It is almost three years since the repatriation of close to 16000 Rwandans from Tanzania. The Rwandans who were forced out of Tanzania in January 2006; most of them being pastoralists, who had gone there in search of greener pastures for their cattle.
Rwanda is a small country in which they could not get big farms to rear large herds of cattle the alternative being to occupy the vacant areas of Tanzania. Rwanda and Tanzania share the border in the eastern part of the country.
The Rwandan pastoralists who had lived in Tanzania for many years where asked to leave the country, leaving behind their hard earned wealth and source of survival, their cows which were declared as the property of the government of Tanzania.
Imprisonment and beatings became the order of the day as they (Rwandans) struggled to defend their cows from being taken from them.
Despite their resilient struggle to save their properties they failed as everyone who was repatriated came back empty handed save for their beloved families.
Life was difficult in a foreign land. Though the transition back to their home country has not been so pleasant for the pastoralists, most of them who are yet to be resettled are now living in camps in different districts of the eastern province.
In Rugese camp, there are 103 families while in Ndego and Kageyo camps in the Kageyo sector Kayonza district there are 653 families in both camps with a total of 1882 people while many others are still in the main camp in Nasho Kirehe district.
There is no more milk for the once cattle keepers like they used to have back in Tanzania compounded by deteriorated living conditions as they sleep in tents.
However, to many repatriated Rwandans in the Rugese refugee camp in the Rurenge sector of Ngoma district; they consider this way of life as being better off than the one back in Tanzania .
“We might live in camps and tents, but to me this way of living is better than the one in Tanzania,” says a 34 year-old Alphonse Niwemugabo who was born in Tanzania and has lived there all his life.
Niwemugabo is a married with three children, he adds that they risked their lives in Tanzania.
He says; “Though we live in the forest we are happy because we know we sleep in peace. Even though we sleep in tents or outside we are sure of no disturbances.
It is not as it was in Tanzania where we used to spend sleepless nights wandering up and down protecting our properties and lives.”
Niwemugabo had 58 cows but came back empty handed as they were all taken from him after spending about nine months imprisoned.
“I did not know where my family was,” he explains that when they released him they deported him; only to reunite with his family three months later in the Nasho camp.
“I have come to know that there is no place like home. Whatever you do and wherever you go, home remains the best place, says Judith Mukasine.
“We went to Tanzania 12 years ago with the hope of achieving our dreams but only to lose even the little we had,” she laments.
A 53 year old mother of six Mukasine says her husband and two sons almost lost their lives in Tanzania as they were beaten up and imprisoned for over two years.
“Unknown people found them looking after the cattle and took them with all the cows. We did not know where they were only to see them two years later after their imprisonment.” The desperate looking mother narrates.
She adds that she thought her family members were dead. That was the end of their search for wealth in herds of cattle, she says adding; “Uzi umuntu kugusanga aho nacyo wakoze akagukubita gusa udafite naho uribumurege…!”
Loosely translated to; ‘But do you know some one to find you there and starts beating you up with no reason and having done nothing and you don’t have where to report for a rescue…! I will live and die here where I am at least sure of my safety.”
Another pastoralist, Elias Bakunda says their life has at least improved since the Rwandan government and the Red Cross came to their rescue.
A 42 year-old Bakunda, says he had over 70 cows and came back with only three says they can now cultivate since the Red Cross gave them seeds and the agricultural tools.
“We thought we would live a wealthy life in Tanzania but instead to the contrary. I have now realized that to achieve anything there has to be peace and security first and this is what we now have. Yes, we sleep badly but we can at least work for something little with a peace of mind and no one to disturb you,” Bakunda says.
There is a total of 150 families in the Rugese camp to be resettled before the end of this year. This includes 103 repatriated Rwandans while the others are vulnerable families in the Rurenge sector.
The Belgian government through the International Red Cross, donated €500,000 (approximately Frw400m), which was earmarked for the construction of houses. Each house, estimated at Frw1.5 million will have a toilet, kitchen and a bathroom.
The same amount was earmarked for different developmental activities for returnees and other vulnerable residents. This include; seeds, supply of agricultural tools, stocking goats, agricultural training, food security as well as rehabilitating water sources.
The money will also help in training and educating all the residents of Rurenge sector on health and home hygiene.