Yvonne carries her restless daughter her kitchen on a Monday morning in Kasubi village, Kitabona Sub county Kyankwanzi district. Majority of the people in this locality have their roots in Rwanda. (Photo by Sam Waswa)
It’s been raining all night in Kasubi village in Kitabona sub country and perhaps the entirety of Kyankwanzi district.
The road, or let’s call it the pathway which links this village to the closest civilization (Kiboga town) is not usable at this point. Not even for the newest and strongest bodaboda motorcycle.
Yvonne’s feet are very clean because she just got out of bed; yet her scruffily thatched kitchen is just as wet as the road to Kiboga.
But thank goodness, the skies have finally cleared up. The bright sun just started to warm up things and her youngest daughter accepted to be quiet for a while, so she must hurry.
She grabs a rectangular piece of broken iron sheet which has many holes in it. She will be using its rough surface to grate her already peeled large pieces of cassava.
Meanwhile on the door to her rented single room house, Yvonne’s sister Esther, a light skinned, slender and possibly in her early 20s, emerges. She’s been here for a few weeks. She tilts a little to the left and stretches and then yawns, before rushing to join her sister to prepare the food.
If you are wondering, this finely grated cassava will be rolled into small sausage like pieces and deep fried in cooking oil.
The family will eat this and sell some to the neighbors. It tastes like banana, they say.
Standing a few meters on the side, I can see that Yvonne and Esther notice my distracting presence. I amble closer and mutter in a low tone, “Muraaho?”
They respond, “Turaaho,” and burst into hearty laughter. They ask in broken Luganda, if I understand their language.
“Ndarunva,” I tell them I can hear it. They continue chuckling.
“Why are you laughing at me?” I ask fussily, this time in Luganda.
“Well you said it wrong,” they respond, correcting me on the pronunciation.
“We are not laughing at you; we just cannot believe you can speak our language.
That they cannot believe I would be interested in their dialect is actually correct, I am informed later on.
Although Rwandese in this locality make up by estimation more than 70% of the population, they are treated or believe themselves that they are treated as inferiors by the indigenous people.
“They say that we don’t like them; that we cannot even marry them because they are backward and weird,” says Allen Kyarimpa a local nurse who hails from Rukungiri district.
28 year old Kyarimpa runs the only clinic in Kasubi village and she is a very busy woman during the day and during the night.
At the time we sit down to talk, it is approaching 6:30pm. The orange sun, shooting sharp rays through the pine trees in front of us will soon be plunging into the interlocking hills.
The nurse tells me that most of the Rwandese; many of who have lived here for decades do not interact much with Ugandans. They make sure to marry amongst themselves and support each other as brothers and sisters.
But because they are highly polygamous, she says, they are almost always faced with a shortage of women to marry. That’s why many of the wives here are imported, she says.
“They send for them back home. When someone is going back to Rwanda, a friend may give him transport and tell them, ‘bring me a wife when you are coming back!'”
Remember light skinned Esther, Yvonne sister? She is the latest arrival from northern Rwanda. Her husband-to-be is still on a business trip in Hoima. Once he returns, they will be moving in together. His house is just about two kilometers westward toward Kateranduru trading center. The two have never met!
Nurse Kyarimpa has been practicing for about four years since she finished school. She tells me she has never seen or heard of a community that is so sexually active.
Men in this locality, she says, enter marriage relations at a very young age. When a man clocks 20 years and he is not yet married he becomes the talk of the village.
As we converse in her clinic, different young men keep stopping by, most of them not to buy medicine but to suggestively say hello to her. Her gleeful response often in Runyankole, to them seems very gratifying.
After each one leaves, she turns and tells me, “That one just got married. That one is set to bring in the third wife…”
She also narrates up to three recent cases of defilement, and also shows me a teenage girl who was defiled by her own father.
The young girl dressed in a long black dress keeps walking up and down the path way, occasionally speaking to herself. The nurse says she seems to have lost her mind since she was abused about a year ago.
In spite of this extensive exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, Kyankwanzi district remains rather surprisingly one of the least affected in the country by HIV/AIDS.
At 3.5%, the district falls way below the county’s HIV prevalence rate of 7.3%.
The recent annual statistical abstract report says the early marriages and polygamy’s most devastating impacts have been snatching the district’s young population out of school.
The area Member of Parliament Joel Sebikaali (Ntwetwe County) recons this place is still lagging behind in the health sector.
Hon Sebikaali, who is also on Parliament’s health committee, tells me that more than 6years in operation, Kyankwanzi still has no district hospital.
“Also most of the sub counties don’t have Health Center IIIs although it is government’s policy that every sub county must have a health center III,” he says.
“For instance a sub county like Nkandwa doesn’t have a single health center. Kitabona and Watuba have health center IIs which are yet to be upgraded to HC III.”
At the mention of Kyankwanzi, the famous National Leadership Institute (NALI) is what comes to mind for most Ugandans.
But as I am later to learn, outside the fences of this great “kitchen” of Ugandan politics, politics plays at its lowest in the immediate neighborhood.
Local administrative units are loosely scattered and basically inactive. At the rented Kitabona sub county offices for instance, I find no senior official to speak to on a Monday afternoon. The new district offices which are a few miles north are also largely understaffed with dozens of positions still unoccupied.
Heading east about 2miles at Kateranduru trading cancer I finally find Mr Kabuye, the LC1 chairman for Kasubi village, a man I have been chasing since morning.
Locals have told me much about him and I want to hear it from himself.
Some of residents say he runs the village “like he is the President.” Others say because of the minimal presence of the police in the area, he polices the village himself and remunerates himself for it.
He charges to the upwards of 20000shillings for his signature on a recommendation letter, one of the village women tells me.
He also charges money for arbitration of local misunderstandings and crimes. After determining their case, both the accused person and the victim must pay him something.
Another resident tells me that during the recent registration for the national ID program, the chairman was charging up to 100,000 shillings especially from new immigrants from Rwanda.
At the time we catch up, Mr Kabuye doesn’t have plenty to share about some of these accusations.
Taking a short break from Ludo, a famous board game there, with Alcohol on his breath, he tells me he has done his best for the years he has been in leadership; denying all the peoples accusations.
Intrigued by the national IDs part, I put this question to the area Mp Sebikaali who is quick to deny, stressing that only Ugandans and people born in Uganda were issued national IDs.
He elucidates that Ntweetwe constituency and Kyankwanzi as a whole is a melting-pot for people of different backgrounds.
“We have people here from West Nile, Busoga; we have Ankole cattle keepers and also Rwandese and people from Burundi and DRC. There are also Bafumbira who you can easily confuse for Rwandans,” he says.
On how many Rwandans by estimation are resident in his constituency, the MP says he doesn’t know. But it is less than 70%, he believes.
“Are you a Muganda?” He asks me when I keep pushing. “Are you worried that these foreigners will take away your Buganda land?”
It’s a good joke that opens up our conversation to numerous other topics about the naturally beatified district in central Uganda.
The question of land though, is a tricky one in Kyankwanzi district. Some residents claim that more than half of the land in the district is owned by one senior government official.
The residents claim that once in a while this official comes and relocates them to other parts of the country, planting pine trees in their place.
My efforts to get to the bottom of this don’t bear much fruit because of time, but I promise myself to investigate it further in the future.