Tanzania has said the recent expulsion of Rwandans and Ugandans from the vast East African nation was not an act of undermining the integration spirit of the East African Community (EAC).
The partner-state of the five-nation community says the eviction was protecting its sovereignty.
“None of the East African countries has completely opened up its borders. Each still maintains its sovereignty. We have immigration issues, customs procedures and police roadblocks; if they are not observed, it can breed insecurity,” said the country’s minister of East African Cooperation, Dr Ibrahim Msabaha.
He also denied that some of those expelled possessed Tanzanian citizenship.
“That one (acquiring Tanzanian nationality) I am not aware,” Msabaha told a news conference in Kampala recently.
In the recent years, particularly in 2006, Tanzania expelled Ugandan and Rwandan pastoralists saying they were illegal immigrants. However, a number of them had allegedly acquired Tanzanian citizenship.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in their annual survey recently identified six expelled Rwandan herdsmen who through the verification exercise at the Uganda-Tanzania border were found to be legal Tanzanian citizens.
Catherine Mutumwinka, Faustin Mugisha, Claver Sengango, Alphonse Kabangema, Fredrick Ntaganira and Domitilla Ndazivunye had acquired Tanzanian nationality by naturalization in 1981. Others were found to have been possessing valid work permits at the time of the expulsion.
During the eviction, some of the evictees lost their lives as well as property while some women were also sexually abused. However, the Tanzanian minister said his government’s decision to evict foreigners would not affect the EAC integration progression.
“Laws should be observed, but it does not mean we do not support the federation. In general, our policy is not to chase away people,” Dr Msabaha said. EAC ministers have been on a regional tour to familiarise themselves with the geography and socio-economic and political psyche of the member states.
Meanwhile, the EAC member states have been advised to establish a mechanism for dealing with the problem of pastoralism that cuts across the region. “These evictees might be contested nationally but they are East Africans and a regional mechanism could be helpful,” Ugandan rights activists appealed.