.
This must stop. Parents must punish their children who do this. The children are also listening to what I am saying.
This is how I am going to conclude about this matter. I pledge that we are going to do everything possible to solve all the issues that make people cross the borders.
Rwandans will receive services near their homes. Where these services are not available, Rwandans must demand them from the government.”
Kagame sidestepped the main reason why Rwandans cross into Uganda — poverty and hunger
This was a strange speech. Kagame conveniently focused on children border crossings. He avoided altogether the adults who continuously cross into Uganda. Anyone who has been following news about Rwanda since 2016 knows why Rwandans cross into Uganda — poverty and hunger. The East African filled this report in 2016:
”Close to 100,000 families mainly in the Eastern Province districts of Rwamagana, Nyagatare, Bugesera, Kayonza and Kirehe as well as Nyanza and Gisagara districts in Southern Province, are facing a threat of hunger if nothing is done to avert it. It is reported that hundreds are fleeing starvation to neighbouring Uganda in search of food after two seasons of poor harvests which left families with nothing to eat.
The ruling party’s own newspaper, The New Times, filled this report in January 2018:
”The government is committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure that no Rwandan dies of hunger…Farmers in Eastern Province were affected by drought in this farming season (which started in September 2017).”
”The mapped areas that require food intervention are Ndego, Murama, Kabarondo, Mwiri, Kabare and Rwinkwavu sectors of Kayonza and Nyarubuye, Kigano, Nasho, Mpanga, Nyamugari and cells in Kirehe districts.”
”Rural areas are the most affected, reflecting income inequalities. The districts with the highest share of food insecure households are predominantly situated in the Western Province — including Rutsiro, Nyamagabe, Nyabihu, Nyaruguru, Rusizi, Karongi and Nyamasheke.”
Kagame ignored obvious facts in his thinly veiled speech on Uganda’s deportation of Rwandan illegal immigrants. He seems to be hoping that overlooking the reality will make it go away. This behavior recalls the popular metaphor of ostriches that appear to bury their heads in the sand to avoid predators. Kagame buries his head in the sand by focussing on children instead of adult immigrants who constitute the real challenge. And then he claims two things that contradict each other. First, he boasts that Rwandans can’t possibly get better services across the border than they receive in their own country. Second, Kagame pledges that his government will henceforth deliver services to Rwandans in their immediate neighborhoods. In other words, there won’t be any need of crossing borders to look for services outside Rwanda. All of this is of course fantasy.