Ulyankulu, Western Tanzania (PANA) – There are some signs of nervousness as members of the Nkindo pastoral community gather under a mango tree to weigh whether or not to break up and relocate in various directions, finally losing their four decades of closeness.
These are newly-naturalized Tanzanian citizens and the majority is first generation descendants of former Barundi refugees, who the government of Tanzania’s founding President Julius Kambarage Nyerere allotted a swath of scrubland to resettle in the western Tabora Region in 1972.
Renowned for his sympathy to asylum seekers during Africa’s turbulent years as the continent’s new nations emerged, Nyerere publicly stated his aversion to the term ‘refugee’ because it was ‘disgusting’.
Nyerere referred to people in such a status as “resident guests” and, before stepping down in 1985, he had offered citizenship to hundreds of former Banyarwanda refugees who had settled in the northwestern Kagera Region. Their fellow Tanzanians welcomed them without hustle and they have since become part of the same seamless society.
Following in Nyerere’s footsteps, the current administration has granted citizenship to 162,256 “resident guests” from Burundi. But this time the government is taking the exercise to excess. It is determined to undertake a countrywide operation to integrate some 35,000 families of these new citizens in 16 regions on Tanzania Mainland.
It’s the pending integration programme that gives the new citizens sleepless nights. The operation should have been in full swing by now, but its slow start, as some observers reckon, is attributable to many factors some of which are simply administrative and availability of essential services in designated communities of destination.
For every new citizen to get on the move, regardless of their age, the government will dish out Sh.150,000 which will total 24.3 billion shillings (approximately US$ 16.2 million) altogether.
The operation is bound to prove exhausting as every family will try to take every possession with them to start a new life in places they conjure up as a biblical Promised Land.
“I grew up in this place and I have no geographical idea of other areas of Tanzania,” said pastoralist Hamisi Jonas Kaburungu, who fled from Burundi at the age of nine with his parents in 1972.
At just 48, Kaburungu carries a heavy charge on his shoulders as head of a family of two wives and 12 children in addition to heading the village of pastoralists. In his pen, he keeps a herd of 111 cattle, 70 chickens and some goats.
By average standard in Tanzania, Kaburungu is among the well-off farmers. This explains his anxiety about moving the farm animals to an unfamiliar and, probably, far-off region.
“We appreciate the government pledge of assistance during our relocation. But, a new citizen who is shifting residence to a new place requires more material and financial capacity to maintain a sense of confidence,” he said.
“Most of us here are small farmers and we were literally ordered by authorities to select on paper a region for permanent residence after opting for Tanzanian citizenship. They should have allowed us a chance to see those areas before going to settle there. Otherwise I don’t foresee a rosy period on the horizon,” he added.
Though there is no open resentment about the government decision, the newly naturalized citizens in three settlements -- Ulyankulu (Tabora Region), Katumba and Mishamo (Rukwa Region) -- have little reason to be excited about pulling down their hamlets.
Naturally, no one would like to abandon a place he has called home for 40 years. Some residents of Ulyankulu settlement, comprising a dozen villages, see their pending relocation as a recollection of the dark times of violence in Burundi when they took refuge to Tanzania.
“At that time we arrived here bruised, but this country and the UN Refugee Agency were benevolent to us. If we leave this settlement tomorrow, again we’ll have to start life from the scratch. And weariness will catch up with us soon before we are happily settled,” said Elimasi Ntunduye, 63, who recently turned blind due to some illness and has a family of seven children.
“News about demolition of our settlement came as a surprise to me in 2007. The government can decide to do anything at any time. There is nothing we can change … but we are grateful for getting Tanzanian citizenship,” he explained.
For Kajura Revelian, a graduate of the University of Dar es Salaam now teaching at Ulyankulu Secondary School, he sees relocation of the new citizens as a destabilization.
Though born to refugee parents within the settlement, he said that he never bothered to select a region for permanent residence.
Relocation of family heads makes little or no difference to their youngsters who are pursuing their education at different levels. Students at Katumba Secondary School in Mpanda District say they are serious with studies and aim high in different professions.
Of the school’s 650 students, half are indigenous Tanzanians.
“There is no feeling of ethnic division among us. Our parents came to Tanzania as refugees. We were born here and know no other country. We cooperate as members of the same community because we want excellence in every subject we learn,” said Richard Zacharia, who is in Form IV.
“Segregation has no place at school,” added classmate Maua Philemon. “We are all concerned about our studies so that one day everybody can respond to the challenges and opportunities presented in this world.”
It is obvious that with improved transportation, aided by other forms of instant communication such as the Internet and cell phones, Tanzania is becoming a small unit in the global village. The new citizens are also hooked to various networks and should therefore not feel lonesome even in far-flung areas of the country.
As they assume the new identity of Tanzania, they should soon find comfort wherever they relocate and join their new compatriots to strengthen the social fabric of this nation.
Tanzania’s naturalization policy is based on the principle of equality of all human beings.
They are new citizens from a neighbouring country but their journey to naturalization and integration in Tanzania requires no experimental learning of the country’s culture, values and lifestyle.
Since all are accustomed to the local environment, their current apprehension should soon give way to elation when they start carrying out their citizenship duties.
According to an official close to the management of the refugee settlements, religious affiliation could have some influence in keeping the new citizens worried.
All the three settlements have a common characteristic -- dotted with makeshift worship buildings -- many of which are marked as Pentecostal churches. Ulyankulu alone, with a population of 54,000 and not all of them Christians, has over 30 small churches.
“Pastors heading some of these churches worry about their livelihood once the settlements are demolished. They will have to move to areas where it may not be possible to practise the ministry and therefore miss tithes for their support. For that reason, they favour the existing condition,” the official explained.
The history of ethnic violence in countries adjacent to Tanzania needs no retelling. For that reason, at least, this country cannot afford to keep its newly naturalized citizens as “strangers”.
They may remain as farmers, traders or pastoralists as they wish, but without allowing social differences between them and the indigenous citizens. Failure to integrate would have a devastating impact on the economic and political character of this nation that prides in its stability since independence half a century ago.
-0- PANA AR 31May2011
By Anaclet Rwegayura,