Refugees: Are Rwandans cursed to always have one foot out the door?

When shall this ever end?

When shall this ever end? Rwandans fleeing into DR Congo in 1994

Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper reported  that last week that a group of disgruntled Rwandans had arrived at the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the Kololo suburb seeking protection. The 16-strong group made up of fourteen men and two women were directed to the Old Kampala Police Station to start processing their asylum papers.

According to the Daily Monitor, they were forced to seek asylum when they started getting harassed by officials from the Rwanda Examination Board (REB). When The New Times visited them on Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office, where the reporter found them processing refugee application documents.  “I got 66 points out of 70, but the following day my results had been erased from REB web site,” the group’s leader, who refused to divulge his name, claimed. “There are students who skipped classes which is understandable but our case is different and should be investigated properly.”

The 16 students in Kampala are among the 574 private candidates whose senior six results were cancelled by REB because of alleged examination malpractices.

To say that the government did not see the funny side to this hilarity would be an understatement. The statements made by the students were “utter falsehoods”, said Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Frank Mugambage. 
“Their results were withheld due to exam malpractices and they never followed the established procedures while registering for exams”, he told The New Times.

Now I will not pretend to know whether or not the students actually cheated or not (that will be for the REB and other relevant authorities to figure out). What I have to question is why their first instinct was to flee the country instead of figuring out their problem. The penchant to flee the country and beg for asylum in another country is something that I’ve never seen in another people.

It was in Uganda, where I lived for a few years, that I learnt the term ‘Nkuba Kyeyo’ (a colloquial Ugandan term for economic migrants).

Nkuba Kyeyo: Picking strawberries in Spain. Menial but proud

Nkuba Kyeyo: Picking strawberries in Spain. Menial but proud

Nkuba kyeyo’s were people, usually young men, who did all they could to get visas (usually tourist or student visas) to foreign countries. When they finally arrived in the US, Canada, Japan or the UK they would then melt into the immigrant community and get menial jobs, becoming illegal aliens and risking deportation and abuse. However, if they stayed out of trouble they’d make enough money to go back home with enough money to buy land, build a house, start a business and marry a wife. They were men (and women) with a mission. They did not expect to be coddled by a nanny state; they wanted to work hard and reap the rewards of their toil. And after that, they’d go home. They were migrant workers, not refugees. While illegal, it was something that they could be proud of. Not so refugees.

Rwandans have had long history with the concept of ‘asylum’ and ‘refugee status’. From 1959 all the way to 1994, millions of Rwandans fled the country, escaping the clutches of death. Since then, millions have returned into the country (I am among that number). Rwandans are now working hard, trying to build a country that they deserve. It’s not a perfect nation-not by a long shot. However, it is not the hellhole it used to be. Which brings me to the issue of people leaving the country.

I’m honestly sick and tired of people leaving on their own volition, flying out of Kigali International Airport on Rwandair, and then turning around and saying that they “fled for their lives”. Disgruntled politicians, civil servants and now students have been doing this for years.  Enough is enough. If you want to leave, go. But don’t pretend that it is about ‘persecution’. It’s about the ‘pursuit of happiness’. You want to live a ‘better life’ full of washing machines, 24-hour malls and sleek highways. And that’s okay.

Personally, I remember how humiliating it was to be addressed as ‘refugee’ and I would never trade my citizenship for anything in the world. You would

Nakivale Refugee Camp, Uganda. I used to live here and I won't ever go back

Nakivale Refugee Camp, Uganda. I used to live here and I won’t ever go back

have to pry my citizenship from my cold, dead hands. Under no circumstances would I leave this country unless it was my choice. Would l fly out if I felt that I had better opportunities abroad? Absolutely. Would I seek refugee status? No. I would be too proud.

To the students I say, return and solve the issue. To the other Rwandans around the world, despite their political and ideological leanings, come home and be a part of a better Rwanda. Together we can build this into a country that we’ll be proud to leave our children. For too long being Rwandan was synonymous with being a refugee. Enough already.



13 thoughts on “Refugees: Are Rwandans cursed to always have one foot out the door?

  1. Rwamujuga Batwale says:


    nausaza atihemukiye,and they go saying Kagame is a Killer(refer the son of Kayumba video in different blogs),there is one saying in swahili that “Mnyonge mnyongeni lakini haki yake mpeni”meaning if I would Translate..kill the poor but award him his Justice…fabricators

    after all they are running going where they were born let them enjoy refugee status

  2. Wobble says:

    Thanks for your post. I have no way of knowing whether the young people have a genuine complaint or not but if you dispute that your S6 results should be cancelled for cheating, how would you in fact pursue that complaint in Rwanda?
    Even if they do have a case on that it would not make them 1951 UN Convention refugees of course.
    Elsewhere online it is suggested that they are fleeing forced recruitment into M23. Possible I suppose that M23 might try to recruit within Rwanda but maybe not amongst good S6 graduates?

    • Wobble,
      The only paper that mentioned the M23 link was the Red Pepper, the Ugandan tabloid I think. I would take their reports with a pinch of salt. The New Times and the Daily Monitor talked to the students. And yes, you can pursue your academic complaints here in Rwanda.

      • Wobble says:

        Yes but how do you pursue your complaint? Can you do it yourself effectively? Do you need a lawyer? If so can you get one?
        While no doubt jobs are not easy to come by in Rwanda going to Uganda seems like quite a big step in the circumstances, insofar as we know them.

      • I would imagine that there would be a manner in which they could ask to see their exams. Either by petitioning the education ministry or REB. People dont see Uganda as their final destination. They usually end up in Europe

  3. Wobble says:

    if Uganda is a big step Europe is a bigger one. There will be a big cost just to get there. Then getting papers so you can work is difficult and getting more so. There is an “undocumented economy” but everyone involved risks criminal sanctions and the wages and conditions will be poor. Some spend years existing “below the radar” before giving up and braving the humiliation on their return. Family in Africa assume the streets in Europe are paved with gold but this is not the case. While the Rwandan economy is growing Europe’s is flat lining. And the weather can be grim.
    It would be interesting to know the reality of trying to challenge a decision of the REB/MINEDUC in Rwanda (e.g. from someone who has done it). Might you get a few “CBTs” while trying to pursue this, need a lot of kwihangana and stoicism?

  4. Lilly says:

    REB harrasing students? for what?
    Marks being erase? for what? did they cheat?
    Is Uganda now in the business of recruiting Rwandan S6 exam cheaters and granting them asylum?
    How about some agaciro, requesting to re write the exam, do better? Failure is not a final destination unless one decides to make it one.
    As for the M23 recruitment, let me stop typing.

  5. Wobble says:

    You cite the Monitor above but their report here
    says that the students say they tried to pursue their complaint in Rwanda

    “Some of the affected students took the matter to the Ministry of Education in Rwanda, Transparency Rwanda, the prime minister’s office and finally the president’s office, all in vain.”

    “At the President’s Office, they were promised feedback in three or four days of filing their complaint. When they went back on April 18, they say 48 of them were arrested and detained by the police for “illegal gathering”. The next morning, they picked 20 of them to take up the matter with the ombudsman, who promised to resolve the matter.”

    Any thoughts?

    • I dont want to call them liars because that would be harsh. However, I must wonder..why would they be arrested by the police for going to the Presidents Office when they had an appointment? That sounds weird. Doesnt sound like an ‘illegal gathering’. Its not as if they were demonstrating. So, 48 were arrested, 20 were taken to the Ombudsman’s office…I dont understand those figures. Where the 20 among those who got ‘arrested’ or were they part of a different group? If the former, why were only 20 released? Are the rest still in jail? Im so confused. Honestly, I dont believe a word they say.

      • Wobble says:

        Thanks. Whether or not 48 were arrested ought to be a matter of public record and easy to establish and the entrance to the President’s office is a visible spot where I think U-turns and such like are prohibited. Is TNT covering this story?
        Otherwise maybe they should have taken the chance to pursue via the Ombudsman? In fact, maybe it is being considered by him now?
        Finally, if there were irregularities on the part of the students, then this might be a chance to highlight the need to follow the rules.

  6. Rwamujuga Batwale says:

    I don’t see any one of you arguing about all students in the country,why erasing the results of only 48 students?these young students are failures not only in their examinations but also in their decision judgmental

  7. Carol Rugege says:

    I’d like to comment on two points. (1) While one of the most notable exoduses by older generations of Rwandans took place in 1959, it is an important part of our history to document and recognize that our people were being chased from their homeland long before that. Case in point, my father was born in Uganda in 1940, almost 2 whole decades prior to the famous exodus. (2) Having worked for the government in a capacity related to education and later working for an educational institution in the country, I can assure anyone who has concerns about the student’s having a viable complaint that they have definitely pursued a course of action that will neither resolve their dilemma nor provide a platform for other students facing similar problems in the future to use an effective example. Even if they were granted asylum, which credible/accredited Ugandan university would accept students who ran from their country and cannot produce exam results because they were suspected and accused of malpractice or cheating? How exactly would the government (REB) benefit from singling out a small group of 48 students? I don’t believe there is smoke without a fire! While the investigation process may be lengthy, these students must demonstrate some academic integrity and pursue all avenues to clear their names if they truly believed they have been wrongly accused. Let them be honest with themselves and everyone else about their true intentions for seeking asylum! It seems to have nothing to do with their academic pursuits.

  8. Rwiza Ben says:

    Dear Sunny. Thanks for your insight about refugees life for Rwandans since quite a long time. You have tried to show the readers that those are flying should be carry their cross because Rwanda now is a peaceful country where everybody can enjoy freedom and liberty. I really admire your honesty when you say that you passed part of life in exile in Uganda as a refugee. Probably you were born there which gives credits to make comments on refugee’s life. It is very sad for someone like to have a judgmental comment in your article because as someone who did law you are well placed to promote the rule of law. Here I am not talking about these 6 high school students but I am interested in these other Rwandans who have fled their country and became refugees in foreign lands in Africa,Europe, America,etc. I am sure that you know well what is prosecution and as a man of law you may give more lights about it. If you are living in Rwanda, you will agree with me that there are injustices, the weak have no one to voice for them, lack of political space, a small group of Rwandans( in power) control 90% of the Rwandan economy and most of them are politician not businessmen, see how salaries or wages are distributed among civil servant, and no one is allowed to make any comment. If you dare the next step will be 1930 maximum prison. Or you will be asked if you have contributed in RPF effort to seize power in Kigali. I don’t have enough time to continue about our country but they are much irregularities that demands to be in Rwanda to understand the situation. The problem we have know which may destroy our society in short future in the “CULTURE OF LYING” OR TO FORGE THE TRUTH. Rwanda is now stands on lies so that every rwandan has incorporated this new way in his/her daily life. They call it “Gutekinika” Hope my learned friend will talk about it next time. Before I conclude my short comment, I would ask Sunny to look back and analyse why people are still fleeing the country if really it has become a paradise of Africa.

    Ben Rwiza

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