By Arnold Kalema
As the country is gearing towards yet another Museveni swearing in ceremony following the 2021 Presidential elections, questions abound.
How did a political novice, an upstart (such as Robert Kyagulanyi) who had barely lasted 3 years as a member of parliament, and whose political party had not been existence for even a year, manage to defeat a strongman like Museveni?
In Buganda region for instance, where Museveni has been in politics longer than Kyagulanyi's entire life span, and at a time when the whole coercive state machinery was bent on using Covid to frustrate him at all costs?
As I pondered that, it dawned on me that, aside from Museveni 's overstay in power, and the youth demographics, the role of Banyarwanda as king makers of Ugandan leaders needs to be examined.
Interestingly, while most naive, chauvinistic, xenophobic albeit uninformed political commentators merely dismiss Banyarwanda as "foreigners,” Charles Onyango Obbo wrote in the Daily monitor newspaper is quoted as having said,
"In the 1928 household census, Banyarwanda were 138,000 compared to the indigenous Baganda whose figure was, 108,000. Going by the scientific fact that population numbers double every 10 years, Banyarwanda outnumber Buganda in Uganda"
Another writer, Joachim Buwembo, wrote in The East African newspaper of April 05, 2018 under a title; "Are Banyarwanda Uganda's biggest tribe? Look around, they could well be"
In that article, Buwembo referred to a study done in 1962 which found that a fifth (20 percent) of people in Buddu county (now called Greater Masaka) of Buganda kingdom, were ethnic Banyarwanda. He went on to state that, " It can be assumed that today, it is only a fifth of Buddu people who don't have Banyarwanda blood. Much of rural central Uganda is inhabited by Banyarwanda, and trying to find out who has no Banyarwanda blood in Buganda, is a purposeless waste of time; even the first-born son of the Kabaka and his sisters are born of a munyarwanda woman; a prominent one at that.
Similarly, Prince Nakibinge, Prince Karifani and Prince Wasajja are all married to Banyarwanda women.
Joachim Buwembo further declared that there's enough circumstantial evidence (which I have been encountering in recent years) that Banyarwanda could be Uganda's biggest tribe.
They are omnipresent, and Banyarwanda blood probably runs in most Ugandans veins"
With both seasoned writers Charles Onyango Obbo and Joachim Buwembo quoting studies and population censuses to assert the fact that Banyarwanda are the biggest tribe in Uganda, comes Banyarwanda identity politics and its bearing on Ugandan leaders from Milton Obote to Museveni.
It is an open secret that what informed Milton Obote's xenophobic desire to expel Banyarwanda to Rwanda, was their numbers and the fact that, approximately 85% of them were catholic, something that gave Paul Ssemwogerere a numerical boost come the 1980 elections which the latter decisively won.
The results were however rigged in favour of Obote.
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Nonetheless, when Museveni declared a guerrilla war to fight Obote, Banyarwanda identity political interests and the looming threat of expulsion to Rwanda by Obote, compelled them to join Museveni's bush war where they formed the bedrock of Museveni's NRA fighters.
This formed a comradeship and an alliance between Museveni and the Banyarwanda fighters that trickled down to the Banyarwanda communities everywhere in Uganda, and this was visible each time Museveni and the NRM went for elections.
Banyarwanda were very loyal to Museveni throughout the years. They always voluntarily mobilized and voted for him (as a block) in their large numbers, and clearly, from voting for Ssemwogerere in 1980 to voting for Museveni throughout the years up to 2016, every Presidential candidate that Banyarwanda endorse, wins.
In the recent past however, the erstwhile excellent Museveni-Banyarwanda alliance developed cracks and fault lines. All of a sudden, there was a change of attitude towards Banyarwanda in Uganda. For instance, Banyarwanda were getting sidelined and marginalized when it came to appointments in government and promotions, while others were turned away during military recruitment.
In all opportunities and employment, Banyarwanda were getting side-stepped in preference for Banyankore.
Ironically, the rest of the population thought Banyarwanda had "fallen into things" (bebali mu kintu) yet in reality, they were just hustling and nowhere near the privileged class but were nonetheless shouldering the blame and burden for whatever goes wrong in Museveni's government; from corruption, brutality, excessive taxation, overstay in power etc., it is not the favored Banyankore that were getting demonized, rather the Banyarwanda.
Matters got to ahead and things fell apart when Nira and the immigration department started openly denying Banyarwanda national ID's and passports, thus rendering them "illegals" in Uganda.
That was the deal breaker, because in Uganda today, to deny someone a national ID, is to economically cripple and disempower such a person.
As a result, the Museveni-Banyarwanda alliance caved in under the weight of the pain and anguish of the resilient, long suffering Banyarwanda who could not take it anymore.
Since the Banyarwanda are the biggest tribe (a fact recently acknowledged by Museveni when he said that majority of the people who call themselves Baganda are actually Banyarwanda) Banyarwanda expressed their dissent in parts of Lwengo, Greater Masaka, Luweero, Wakiso, Mpigi, Mityana etc., by electing their fellow Banyarwanda as mayors, MP's, councilors ie Joseph Sewungu, John Katabazi etc.,
But when it came to President, they cast a protest vote against M7 by voting Robert Kyagulanyi, not because they felt he was the best for the highest office in the land, it was a statement that they had felt let down by Museveni.
Museveni needs to work on repairing his alliance with Banyarwanda by mending fences with them ahead of the next election to avoid another upset, because we seem to be headed to the Kenya-style politics of block votes.
Henceforth, because Banyarwanda are the biggest tribe and most dominant tribe in Uganda, any serious political contender for the top office must ally with them to succeed.