For advancement and consolidation, we dare not tire in remembering

This day twenty four years ago, this land was already awash with the blood of close to sixty thousand victims, if not more.

Yet these were only the first six days. At the end of the ninety-day genocide, the final count of this hollering, horrendous butchering orgy, whose ferocity had never before been witnessed anywhere on this earth, would be in excess of one million innocent citizens.

Yes, in excess of one million and counting.

“Counting” because, to this day, remains of the victims of this horror who have not been accounted for are being discovered in hitherto unknown places. If therefore today the precise number of those identified is 1.3 million, tomorrow it may be 1.5.

And that’s not considering those without surviving relatives, or willing neighbours, to report them. Which means some remains will never be discovered because some may have been washed away in rivers, therein to feed amphibian animals. Others may have been thrown into abyssal chasms like Urwobo rwa Bayanga (a reportedly bottomless pit that’s so mysterious that no one has dared explore it), a few kilometres south east of Kigali.

So, dear reader, if the flood of stories on this topic are getting on your nerves, bear with Rwandans. You surely can’t blame them for screaming out loud when gripped in the trauma of this abhorrence every time this period of remembrance comes round.

For, as many of them have said, every time one remember, the goriness of it all rocks one’s whole being as brutishly as it did those targeted, all those 24 years ago.

Fresh and raw as the memory remains then, imagine how it galls your gut when you hear some people uncaringly bandying around incorrect numbers of the victims of that evil. Or see some refusing to recognise the horror by its correct, albeit ugly, name.

If Rwandans have faced the reality of the magnitude of this abomination, what’s it about the Genocide against the Tutsi that the world cannot come to terms with?

Why is it easier for some to put the victim count at a disparaging “more than five hundred” rather than the nearer estimate of “more than one million”? Why is it easier to call the revulsion “the Tutsi Genocide” or “the Rwandan Genocide” as if victim turned against victim in a self-immolation paradox?

Isn’t that an effort to deny, negate or belittle the genocide?

Those in the world who are sworn to “Never Again”, and yet at the same time are intentionally distorting facts about it and jealously shielding its perpetrators from justice, how double faced can they be?

Maybe, like the horde of these fugitives and their sympathisers out there, they would like to see a consummation of the shame today.

I remember such a Rwandan belittler of this evil, then in the top ranks of a new government that was trying to pull this country out of that genocide pit, cynically wondering how people were still grieving four months after the brutality!

A mere four months and the heartless aged loafer, currently based in Brussels, was wondering how those who lost their loved ones were still grieving!

But whatever his thoughts then and now, in his freezing fleabag of a residence, I know now he has begun to get the sense of “Remember. Unite. Renew” after observing the galloping growth the country that he abused is registering.

So is it with the callous denial-and-negation world out there. To them all, President Kagame has a curt and concise answer: “Rwanda is changed for good and forever.”

For information, “Remember. Unite. Renew” is the theme for this year’s genocide commemoration.

Which means that every time Rwandans remember that deep, dark hole to which they were consigned by their traitorous own, actively supported by some superpowers, they find in themselves the power to tighten their bond of unity ever more strongly. That power is further reinforced when they remember how they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.

And it’s by their own bootstraps that they will continue to heave themselves up, always renewing their effort on the way, to build themselves into a society that will be counted among top dignified societies of the world. And that will not be the end of the road, no. Envisioned is a healthy, wealthy society. Nothing less.

But even there, they will know they cannot let their guard down. One such careless kind of complacency, however minor, and the sharks…..sorry, sharks, you are not so satanic! I meant to say the génocidaires and their sympathisers, local struggler or superpower, will pounce. It’s no secret that they are lying in wait.

However, seeing that guard down will remain a pipedream for our diabolical desperados.

This day as we talk, the land they manipulated at will exists no longer.

Today, to revisit the quote, “Rwanda is changed for good and forever.”

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Is total selfless leadership achievable in this land?

You remember the cartoon in these pages: a suited-up government dignitary at the head of an entourage of mollycoddling local leaders tossing up his coat behind when he feels hot. And, sure enough, the leaders are jumping over themselves, each to carry the prised coat for the honcho as others are attending to his shoes.

Of course cartoonists will always exaggerate for the sake of their sharp, concise expression. But that’s exactly the reason we are attracted to them.

So the cartoon in The New Times was a piercing kind of summary illustration of President Kagame’s impassioned plea to government officials to puncture their self-importance feeling and serve us citizens with humility. That they, at whatever level in government, should shed their pomposity and do what they are hired to do: work. That what they earn is not meant to build them prestige but that, rather, it’s a form of facilitation during their tour of duty.

The president was especially irked by the fact that everybody drops whatever they are doing to swoon around a senior government official, when such an official appears in the area, ignoring what they supposed to be doing.

That’s the cartoon’s pithy point of illustration.

It’s an illustration of a message that warms the hearts of the hoi polloi of this land.

It could warm the people’s hearts many degrees centigrade higher, however, if they remembered the deep cesspool of wastage and vainglory we have dragged ourselves out of.

It used to be that whenever a person was given a post in government, they’d gather friend and family and party hard because the position came with power and riches. In fact, I remember a gentleman who, on being named to parliament, partied himself so zonked that he could not be sworn in the following day because he couldn’t even pronounce his own name!

Today, you don’t hear of those lavish parties anymore. If there are any perks that go with the post, you’ll sweat for them. A delegation to a working visit consists of one person; two if extremely necessary.

The dirty, self-satiating old days are gone.

Then, apart from claiming huge travel and entertainment allowances on such visits that none ever touched, dignitaries used to be accompanied by a horde of attendants to see to their every need. These, in turn, would claim their generous allowances.

In the village, the local leaders would bring out all the citizens to tiredly sing and dance for the big officials after hours of waiting, after which they’d be dismissed to trudge their worn-out way back to their hungry homes. A wasted day, baking in the sun or soaking in the rain.

Meanwhile, the hosts would’ve sheltered their visitors and themselves in tents, after which the visitors would be extravagantly entertain to food and drinks because the local leaders, too, would have drawn substantial allowances for that.

Day wasted for all. Still, the dignitary’s assistants would churn out copies of so rosy a report on the ‘working’ visit that it’d charm the most sceptical of superiors.

Those allowances were chicken feed, however, compared to other perks. When it came to a ‘ka-mission’, which nobody seemed to get enough of, it was partying plus.

It was called a ‘ka-mission’ because getting it was as good as striking gold, despite the fact that many officials used to be experts at manoeuvring to always be recipients of it.

That prefix ‘ka-’ denotes a petite, rare thing, as a foreign working trip was considered a treasure for its accompanying foreign currency allowances that translated into fat bags of local currency.

It was the currency (no pun intended!), therefore, to see a government official and his train of report-crafting attendants hopping from country to country for a seemingly endless string of conferences. The officials had mastered the art of arranging with conference organisers who always knew which country would host which conference next, every after attending one.

The rest was for the dignitary’s assistants to spice the report in a way that would make such a conference, and the next, and the next, etc., sound ever so relevant to their boss’s line of work.

In those old gravy-chomping, swollen self-importance days, the dignitary would have tossed all their clothes up and not only junior officials but also all villagers would have fought over being first to carry the pot-bellied mass of nudeness on their shoulders!

It was not until the year 2000 that the dirty rot was halted, and we know why and by whom. After all, among all those leaders, only one man always returned to the central bank every penny of the unspent contingency allowances during those bounty-hunting days.

To a man or woman, no other leader ever did or does, even today.

From that year then, this one crusader has been tirelessly working at bending fellow leaders towards selfless commitment to an ethic that drives one national ethos: serving the advancement of this country and these, her people, in all humility.

But let’s take heart. Methinks our leaders may still be having a distance to cover towards that goal but I am optimistic that they’ll get there.

Then our cartoonist can give us some pithy pleasantries to chuckle at.

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Interaction, collaboration: a sure bet for strength, wealth

For March 30th 2018

And so there you are, bemoaning your woes of difficulty in fulfilling travel needs because you think that at fifty thousand Rwanda Francs (Frs), the business of acquiring a passport is costly.

You’re not impressed by the fact of simply sauntering into the immigration department to place your document-accompanied request, and that’s it. Nor that in a mere week, day in urgent cases, a polite message will tickle your cell phone to announce that your document is ready.

Yet you want to travel because now thirty African countries have adopted the protocol on free movement of persons and may soon put an end to those irksome visa charges. You’d have wished for all countries to jump on the bandwagon but some are still steeped in this myopic, self-protection shallowness, seemingly oblivious to its stunting effect.

Our ancestors would’ve taught these countries a thing or two. When they coined the adage, “A bird that does not explore the skies will never know where there is harvest down below” (akayoni katagurutse ntikamenya hao bweze), they knew that isolation never advanced anybody.

So, ma’am/sir, you’d better consider inflation, cough up that tiny dough and even make a song about it.

Embrace Africa and the world. Observe one another’s harvest. When you celebrate and party together on shared harvest, others will beg for an invite to collaboration and its benefits.

It’s a chance we could never have dreamt of at one time.

Once we were so isolationist that we made all effort to isolate even some of our own people, to the point of attempting eradication of some. And Rwanda was the poorer for it.

This country was then inhabited by an unrecognisable society of tiered groups that included ‘genuine citizens’ and ‘squatters’. Squatters, one group of who lived for as long as the ‘genuine ones’’magnanimity lasted.

That ‘division-effect baptism of fire’ history is now well known courtesy of the yearly commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi that has been carved into this country’s constitution…..

But we digress. We were talking passports.

The process of passport acquisition one time, to be precise. This process necessarily excluded everyone from the squatter groups. But sometimes in one of these squatter groups, branded ‘alien’, the odd chance of being in the employ of a ‘genuine citizen’ as long-distance driver could earn you that precious paper.

Therefore this story of that passport acquisition concerns those so-called genuine citizens. However, even for you as ‘genuine’, it was no walk-over.

A passport cost about five thousand Frs, which was small beer. The only little nagging problem was getting the passport in your hands, if you were not one of the bigwigs in government.

As small fish, on top of that five thousand Frs you had to pay an un-refundable extra fifty thousand Frs as caution money. Why, search me!

Which would be fine if you were comfortably moneyed, only that the way to the immigration office was not a straight route, the way you see it today. No, it was a long, circuitous line of palms waiting for greasing before they could be smoothened enough to serve you.

But your pockets were not ‘yawning’, since you were part of a small elite group that could afford an air ticket. So you went for the biggest ‘smoothener’ of all – a cabinet minister.

At the ministry entrance, if your name did not ring a bell to the gatekeeper, a dent in your pocket magically saw the gates fling open. To persuade the reception desk lady to go through the tedious motions of shifting her gaze from her nails needed an additional puncture in your pocket. Whereupon, with an ear-to-ear smile, she sprang up to usher you into the office of the minister’s assistant.

Here, a sizeable shrinking of your pocket prompted the assistant to coo in the intercom as he/she informed “son excellence monsieur le ministre” that there is a very interesting man to entertain him. By the time you emerged from son excellence’s office, minus the whole bundle, you’d have promised to meet him in the evening for a chummy chat as you shared igisiga (large bird like a crow, meaning ‘chicken’), washed down with lots of champagne.

In the evening your refilled pockets had to be touched sparingly, however, because the same story would play out at the immigration office, before son excellence’s ‘note of commendation’ smoothened your passport acquisition.

So, being limited in number and only serving self-interest, our traveller compatriots were blind to another of our ancestors’ adage: “Ubwenge burarahurwa”. They thus never got any light of wisdom – of emulating the better living standards of where they travelled – from their visits and returned to live happily with their mud houses (rukarakara) and general poverty till death would they part!

These passport acquisition hassles are only a wee part of the rot that keeps many a country stagnant to-date.

When Rwanda stopped wading in this insular, sectarian-centred murky mire of short-sighted avarice, she opened up to welcome, and travel, the world and embrace and share all. For that, see how the lot of her people has improved economically, socially, politically, say it.

Interaction and collaboration across societies are a sure bet for building strength and wealth.

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AfCFTA: May Kigali be the launch pad for a united Africa

Talking to ‘The East African’ weekly, a Rwandan based in Kenya says: “Kenyans are go-getters and great entrepreneurs, Ugandans are hospitable, Burundians are colourful, Rwandans have discipline and focus.”

The statement is a summary of the opinion that answers to his quest for work-related needs, of course. And I guess he’d say “courteous” about Tanzanians, if he’d worked in their country.

Otherwise, we all know that our different nationals have a lot more positive attributes that they can harness for a richer region and continent, if only they can cultivate one thing: unity.

God knows I, as a Rwandan, wouldn’t place myself anywhere near “discipline and focus”. And I know many birds of a feather we flock together and others that are outright rotten eggs. But generally, many fellow citizens can amaze with their hard work, self-sacrifice, courage, solidarity, tenacity, generosity and other qualities that accompany the “discipline and focus”.

No doubt you’ll see contradictions in these qualities. How, for instance, can you talk courage or heroism when in your history you gave in to foreigners who scattered you around their farms wherein to put that hard work to effect, in spite of yourself?

Because, as said here before, during the colonial days, Rwandans, for being hard-working, were the favoured labour force for Belgians in their copper mines and coffee and tea estates, in the then Belgian Congo. In Uganda and Kenya, the British shipped them in to labour on their tea, coffee and sugarcane plantations.

And the glaring shame! More recently, the world was gripped in a horror from hell as it watched live devilish barbarity in action, when some Rwandans turned on their compatriots for total elimination.

A people who as one had stood firm to successfully fend off the powerful slavery wave that had all but consumed the entire continent, what had so forcefully ripped them this much apart?

Where had their courage, solidarity, selflessness gone?

However, a near-century of a colonial division-drive and the subsequent native leaderships’ scorch-earth obliteration effort aimed at part of their citizens had gnawed at this society’s fabric so mercilessly that it was by sheer luck that it still existed.

That a nucleus of braves rose to stop the fall and stitch back this shredded cord, and that the whole society quickly rose to the occasion to work hard on reunion, demonstrated that Rwandans had unity as their very DNA. Thus, it defied destruction.

It’s for that that whatever opportunistic ill-will those rotten eggs and myriad other self-seekers may seek to effect, for whatever length of time, cannot break this society’s spirit, ever again.

There is no other way of explaining what happened on March 18, 1997. That day saw a wondrous incident that was commemorated last week and was reported in this daily.

Teenagers stood together in the face of definite death to reject being categorized into ethnic constructs that had been woven around this society for close to a century. Said they: “We are not this or that ethnic group. We are Rwandans”.

Sadly, six of them were immediately hewn down in a hail of the bullets of those demonic infiltrator kinsmen. 40 others were left with permanent injuries and the rest suffered life-long trauma.

Those youngsters will forever be our heroes.

For, barely three years previously, at age fourteen or fifteen, some had watched as their parents butchered countrymen/women they called foreign pests, cockroaches or snakes in an apocalyptic orgy of unprecedented proportions. And some, yes, at this tender age, had been drafted into that band of maniacal mass génocidaires.

Who knows, maybe the catechism of that apocalypse was still being preached to these kids in the secrecy of their homes by parents still nursing consummation intentions of that heinous act, three years after the failed attempt. Or preaching that there was no trusting ‘cockroaches’, now among them, that may harbour revenge intentions.

Those three years previously, their classmates-to-be, formerly on the victim side, had been resigned to death, convinced they had to live every minute as it came, at the mercy of kinsmen/women in power; ‘true owners of the land’.

Imagine the strength of the bond that this single moment of show of solidarity built.

For, daring division, youngsters stood together in unity, ready to fall together as one. If that doesn’t boggle the mind, I don’t know what does!

It was by sacrificing to fight all evil and promote common good that Rwanda is in this good place today.

That, fellow Africans, is one elaborate but little example – considering the huge mass of pain that gave birth to a similarly huge mass of miracles on this land – that is an exhibit of what is possible when people stand together for a good cause.

Rotten eggs of East Africa; rotten eggs of all regional blocs; rotten eggs of Africa: lay down your short-sightedness, selfishness and greed.

Let’s all together in solidarity embrace the giant leap made in Kigali on this 21st day of March in the year of our Lord 2018, with the signing of The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, towards the Nkrumah-envisioned United States of Africa.

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From the “glassful” of yore, Rwanda is a busy-bee, welcome-all house

“Rwanda is like a glass full of water. One single drop and the glass will overflow.” You remember the author of that infamous statement, made in all seriousness.

Whatever corner of the none-too-cold place he is in, has that author swallowed his words? To jog your memory, the author was the man who reigned over Rwanda until he dropped out of the heavens in a ball of fire.

But our culture forbids talking ill of the dead. So, mea culpa. Unfortunately, one can’t stop oneself from being stricken by a bolt of memory. And, on recalling the absurdity, from laughing out loud.

Because, as example, look at the Special Economic Zone that we first heard of as a mysterious zone, wondering what a bush could zone. Today, it’s an expanse zoning not-so modest a number of different factories, warehouses, et al, a few complete and humming and buzzing with activity, a lot others at different stages of construction.
Beyond and all around as far as the eye can see, the erstwhile wild hills are covered with bright modern buildings, interspersed with trees contentedly swaying in the gentle wind.

In the countryside, villagers may not be living in palaces but that they enjoy simple, decent habitation is in no doubt. With easy access to health, education, energy, sanitation and other amenities, they’ve seen their standard of living take a turn for the better.

Now recall end-1994, those who were here. Save for the city centre and its near-environs like Gikondo, Nyamirambo, Nyabugogo, Kacyitu, Kimihurura, Rememera and scanty others, all else was scrubland, with a banana grove around a grass-thatched mud-and-wattle hovel here and there.

Four or five concrete storied buildings graced Kigali city centre as did a few other decent but mud (rukarakara) residences for the rich, the above-mentioned environs.
The rest of the country was dotted with those hovels that were kilometres apart, whose occupants were ravaged by disease, hunger, squalor and hopelessness.

So, when before Rwanda was so small that she could only accommodate a select section of her people while she ‘spilt out’ her excess baggage (another part of her citizens), today the country is not only home to every Rwandan but also to any foreigner who chooses to herein pitch tent.

A walk around that economic zone alone takes you through sign-boards that read like an encyclopaedic display of the whole world business community.

So, cynics though we be, let’s give it up to the leadership of this country for this swift turn-around that has seen a rise in the fortunes of our people. “Swift turn-around” because in the life of a country, 23 years could as well be 23 weeks.

To get a sense of this, you only need to look at the poor parts of the world. Many countries, having suffered upheaval or not, are still lost at sea as to how to get rid of the disease, hunger, squalor, graft, internecine acrimony and all other miseries that seem to hold them in a vicious, unbreakable vice.

“These Rwandans and how they like blowing their own trumpet!” you’ll say. “Wasn’t it being reported the other day that ‘Despite several advancements, [their] country still has severe malnutrition among children”?

Yes, ‘The East African’ newspaper reported that but, on that, whom was it quoting? President Paul Kagame himself, who is so exacting you’d be tempted to think he sounds the alarm before the fact. Which, even if not exactly before the fact, is an expression of the fact that if malnutrition can be minimized, why shouldn’t it be eradicated totally?

Especially since “….several advancements…” precedes the “malnutrition” phrase.
To think closer back, I remember one time a foreign neutral observer, in one of these unique annual leadership retreats, pleading with President Kagame not to castigate government officials. Because, explained the observer, “….these guys work very hard surely!” But to the president, again that’s an expression that, if they can attain better, why can’t they, best?

No, for sure – without appearing to denigrate the high integrity of the reporter – that quoted 2015-statistics child malnutrition is not so severe as it may sound. Moreover, 2015 is eons ago in this land!

The report is captioned with a slum that’s adjacent to the up-market housing estate of Nyarutarama. The slum, whose name is equivalent to what in Nairobi’s Kibera slum they call “To Whom It May Concern”, is truly alarming, though not to the point of its namesake.

But, interestingly, the resident ‘guys’ of this slum are resisting a free offer of an 18m-Frs-worth flat each. Instead, they want cash in compensation for shacks that, combined, are hardly worth ten million. But cash, anyway!

Such a mind-set has survived the passage of time and pervades all aspects of life in the citizenry and needs much effort to bend towards change. But this top leadership, having no luxury of time for any malady persistence calls for no single-minute let-up on that effort.

And, certainly, with unity of purpose and all hands constantly on deck, what appears impossible can turn to something of a walkover.

Welcome to a new Rwanda that wants better for, and more of, you!

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Kigali ripe for an animal sanctuary

The other day a friend from the 1980s, when we lived in Kenya, was telling me about an idea he wanted to try out in Kigali in 1998 and how he shelved it, when it met resistance. Seeing as it was a brilliant idea but also that it was at a time this country was grappling with so messy a situation, I personally thought his, at the time, was an idea whose time had not come.

His intention was to give tourists and other interested parties a mini-taste of our national parks. He wanted to create an animal sanctuary; a small home to a diversity of wild animals.

Today, that idea is an opportunity that has urgently been crying out for seizure.
Already, somebody has an ‘animal garden’ in Rwesero, near Kigali. And, on top of other tourist attractions, Kigali is host to a snake park.

In 1998 the urgency of settling all Rwandans after the effects of a calamitous 1994 overrode everything so much so that, if you’d suggested a snake park, we’d all have hissed in your face!

For info, an animal sanctuary is not like a zoo, where animals – bought, captured or poached from the wild, especially from other countries – are kept in prison-like conditions for public viewing. Nor is it like a zoo-like animal shelter under the charge of an individual or groups of individuals.

It’s a safe haven where animals receive the best care.

Our friend’s idea was therefore to create a mini park where resident animals are given the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild, but in a protective environment.

Having worked in the wildlife and tourism sector in Kenya at a time when their tourism industry was booming, our friend knows best what he has in mind. But, listening to his enthusiasm, you’d be persuaded to give him all the support he needs, however sceptical you may be of the practicability of carving out such a facility in this city.

The idea is compellingly appealing.

Most of you, especially senior citizens who’ve ever been refugees, hate hyenas I am sure. And who wouldn’t, knowing how they used to stealthily poach us out of our makeshift grass-tents, in our sleep? If it were not for their cowardly foolishness, some of us wouldn’t be here to tell the story. It’s thanks to their frightened haste that they picked whatever their fangs caught and ran away, only to find themselves chewing sleeping grass-mats, on settling down for a meal!

Still, however cold-hearted against these innocent creatures you may be, I’m sure you’ll feel a pang of pain when you see a desolate wounded young one limping on its own, perhaps abandoned, if not orphaned, and easy prey to predators, sometimes from its own family.

Wouldn’t you be happy to see such a poor thing in that kind of facility, which would act as its orphanage?

Now think of all the animals that used to be our constant companions, in the old days when we led lives of little Tarzans. Unfortunately, these seem to be facing extinction.

Take ‘urukwavu’, wild rabbit or hare (not domestic ones that are for your avaricious palate pleasure!) I am made to understand that rabbit and hare are vastly different but in Rwanda they are all considered ‘inkwavu’ (plural), anyway – unless ‘bakame’ is not strictly for folklore.

Then there is ‘isha’, ‘little gazelle’ according to my inept dictionary. ‘Agasamunyiga’, skunk/polecat, that little animal that fends off impending attack by letting off one hell of a nostril-choking stink. ‘Umutereri’, a kind of chicken-chomping squirrel. ‘Ikinyogote’, the porcupine that’ll shower you with its poisonous quills, if you are a greenhorn hunter. Etc.

Does anyone see these little darlings anymore?

We have not talked about the birds that seem to be gone for good. Crested crane, guinea-fowl (‘inkanga’), partridge-bird (‘inkware’) and more.

We can also acquire exotic animals and birds for introduction into our game parks so that the sanctuary will also have served conservation and nursery purposes. The endangered ones will be protected and others can be tended until they are of age for release into the wild.

Exotic animals and birds that immediately come to mind are: rhino, okapi, ostrich and peacock, without forgetting the existing but rare shoebill. These can be nursed in the sanctuary and then tested for fitness in our park conditions before a suitable home for them is decided.

To all the above and more, add samples of the usual birds as well as land and water animals in our game parks and you’ll see how we’ll be among the world’s most visited countries.

I can bet my last ‘franc rwandais’ that a passing visitor, say a conference delegate, once given that short tour of the sanctuary instead of only the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, will make it a point to return for longer tour of the true game parks and the other genocide sites of Rwanda.

In this cutthroat world competition to attract tourists, every small idea will count.

So, individuals who’ve been harbouring such ideas should be encouraged to try them out.

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Africans, the Western ‘paradise’ we crave can find us here

Refugees demonstrating over reduced hand-outs? My heart bled when recently I saw Congolese refugees in Kiziba camp, here in Rwanda, violently demonstrating over these alms.

In our long and roaming runs as refugees (1959 – 1994), anybody entertaining such an idea would’ve been laughed out of the…er…refugee camp! It was common with refugees from other countries like Sudan but taboo for Rwandan refugees.

Which, paradoxically, put us on a collision course with host countries and Western do-gooders.

This meant that there was a possibility of being hewn down by our hosts, with endorsement of do-gooders, if we’d so much as attacked anybody over rations. But in any case, our elders considered dependence on hand-outs grossly dishonourable.

For that, the refugee camps that Rwanda’s neighbouring countries put us in turned out to be death-traps that few of our people survived.

If we were not battling cholera and similar diseases that were ready to summarily do away with our loathed lives, a raft of killer beasts in those forest reserves were in waiting, to receive us as their delicious manna from heaven.

Yet we bore it all stoically and not once did any refugee raise a voice.

Those of you who survived those deathly camps remember the worst of them: Oruchinga and Kinyara in Uganda; Mushiha in Burundi; Mwese in Tanzania. Then the hardly habitable jungles of what’s today’s D.R. Congo, where no one gave a hoot whether you lived or died.

However, the worst of the worst was the tsetse-infested camp for internally displaced persons inside Rwanda, where the luxury of any hand-outs was unheard-of. And where, in the end, they perished in the ghastly Genocide against the Tutsi, with hardly a survivor.

Comrades all, pardon me for re-scorching your hearts but we must look back to those days that, as a society, we may take our re-united self-organisation as our enduringly protected treasure.

For today, to a single Rwandan, including those of us who deluded ourselves that it’d only be the fate of a few, we’ve suffered this hell.

Admittedly, though, back in our time at first (1960s) things were so bad that our elders could tolerate such hand-outs for the kids who could not withstand endless days of hunger. But, emphatically, not so for themselves; those who couldn’t somehow make it chose death rather than insult their ancestors by soiling their palates with them.

In any case, what did the hand-outs consist of?

Weevil-infested beans, American cow-feed that comprised grains of sorghum and yellow maize, all of which claimed victims before our parents got round to knowing how to properly cook them for their children.

Meanwhile able-bodied men and women worked for food for the aged outside the camps because the latter could not touch those hand-outs.

One hand-out, however, our parents couldn’t touch with a mile-long pole: American salted fish, which was hard to tell whether it was more salt than fish, or vice versa!

The fish/salt itself was so big that, cut and spread out, it was the size of a small satellite dish. But the taste, only a few of us fiendish young rascals could find out after we’d been given a castaway saucepan (sufuria), which we took to a secluded forest-nook as our kitchen.

Villainous as we were, still we could not cook the fish/salt until after either of two processes: put it on the roof of a house for a week, to be ‘desalted’, if it was rainy season; take it to the water-well for a wash, which involved knocking it hard against a rock repeatedly after immersing it into water.

Even after all that pain, however, it proved to be wasted effort for some of us as that ‘indesaltable makayabo’ left us with an unquenchable thirst that has followed us to this day!

Good riddance, therefore, for before six months were out, the donations-tap had been cut and it was every refugee for themselves.

Did we raise Cain? Nope, we said “Tis as well” and went back to fending for ourselves.

The way, many years later, the RPF/A fended for itself in the bush and triumphed over much bigger and more resourced forces. And the way from 1994 the Rwandan nation-state has been working hard at fending for herself: from 100% aid-dependence to a fast-diminishing mere 17% as we talk.

What a shame that fellow Africans can fight over hand-outs instead of campaigning to regain their identity, rights and dignity that their countries deny them!

These Congolese and various other fellow Africans, should anybody wonder that they seem unable and sans intention to organise themselves towards good governance and self-sustenance?

Of course, these riots are a disguised hankering for that all-too-precious visa to America or anywhere in the West. For, like so many Africans of their ilk running to their deaths in oceans, they’ll do anything for a life in the West.

To the point of, on top of fighting their meal-doling masters, attacking the police of a Rwanda that accords them a peaceful atmosphere and everything else up to a university education.

Our dear guests, the sights of this host country you abuse are trained on lofty aspirations: to get the West, nay, the world, hankering to come to Africa as proud partners.

And with our hearts and hands together as Africans, we can bring that precious ‘paradise’ you fancy, to you!

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