THOUSANDS of refugees are left forgotten on the Ugandan border. Uvedale Tristram outlines their predicament.
THOUSANDS of refugees, many of them Catholics, have been left stranded in great need on both sides of the UgandaRwanda border.
Last October 45,000 people crossed the Uganda border into Rwanda, fleeing from the Ugandan paramilitary forces. Their houses had been burnt down and all their possessions stolen.
This was one manifestation of highly complex political situations in this region which drive refugees helplessly to and fro across the borders.
When Milton Obote's Ugandan People's Congress Party came into power at independence, it was supported by the Baganda Party based on the Kingdom of Uganda centred on Kampala. A coalition of the two parties enabled the UPC to take control despite the fact that UPC represented only about 45 per cent of the population as against 55 per cent of the Catholic Democratic party. Obote then turned on the Baganda, exiled the Kabaka and dismantled the Baganda Kingdom.
The Catholic Banyarwanda had supported the Democratic party. Obote threatened to expel them. They welcomed Amin's seizure of power.
After Amin's overthrow, Obote secured a majority in doubtful circumstances. He and his party have persecuted the Banyarwands again and have been unable to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
After two officials had been killed during a cattle raiding investigation, a combined force of paramilitary and UPC Youth Wingers drove the Banyarwanda out of their homes. They were given the choice of moving into camps or settlements or of leaving the country. This was the cause of the exodus to Rwanda.
Although most of the Banyarwanda had been settled for a long time and arc Uganda citizens, they have never been accepted by the local population as true Ugandans.
Obote has paid lip service to safeguarding their lives and property but in fact has turned a blind eye to persecution. Also driven out have been thousands of Bahima tribespeople of Rwanda origin most of whom have Ugandan citizenship.
In an effort to stem the flow, the Rwanda government have closed the border, leaving 5,000 people stranded on the Ugandan side. The Rwandan Government needs external help to care for the refugees. Some British agencies, including the Save the Children Fund, Cafod, and Christian Aid and OXFAM have been involved in assistance programmes which will need to be continued for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, in Obote's presence at a recent meeting, the chairman of the Mbarara district council attacked thc refugees as "dangerous criminals, killers, smugglers and saboteurs."