When Samuel Mwesigye woke up early morning Friday, September 6, it looked just another normal day.
Little did the 35-year old know that he would not spend the day in the area he had called home all his life.
Yet the father of two would lose everything he had toiled for over a period spanning 20 years, in just a space of 24 hours.
It was so simple. He was told he’s Tanzanian-ness was questionable, and was therefore an ‘illegal’ immigrant’. The sentence? He lost all his 200 heads of cattle, his house, bank account with a balance of Tsh5 million (Rwf2 million deposit), and the country he and his parents had called their homeland for a generation.
While recounting the story in an interview with The New Times, Mwesigye, who’s among more than 7,000 people evicted from Tanzania on the account that they were illegal Rwandan migrants, clearly did not believe what he had gone through, wishing it was a bad dream he would wake up from.
“I woke up early as I normally did and rode my bicycle to the kraal a few kilometres away to collect milk for my family,” he recalled.
But it was a fateful morning.
“I received a call from a friend telling me that soldiers had taken my wife and children; I immediately knew what was going on, I knew they were going to be thrown out of the country and sent to Rwanda on false suspicions,” he said.
“So I rushed home only to find the house deserted. I just picked the important documents in the house, including our birth certificates, to prove we are Tanzanians.”
When he finally arrived at the place where his wife, France Karuhanga, and their two light skinned, healthy looking children aged 5 and 8, were briefly detained, Mwesigye presented the documents in his possession to prove they were not illegal immigrants.
But the officials there instead confiscated the documents, he said.
“To my surprise, they confiscated the documents, made me sit down on the floor and started whipping me insisting that we were illegal immigrants.”
Mwesigye, who was born in Tanzania, acknowledges his Rwandan roots but says his father and grandfather became naturalised citizens under Julius Nyerere’s regime.
“What I don’t understand is how my father and my grandfather are recognised as Tanzanians and I and my children are not. Still, if the authorities have decided to throw us out, why don’t they treat us as human beings and give us a chance to sell or leave with our property, including cows?
On Sunday morning, Mwisigye arrived at the Rusumo Border Post on a Tanzanian Police lorry, along with 28 other evictees. They were guarded by six policemen and in company of two Tanzanian immigration officers.
Yet Mwesigye was lucky. Many other evictees were less fortunate.
Jean Claude Tuyambaze, a herdsman, was not only expelled from Tanzania, but was also stabbed with a machete on his way to Rwanda.
“When rumours started spreading that we would be forced to return to Rwanda, I sold my eight bulls at Tsh2.8 million (about Rwf1.1 million) and decided to return to Rwanda.
“But on my way back home to pack my belongings and leave Tanzania at once, I met a vigilante group armed with machetes and sticks. They stopped me asked me if was Rwandan and before I could answer, they started beating me up, and stabbed me several times,” said the visibly wounded Tuyambaze.
He sustained injuries on his forehead, on the arm and in the back. And all the money was taken.
Another victim, Stephan Rushesha, owned 400 heads of cattle and a house. He narrated how Tanzanian soldiers burnt down his house and forced him out the country without anything.
“They came looking for my father who lived next door but he was away so they turned to us and ordered us to burn our houses, which we thought was a joke until they started beating us up,” recalled Rushesha.
“They tortured my brother in my presence and forced him to set our three houses ablaze. To save his life he set the houses on fire, and the soldiers immediately put us onto a truck and ferried us to the border.”
When The New Times visited the Rusumo border on Sunday, three men crossed with 84 cows.
One of them, John Nabagenza, said he did not know where he was going to put his cows since it was his first time in Rwanda.
Of confiscated property
“I don’t even have relatives here, I don’t own land in this country; I practically don’t know my fate and that of my cows,” he said.
He pointed out that he decided to return with his cows after he learnt that the Tanzanian authorities were rounding up people and forcing them to leave.
According to officials from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees Affairs, people evicted from Tanzania are temporarily put in Kigera and Gihura transit facilities in Kihere District and later relocated to Rukara Camp in Kayonza District.
“Since Saturday, most of the arrivals are being brought by the Tanzanian police. Since this practice started last month, hundreds have registered complaints with us about their abandoned and confiscated property,” said Gonzague Karagire, who heads the transit camps.
At least 2,000 heads of cattle have crossed into Rwanda from Tanzania since the evictions started.
Most of the evictees are from the Kagera Region in the north-western swathes of East Africa’s largest nation.