A group of 1,240 individuals, who were expelled from Tanzania’s Kagera region, has filed a petition with the East African Court of Justice. They are seeking a declaration that the actions of both the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments violated the treaty for the establishment of the East African Community. The petitioners, represented by lawyers led by former Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, are also requesting compensation, damages, or restitution from the government of Tanzania. Additionally, they are asking for an immediate order compelling Uganda to protect or recompense them for their losses.
The expulsions took place following a two-week ultimatum issued by the then-President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, on July 29, 2013. Thousands of individuals in the Kagera region were affected, characterized by Kikwete as undocumented and irregular migrants. They were urged to return to their respective countries of origin, with accusations of disregarding Tanzania’s entry and naturalization regulations.
Under the initiative known as ‘Operation Kimbunga,’ Tanzanian authorities, including the Police Force, the Department of Immigration, the Intelligence Unit, the Tanzania People’s Defense Forces, and local youths, conducted arrests and transported these individuals to transit centers near the border with Uganda.
The Tanzanian government advised Uganda against repatriating them, and initially, both countries disagreed on how and where to resettle the deportees. Uganda even made a formal appeal to the United Nations on the matter.
Yofesi Jafferson Karugaba, the leader of the affected persons and lead petitioner, stated that they had lived in different districts of the Kagera Region for years but were systematically expelled from Tanzania. They now find themselves in a state of confusion, as neither country recognizes them as citizens.
According to the petition, the expelled individuals were citizens of Tanzania by birth, descent, or naturalization. Some had lived in Tanzania for approximately forty years, while others were intermarried with Tanzanians and derived sustenance from the Tanzanian soil.
The petition further highlights that among those expelled were cattle keepers, mainly from Uganda, who had valid licenses and permits from Tanzanian authorities. However, the expulsion affected all, including minors, pregnant women, the elderly, and the disabled, who were given only two weeks to leave the country.
Following the order, Tanzanian authorities seized and forced them out of the country, resulting in the destruction of their homes and the loss of lives. Families were separated during this process.
The lawyers representing the group assert that both the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments have failed to address the matter despite designing mechanisms to do so. The government of Uganda is specifically accused of neglecting its constitutional duty to protect the human rights of entitlement to life and property ownership.
The lead petitioner, Karugaba, emphasizes that those expelled included vulnerable individuals such as the elderly, pregnant women, and the disabled, who were arbitrarily expelled and forced outside the borders of Tanzania. Currently, they reside in concentration camps in Isingiro district, Kyaka I and II in the Kyegegwa facility, and other locations across the East African region.
Due to their lack of citizenship, they live in poverty, unable to access basic necessities, and feel abandoned by both Uganda and Tanzania. They are now seeking a declaration that both governments neglected to implement the orders of their respective heads of state, compelling them to constitute Joint Verification Committees to address the rights and compensation of the expelled individuals.
The governments of Uganda and Tanzania are expected to file their defense before the matter can proceed to a hearing in the Arusha-based East African Court.