Uganda; Seeking Reconciliation In Two Homelands
New Vision (Kampala)
She stormed her country in search of peace. Ten years later, she has
returned to her country of birth on a peace mission. Switching off her
cell-phone, she takes time to relay the tasks ahead.
Her Excellency Christine Umutoni, the new Rwandan Ambassador to
Uganda, is determined to remove any obstacles to reconciliation between two
nations who have been long-time allies. She is at pains to explain that the people
of the two countries have historical ties that cannot just be wished away:
"There is a lot in common between us. Our countries are traditional allies and
We have both gone through human loss, wars, economic problems and
regional insecurity. It is important to enhance matters to come back to normal,"
She is quick to add that whatever went sour between the brotherly
nations while in Kisangani should never be allowed to seep into the governments
and therefore the citizens of the two countries: "What happened in
Kisangani should never get down into the people. There is no reason to fight, as there
is no land dispute or border disagreement. Our people have always enjoyed genuine
friendship," says a smiling Umutoni.
She has a vision that through women, mistrust between the two
formerly strong allies will be wiped away. She sees the interaction of women groups in
the neighbouring states as good building blocks for grander relationships.
"Women groups in the two countries are a good chance for peace
building. As amember of the Rwanda Women Leaders Caucus, I will encourage interaction
betweengroups to exchange experiences on what they have gone through," says
Umutoni, a mother at 38 years.
Umutoni sees a need for her to be a role model to young girls.
Despite a busyschedule, she finds time for her two daughters Amanda (six) and Paula
(three), who live with her in Kampala. The high profile jobs she has held have
not overshadowed Jimmy Hodari, her husband. He is in charge of logistics in
the Rwanda Police in Kigali.
"Our marriage has not disorganised our professions. We met during
the struggle and we have continued to serve the country in our different
capacities," says Umutoni with a chuckle.
Umutoni, a professional lawyer from Makerere University, was a
Ugandan till her mid-teens. It was at school in the 1980's that it dawned on her
that Kireka village near Kampala, where she was born and raised, was not her
ancestral place of origin.
Her father, Leo Rutwaza, who worked with the Ministry of Works, had
built a house on a plot in Kyadondo County between Kireka and Banda. It was not
so big, but was large enough to house the family with a little space to grow
vegetables and a few plantains: "I was born here in Kireka and attended Kireka
Seventh Day Adventist Primary from 1970 to 1976, after which I joined Wanyange
Girls for O'level. I was there at the same time as the Nabagereka of Buganda,"
She knew she was a Ugandan. "It was during Amin's time. Once at
school the question was posed, 'How do Rwandans look like?' I also did not know
how a Munyarwanda looked like. People called us westerners," said a smiling
She shone in debates and was chair of the debating club. She was
also the leader of the Catholic students.
She has fond memories of the debating sessions the club had with
Busoga College Mwiri.
Towards the end of her time at Wanyange, her father sold the home in
Kireka and bought a large piece of land in Masha in Ankole and they settled
there. In those days, students filled citizenship verification forms to be
admitted to HSC. Umutoni had performed well in all the subjects. In her mind she
desired to take human medicine, become a doctor and care for the sick and
suffering of this world.
There was a rude shock in store. When she took her forms for signing
at the local authorities offices in Masha, they shooed her off, saying she did
notqualify. She was not Ugandan.
"They refused to sign my papers for the next three weeks. I wondered
why they wanted a bribe to sign the paper. I asked my father whether we had
another home or country. Where did we come from?" she says.
Her father finally ironed out the matter. She soon joined Kyebambe
Girls School. The three-week delay made her miss the science class, as it was
full. Disappointed, she made do with Literature, Economics, Geography and
"I was the house prefect of Maddox and a member of the economics,
debating and drama clubs. I have never danced so much in my life as I did at
Kyebambe. I particularly enjoyed the traditional dances. I was excellent at the
Acholi dingi dingi dance," said a smiling Umutoni.
In 1983 she joined Makerere University to pursue a law degree
course. It was the most miserable year of her life. It was the year the government of
the day harassed the Rwandans.
"When I went home I found the home abandoned. For the whole of 1983
I did not know the whereabouts of my parents. I almost failed my first year. I
was very unstable. I had no where to go and stayed with the warden during
holidays. Friends advised me to seek help from the UNHCR to find my parents," she
Her parents were finally located in a refugee camp in western
Uganda. Life would never be the same again:"My days at campus instilled in me the
idea that something was seriously wrong.
At the Law Development Centre in 1987, I joined a clandestine
organisation mobilising support for the return to Rwanda," she recalls.
Going to Rwanda became a cardinal occupation, especially after
joining the Rwanda Students Association and the Rwanda Refugees Welfare
She was one of the first cadres to mobilise for fundraising and
support to the cause of the war ahead.
" I speak Luganda, Lusoga, Runyankore, Rutoro and some Lugisu as
well as Kinyarwanda. We moved around the country covering sugar plantations
sensitising people about going back to Rwanda. We moved to Burundi and Tanzania
rallying support for the cause," said Umutoni.
When the war finally broke out in 1990, she was fully active with
the Rwanda Patriotic Front. She was behind the battle lines engaged in
humanitarian work and was in constant touch with several NGOs as well as
journalists: "I was the commissioner in charge of displaced people and orphans in the
liberated areas. After the war I was appointed Director of Cabinet and the
Assistant Minister for rehabilitation and reconstruction," says Umutoni.
The war climaxed with the genocide in 1994, forcing the RPF to storm
Kigali, putting an end to the mayhem and the war: "After the war, I was Deputy
Minister for Rehabilitation and Social Welfare.
There was mass repatriation of thousands of refugees until 1998,
when our ministry ceased to exist and I went for my Masters Degree studies,"
On returning she became a presidential economics advisor before she
was appointed Ambassador to Belgium. She was in charge of The Netherlands,
Luxembourg, The Vatican and the European Union. It is from there that
she was transferred to Uganda. It was like returning home: "I have been meeting
people I knew.
Schoolmates and friends. Now that I have finished presenting my
credentials, I am going to make more contacts. Kampala has changed so much. There
are so manypeople in the city and too many cars," she says, bursting into
Christine Nyinawumwami Umutoni is back home to partake of the
matookeand groundnut stew she loves so much. "I love cooking, especially when I
have visitors. Even while in Europe, I would send for matooke and cook the
traditional foods," she says as we say farewell.
November 5, 2002 Tuesday