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Giving Rwandan refugees a voice

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Umiliki wa sauti kwa wakimbizi wa Rwanda

Kupatikana kwa haki kwa wakimbizi unaanza kwa kupea kipaumbele mambo yanayo wahusu kwenye ajenda ya kitaifa.

Desmond Ogubi yuwajua kwa hakika ugumu wa kulelewa kama mkimbizi  kwenye nchi jirani kutokana na vurugu za kisiasa. Wakati wa utawala wa udikteta wa Idi Amin nchini Uganda, babake alilazimishwa kutorokea nchi jirani ya Kenya. Familia yao ilipofika Kenya, Ogubi alishuhudia  jinsi sauti ya wakimbizi ilikandamizwa  katika nchi ya ugeni, na haki zao kukanyagwa  na kutupiliwa mbali.

Akiwa tu angali mchanga, aliapa kuhakikisha kila mtu ataskika na kuheshimiwa.

Miaka kadhaa baadaye alijipata nchini Rwanda kama maneja wa  mradi  wa  Shirika la Wibena, akiwafunza wakimbizi ushairi na usanii, na pia jinsi ya kutumia umaarufu wao kupata kanuni za kimisingi ya haki zao. Alisafiri katika kambi kadhaa wa kadhaa za wakimbizi kote nchini humo na kuathiriana na wakimbizi kutoka nchi ya Burundi, Jamuhuri ya Demokrasia ya Congo na Uganda.

Kulingana na taarifa kutoka Tume la Wakimbizi ya Umoja wa Mataifa (UNHCR), nchi ya Rwanda ina takribani wakimbizi 164000 katika kambi tafauti tafauti, zikiwemo Gihembe, Kigeme, Kiziba, Mahama na Mugombwe.

Watu wengi waliomo kwenye kambi hizi hushindwa kupata ajira kwa ukosefu wa vyeti vya masomo na pia ubaguzi wa kikabila na kitaifa.  “Watu wengi walio kwenye kambi wameungana kwa jili ya hali yao ya kua wakimbizi, kwani walitoroka kutokana na vita vya kisiasa na ukabila kutoka nchi zao za asili; Congo, Uganda na Burundi. Changamoto kubwa ni kuwa hawana vyeti kwani walipo kua wakihepa vita vile, walichoweza kuokoa ni maisha yao pekee yake,” alinena Ogubi.

Ogubi na kikundi chake waliamua kutumia raslimali ya pekee walio jua ya kuwapa wakimbizi hawa uwezo na maarifa.

“Tulitembelea kambi na tukawa na vipindi vya ushairi. Ilikuwa ya kubobea huku halaiki ya watu wakikusanyika na kuburudika kabisa. Nyuso zao ziling’aa kwa furaha.Ijapokuwa hatukuelewa walichokua wakisema kwani walinena kwa Kifaranza, Kinyarwanda na lugha za kiasili za Congo, nyuso zao zilionyesha kuwa kilichoongelewa kiliwagusa kabisa.Hapo ndipo tulipokata kauli  ya kutumia ushairi kama njia ya kupigania haki za wakimbizi kwenye  Mkoa huu,” aliendelea kusema.

Nchini Kenya,  Wibena walianza mtaala wa wasanii walio katika kambi za Rwanda huku wakipata mafunzo ya uandishi wa ripoti na ushairi,  kuzungumza hadharani,jinsi ya kuwasiliana na kuwa msemaji wa umma. Nia yao ikiwa kuwawezesha kutumia ustadi wao kupigania haki zao ili waheshimiwe.

Wakishirikiana na Tume la Wakimbizi ya Umoja wa Mataifa pamoja na Washairi wa Rwanda, na kuanzisha  mradi wa  ‘Safari Yangu’. Ratiba hii imefanya kazi na wasanii 180 walio katika kambi tafauti tafauti na wameweza kuwa na ubunifu wa vitu mbali mbali kama vile utunzi wa nyimbo na muziki,  kufoka na mashairi, maumbo, uchongaji, dansi, muziki wa rap, na uchoraji. Mbinu hizi hutumika kusimulia safari ya kua mkimbizi ili wengine waweze kuelewa walicho pitia na kukumbana nacho ndiposa waweze kuwaelewa vyema.

“Kilicho bainika na tatanisha ni kuwa, maudhui ya kutengwa na ubaguzi wa wakimbizi ilipewa kipaumbele. Jamii kadhaa za wenyeji huwa na mitazamo hasi na hisia zisizo njema ambazo huelekezwa kwa wakimbizi. Mawazo kama vile ‘Wacongo ni wezi’, ‘wananchi wa Sudan Kusini hufadhiliwa kisha wanaishi maisha ya kujionyesha’, na hadithi kadhaa wa kadhaa zinazo enea. Wenyeji hawa hujua tu pande moja ya maisha yao na ‘Safari Yangu’ inawawezesha kufahamu uchungu na dhiki wanao kumbana nao na wanaopitia. Hii husaidia kuthamini juhudi wakimbizi wanayo tia ndipo waweze kuinuka kutoka kwa masaibu ya migogoro walio jipata ndani,”  Ogubi alinena.

Mada zinazo dhaniwa kuwa mwiko huchipuka kupitia sanaa zikiwemo mauwaji ya kimbari ya nchini Rwanda, usafirishaji haramu wa watu, watoto walio lazimishwa kuwa askari, usafirisaji wa madawa ya kulevya, afya ya kiakili, ndoa za mapema. Hii huwapa wasanii na watazamaji wao nafasi ya kuugua na kupona kiwewe walicho pitia.

Mwenzake Ogubi, Robbin Omeka, alitaja umuhimu wa mpango huu kwani unawaelimisha watu udhi ya wakimbizi wa Rwanda. Kwa mujibu wa Omeka, pasipo na kuelezea haya kwanza, masuala haya hayawezi yakatatuliwa.

“Kama wakimbizi, huwa wanajipata katika nchi ambazo uraia wa jamii hauajibiki kwa matatizo haswa yanayowakumba. Kuwa na miradi kama Wibena imewasaidia kuunda nafasi ya uraia inayo washugulikia na wanaweza kushirikiana kwenye mahusiano ya kina na washika dau walio katika idara zilizo na uwezo wa kuleta mabadiliko wanao hitaji,” Bw Omeka kanena.

Omeka pia alisema, “Mwanzo tunahitaji kua na huruma, kisha tuwe na majadiliano, ndipo tutaweza kuelewa na kuunda mijadala itakayo fanya kazi kulingana na tunayofahamu”

 Ingawa janga la Korona limesababisha Wibena kupunguza shuguli zake, kuna mipango ya kupanua itikadi hizi kwa kila kambi ya wakimbizi kwenye eneo hili.

“Wote wana hadithi za kusisimua ikiwa twaweza kujali ya kutosha na kuwapa maskio yetu” Bw Ogubi aliongeza.

Giving Rwandan refugees a voice

Access to justice for refugees begins with putting their issues on the national agenda

Desmond Ogubi knows exactly how hard it is to grow up in exile. During the dictatorship of Idi Amin, his father was forced to leave Uganda. The family ended up in Kenya, where Ogubi grew up, and it was there that Ogubi experienced firsthand how the voices of refugees are stifled in a foreign country; and how their rights are often trampled upon.

At an early age, he made a solemn vow to himself to ensure that everyone is heard and respected.

Years later, he found himself in Rwanda, as the regional programs manager for the Wibena Project, teaching refugee poets and artists how to use their skills to push for their fundamental rights. He travelled to different refugee camps across the country, interacting with refugees from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. 

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Rwanda had an estimated 164 000 refugees in different camps including Gihembe, Kigeme, Kiziba, Mahama, and Mugombwe.

Yet many of these refugees could not secure jobs due to a lack of academic papers and prevalent stereotypes. “Most of the people we met were united by their refugee status, having fled from ethnic clashes in their countries of origin: Congo, Uganda, and Burundia. Their greatest challenge, however, was the lack of academic papers, as they had fled their war zone, literally, with only their lives,” he said.

Ogubi and his team opted to use the only resources they knew to empower them.

“We went to the camp and had a chill-out poetry session. The attendance was amazing! People came, jammed, and had fun. It was in their faces. However, we could not understand most of the poetry as it was either in French, Kinyarwanda, or native language from congo. The energy, however, was real. We decided to use this new vibe to help them realize their power,” he added.

Back in Kenya, the team tried to figure out how to harness this energy. They developed a curriculum for aspiring artists in Rwanda’s refugee camps that included training in public speaking, entrepreneurship and communication. The goal was to empower them to use their art to press for refugee rights to be respected.

And so, in partnership with UNHCR and Spoken Word Rwanda, ‘Safari Yangu’ was born (the phrase means ‘my journey’ in which language). So far, the program has worked with 180 refugee artists (in which camps exactly) and produced a variety of artworks including song, dance, spoken word, rap, painting, and drawing that capture the journey of being a refugee – so that others can understand what they have been through, and empathise.

“An interesting theme that stuck most is the discrimination and stereotyping of the refugees. Most of the host community already have a negative perception and brand the refugees in a very negative light. Arguments like ‘Congolese are thieves’, ‘South Sudanese are sponsored hence why they live a flashy life’, and many other ‘single stories’ are rampant. They only know one side of the story. Safari Yangu has enabled them to relate to their pain and challenges and appreciate the efforts that they have made in rising from the senseless wars they found themselves entangled in,” said Ogubi.

Some topics that are normally considered taboo keep coming up through the art, including the Rwandan genocide, human trafficking, child soldiers, drug trafficking, mental health, and child marriages, allowing refugee artists – and their audiences – a chance to process the trauma they have experienced.

Ogubi’s partner, Robbin Omeka, said that the reason this initiative is so important is because it makes people aware of the issues that refugees in Rwanda are facing – and without first building that awareness, those issues cannot be addressed.

“As refugees, they find themselves in countries where the civic society is not as responsive to their unique needs. Having projects like the Wibena one has helped create a responsive civic safe space that allows refugees to engage in meaningful civic discourse that engages actors in spaces and places that can affect the change they need,” he said.

Omeka added: “First, we empathize, then we dialogue, then we understand and build ways to respond, and that works in our learned content.”

Although the Covid-19 pandemic forced Wibena to scale back its activities, it plans to expand the program to all refugee camps in the region.

“They all have wonderful stories to tell if we all care to listen,” added Ogubi.

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