Wednesday, June 26, 2013

So, Anna... why are you still in Africa?

"Hello, my name is Anna, I am a researcher with the University of Virginia. I am hoping to schedule an interview with you on the cessation of Rwandese refugees -" *click*

So, this blog is to answer the question of what exactly I am doing still in Africa, a question I wonder myself sometimes! But the answer lies with several thousand Rwandan refugees living in a refugee settlement in southern Uganda. As of June 30th these people will be required to 'voluntarily repatriate' to Rwanda. I learned about this on my last trip to Uganda, and decided that learning more about semi-legal forced relocation would be one of the best possible uses of my summer.

Why this fascinates me so much is quite complicated. First of all, you need to know a bit about the Rwandan government. While it is officially a free and fair democracy, the reality of it is that opposition to the current regime is heavily controlled, and ethnic discrimination continues but invisibly and silently. We hear rumors of political disappearances, jail sentences that people never return from. Disagreeing with the government is now called 'devisionism' or 'genocide ideology', pushable by a sizable jail sentence. So this is part of the reason there are still so many people fleeing Rwanda. Rwanda wants these people back for a number of reasons: one, for reputation (being the 'development miracle' and still having people run from you doesn't look too good) another for control (the current regime is actually made up of former refugees who organized and invaded Rwanda from Uganda). This is made even more complicated by the refugees who are former perpetrators of genocide, and claiming political prosecution to avoid justice. The layers of lies and complications go on and on.

Now this has all culminated in a cessation clause, a technicality in refugee law which allows a host country to revoke refugee status when they (the host country) determines the reasons for fleeing have ceased. The refugees can't legally stay, but they can't be legally forced to return, and Uganda has set up no system for appeals. Many of the people effected by cessation will have lived in Uganda for decades, some where born here. To say that sending them back to Rwanda is sending them 'home' is a misnomer of huge proportions.

So this is why I have spent the past week running around the crazy city of Kampala doing research, which primarily involves sitting on the side of the road making phone calls and trying to get people to let me interview them. I have talked to the UNHCR secretary so many times I feel like I should meet his wife and kids by now. I am a bit stuck in Kampala, waiting for permission to enter the settlement to go through, but Kampala is not a bad place to wait. I am staying at a hostel full of interesting people, mostly also doing research, and I spent the weekend at an Island in lake Victoria with a lovely American woman I met there.

So, research in Africa: always interesting, never what I expect, and always an adventure!

1 comment:

  1. If you are really getting hung up on when you directly state your purpose, I would recommend a *slightly* softer approach. If your interviewee believes they will come off in a good light, you will be more likely to get in the door. Getting in the door and asking some "soft ball" questions lets you establish a bit of a relationship, which makes tougher questions more likely to get answered. Which is not to say you should *hide* your actual purpose, just approach it more broadly/generally and from a less controversial starting point!