We honour our departed by eradicating the barbarity of their time

Surprise, surprise! This was my first reaction on seeing destitute-looking boys hanging precariously on a moving freight trailer at the Giporoso junction, here in Kigali, the other day. I should’ve reacted with alarm and sadness I know but you know me and how I am always tickled by any reminder of our frighteningly atrocious past. If for nothing else, to get a full grasp of the vast contrast of today.

As for alarm, the kids weren’t hanging high up and the vehicles were soon stopping at the lights, anyway. And for sadness, I know mentioning it alone will immediately attract the attention of our hawk-eyed government – or else, what’d be national retreats, dialogues, etc, for? If these were not school-going miscreants playing dirty games, then this mention is a clarion call for officials to do the necessary pronto, or risk a severe tongue-lashing from their seniors.

So, as the habitual past-dwelling yours-truly, now that my memory has been jogged, trust me to take you back to an era that’s fast fading from your memories.

How many of you remember the menacing mayibobo (street urchin) of the Rwanda of 1994 and before? Who recalls those dazed-eyed little louts sniffing glue and holding out their hands to plead “Wamfunguriye”, begging for a morsel of food?

Sadly, they’d been accepted as an inevitable feature of this country, freely roaming the streets, foraging for food in rubbish dumpsites during the day and resting their pitiful dirty little bodies wherever they found a hole, at night. And if it was any comfort, Uganda had its own ‘abayaye’, Kenya its ‘chokora’ and Tanzania its ‘watoto wa mitaani’.

Remember, too, that our young villains had their ‘seniors’ who not only sniffed but also smoked and drank dangerous illicit substances that had turned them into walking zombies. If this version engaged in any gainful work, it was as a ‘karaningufu’ (cart-pusher) for market-goers, which gave them earnings to buy those substances.

But, while Karaningufu was in that gainful engagement, woe betide thee if you did not heed his “Tsiiii!” ‘siren’! If you didn’t jump out of his way in time as he hurtled down a street with his hundred-kg cart-load, you’d end up as a mangled heap of market purchase, cart, flesh and bones.

If you frequented the chaotic mess that was known as Nyarugenge market, then you must have once witnessed an abominable sight. There, in that messily busy market and in full view of everyone, one of those zonked brutes trying to rape a smartly dressed lady!

Amid horrified shrieks and howls of disgust from everybody, the ruffian was immediately seized by the crowd and set upon with kicks and punches. All were ready to administer mob justice.

Unfortunately, security officials intervened and whisked away the vermin and, by a whisker, saved him from a definite lynching.

But the dreadful attempt had been made.

And it propelled everybody back. Back to “that place that exists at the final limit of destructive human experience; Genocide is the place,” to quote someone. For, remember, this was only a few months after July 1994, yet here was a demonic maniac ready to re-enact the horror we’d just emerged from!

Yes, the memory was fresh then, as it is today, as it’ll always be.

Of having been witness to the most heinous crime that in a mere 100 days counted 1.04 million of our innocent compatriots, and still counting – NOT 800,000.

Of how bleeding men, young and old, after their bodies had been bludgeoned with knobkerries and lacerated with machetes, were buried alive up to their necks and heads left to feed dogs and vultures.

Of how women of all ages were gang-raped by mostly HIV-positive diabolical hooligans after which broken glass, jagged wood pieces, stones, pepper, ants; everything excruciatingly painful was inserted into them, before their necks were ever so slowly, ever so agonizingly, severed – with survivors hating the very idea of survival.

Of how foetuses were cut out of wombs and kicked around like footballs, or tossed against walls to totally shut out their yet-unseen light. Babies and children held by their tiny growing limbs and heads repeatedly knocked against tree trunks, walls, rocks, metals, tarmac, etc, to forever remain smudges (yes, of innocent beauties) that ‘soiled’ their land.

Yet, the pain suffered, the 1.04-plus million wiped out, all that ignores the yearly-recurrent massacres stretching back to 1959. Pray, who has put a number to the totality of those deaths?

Oh, who doesn’t bleed, on remembering? No wonder, then, that we’d been baying for blood.

But wait, remember and think. Think of that RPF/A soldier who fell upon his entire family bleeding and groaning – if not cut into pieces that couldn’t groan – and breathing their last.

Despite this, imagine him watching the mob of génocidaires with hands and death implements dripping his family’s blood, all at his mercy, and holding back his hands from his machinegun and grenades on hearing that voice ringing in his head:

“Utaumia, hata waweza kapoteza maisha, ila chunga! Hawa ni ndugu zako. Usichukuwe sheria mikononi mwako.”

And, bleeding plasma and feeling red-hot-cinder pain, to have heeded the voice: “These are family. No revenge.” Yes, no revenge anywhere.

And for that, dear reader, breathe easy, today is civilised 2017! We are not captive to the past, even if we shall forever remember.

But without needing any iota of the barbaric vestiges of that past for reminders: mayibobo, hawkers running helter-skelter, disorder, corruption, cow-hacking, rape, negation…….the junk-load.

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This leadership has touched our society in ways many may not fully fathom

The effects of this leadership on the Rwandan society are manifest in many ways and those who put their lives on the line to rescue it know best. Uti how?

I was shuffling along KK104 Street doing my routine exercise when, on looking to my left, I burst out laughing, startling passersby who, looking at me, seemed torn between fleeing and carting me off to a psychiatric asylum.

Good souls, they didn’t know how, in the mid-1990s, a friend and I once literally tore our way through a forest in this area known as Nyarugunga, a stone throw from the airport, as I escorted him to a hardly habitable hovel, but which was going to be the sorry home for his family.

My laughter was prompted by seeing my famished-looking friend of then, now with ample paunch sitting on the porch of a sizeable mansion in a lush garden.Bordering the garden is the wide asphalt street on whose equally wide walkway and under whose bright street lights I was walking.

The forest of prickly nettles of that long ago, does he still remember? It’s the path in that forest that has turned into a veritable boulevard today.

Truly, times have changed!

But, not wanting to disturb a friend’s peace with those nightmarish memories, I continued with the evening walk past his house and then back towards my new abode.
Unbeknown to me, I was soon going to hear many stories similar to the evolution of his condition from the horse’s mouth, so to say.

When it started raining near a place popularly known as Estate for War Veterans, I ducked into the veterans’ common hangout for shelter and, finding them in happy conversation punctuated by guffaws of laughter, decided to sit the rain out and – why not? – eavesdrop!

A veteran was good-humouredly chiding a fellow veteran for lamenting about not completing a second house fast enough, knowing he already owns one. It’s ok to want another house, said he, but, more importantly, we are alive and are here and for that alone you should be happy.

Yes, interjected another veteran, our fallen heroes did not die in vain. They died, and we fought, to rescue Rwandans’ destiny from negative forces and build happiness by winning back our rights as sons and daughters of this land. We mustn’t betray that cause.

And, added another, he should never forget: outnumbered, outgunned, out-resourced, nationally outcast, internationally diplomatically ignored, generally existentially threatened, in his heart of hearts; did he in the least believe as a tiny rebel group we’d outfox all and join others and all together as Rwandans be here again?

Ariko murasetsa, shot back another, if it were a matter of just being here, so are some neighbours, distant Syrians, name them, and some may be happy.

We are not just here; we are here big-time, making a statement of deliberately maintaining our chosen leadership that’s proven capable of mobilising us to together craft a future of progress and prosperity.

We are doing a great job of that crafting and that’s cause for joy.

It is indeed an insult, as even the lifetime oppositionist Faustin Twagiramungu admits, for some in the international community to posit that we deserve the likes of what he calls a ‘mupishi’ wielding a cooking-pan or a lady he calls an unprintable, flesh-related name for better leadership.

“Bugger the negative world opinion! What contempt!” spat out a lady interlocutor.
Who has not been confounded by our unexpected rise from devastation, a rise which is unprecedented, considering our context? Can you divorce our leadership from that rise?

For this leadership and our rise from shame to honour, the president of China, first lady in tow, has rolled out his rare red carpet, not for fifty-four African presidents but, for one.

Pope Francis, in all his holiness and splendour – his trademark humility, too – has stooped to a level un-stooped to before by any pope for any sin in the short space of 23 years, rather than hundreds, to ask for forgiveness in the name of the Catholic Church.

Yes, noted an aging veteran, justice may come later rather than sooner but now, more than ever before, it beckons – and, even if delayed, it won’t be justice denied. The world’s conscience is stung and the writing is on the wall for countries and organisations still harbouring and shielding genocide fugitives, clergy and lay alike.

From genocidal human ‘nettles’ of 1994 on to the consolidation of the security, healing and unity of a dislocated people; consolidation of institutions to govern it and a constitution to protect those institutions by 2003. Thirteen years hence (yes, not 23), we have built “one of the most promising [economies] on the African continent” as stated by “the most famous rabbi in America”, Shmuley Boteach.

Talking of Rabbi Boteach, shouted a veteran, did you hear what he said about President Kagame, the man at the helm of this leadership? “Few personalities alive have brought healing and harmony to such a devastated people.” He and his mostly-Jewish community should know.

I shyly rose from my seat to shuffle on home. Indeed, our veterans and those like the quoted rabbi appreciate the impact of this leadership on our society more fully than some of us.

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The National Leadership Retreat, one of a kind

And so a few days ago it was the 14th Rwandan Great Migration where, unlike in the Wildebeest Migration to our east, no lions, leopards, crocodiles, myriad other predators lay in wait, ready to feast.

But, like in that eastern migration, mauling, tearing, agonising, soul-searching, umpteen prickly thorns of worry, filled the destination. And the citizenry lay in wait, bated breath, ready to feast!

Call it the National Leadership Retreat, Umwiherero, as officially known here. But, looking at the anxious faces of our top guns in government, parastatal, private sector and civil society as they were being ferried in a long line of buses on their retreat-bound journey, you couldn’t help but equate it to that wildebeest migration.

Because, as is always the case in these retreats, for everyone who has not met their pledged target in the service of the people, the bedrock upon whom this country is founded, mauling aplenty awaits.

Moreover, what’s uniquely interesting here is that, where in other places the private sector and civil society are left to their designs or the latter held in dread by nefarious government officials, in Umwirehero they are looped in to freely mangle any official who has not measured up.

But in their turn, they must lift the veil off their activities, to willingly put them to the test of collective scrutiny. Both have thus nurtured a symbiotic relationship even as government helps lift them out of their infancy.

So, as government officials tear one another down wherever they’ve underperformed or failed to cooperate for effective overall service, so must the private sector and civil society be fixed in crosshairs wherever in their professed responsibilities they’ve not served this nation.

Of course, parochial and narrow selfish ends still rear their ugly heads all round, thus the persistence of missed goals or bungled-up results, but in such a forum as Umushyikirano and in sundry others, those responsible are bared and exposed, to face due censure.

And so as the leaders troop off from their rendezvous in Kigali to go get holed up in whatever nook, mutely and nervously fingering their ‘smart’ technological gadgets, we know they’ll be going to face the probe for a week that would in good time lead to the propulsion of our land to a higher notch.

Our society has come a long way from death and all involved in advancing it must remain on the grill that they don’t slacken. In the words of President Kagame: “Rwanda’s context and ambitions demand extraordinary efforts and tireless follow-through of all leaders.”

It’s that operative phrase, “extraordinary effort and tireless follow-through of all leaders”, that has placed this country on this fast-paced trajectory towards middle-income.

And in the true sense of his word being his bond, his particular personal “extraordinary effort and tireless follow-through” has been active not from 1990, no, but from 1986 and maybe earlier! Yes, from one living, breathing human, for every single minute of every day and night, that vigilance has never known a wink!

Yet expending little energy to indulge it part-time is an insurmountable task for some leaders.

Still, when these heavy weights are holed up, they can’t but together thrash through all the ills that bedevil our society and distil out clear and concrete proposals to plug any likely holes and thrust forward anew.

So, we are here today and, methinks, it’s a good place. Which should be reason to turn this into a migration of chant and cheer, for if that retreat grilling shows anything, it’s that leader and led are together as one big gun.

Think for a minute of the route of our migrants’ convoy. From the growing number of skyscrapers and bright lights of Kigali; along the spotlessly clean and smooth roads with their sidewalks all lined with flowers, with street lights relentlessly springing up to light all way. And it’s a case for all streets and highways.

On the way to Gabiro last time, through the numerous, prim and pretty brick-and-iron/tile town centres all the 136-km way to the Rwanda Defence Force Combat Training Centre, this latter with facilities to equal the best in the region.

From the roads, cast your eyes across the hills and their lush fields (thanks to these rains that have averted a severe drought). See those happy and hygienic iron-roofed homes and their healthy occupants proudly peeking through those fields, where not long ago all was barren land.

Indeed, I wince to think of the route we were going to take just after 1994.
On the seat of our leadership then was a good sort, maybe, yet who rejected all counsel as undermining his authority. I remember him, hoe in hand, here in Kacyiru, as he broke the soil to launch a mudugudu village of rukarakara (mud-and-wattle) shacks as a model for the countrywide campaign.

My failing memory, I forget the fate of those ‘rukarakara’ villages! But God forbid, they’d have been on a cruel collision course with Bye Bye Nyakatsi. Generally, the clash of the Titans!

That aside, consider this. This last time, the whole leadership holed up for a week and no iota of a worry of any security threat, even with neighbours south and west – not excluding ‘across that venue’ (you dig?) – all stoked by a superpower that, in its heydays, thought nothing about tossing to the yonder any of its minions with the lip to turn its nose up at it (forget last Sunday’s feeble provocation from south).

Anyway, even before taking a breath, this CEO Rwanda, Inc. had taken to the globe, where he is on the hunt for investment and all sorts of other cooperation pacts.

Yes, they deserve a place in the annals of this country’s history, those who managed to coax this then-decidedly reluctant would-be-CEO, through wisely invoking his sense of rescuing his people’s destiny.

Nah! Our National Leadership Retreat ain’t anything like the Great Wildebeest Migration.

It’s one of a kind. Courageous big wigs of Rwanda, leader and led together: middle-income, we’ll get there!

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To presidential hopefuls: Democracy Made in Rwanda is alive and growing

“Niko mwana wa…!” I looked around to check if he was calling attention to someone else, for a second forgetting that my neighbour’s visiting father is old enough to call me son. As an old geezer, I’m running out of chances of meeting my senior.

But Mzee Kananga wanted to talk. And knowing his ways, I knew I was in for a long presentation. So I went over to the veranda where he sat to attend to his ‘communion’ which I labour to translate: “…Is it true there are people who want to unseat our leadership come August? And they’ll need our help?”

He wasn’t seeking an answer and, without pausing for a breath, went on: I hope they’ve got many tricks up their sleeves, because they’ll sorely need them. Rwandans have become a hard customer; to bend us to your will, you must drive a hard bargain. And that bargain has to be convincing about immediate, tangible benefits.

For instance, even without considering whatever better offer they may propose, can these new presidential hopefuls replicate this government that takes me as its responsibility?

Yes, me, Kananga, continued he, wherever I am, here or in my village, this government follows up on me and makes sure I am safe and lack in nothing.
Else, why do you think my son received free, treated mosquito nets only the other day, even as you city slickers sneer that you can afford your own? Sneers which haven’t stopped you from enjoying their protection, nevertheless.

Don’t you concur that if such nets were to be distributed free in other countries, they’d most likely end up being diverted to private gain? Even if the government itself got them free, its officials would, at best, use them to solicit a bribe or, at worst, sell them to their intended recipients.

But because this government cannot tolerate anybody going between me and my comfort, it will hold the officials to account if they so much as retain a single net. So, officials literally beg you to sign in acknowledgement of receipt.

Also, this small matter of free nets is a drop in an ocean of a proliferation of innovative empowerment programmes that are aimed at placing Rwandan citizens on the fast lane to a better standard of living, with their participation.

You townies know about programmes like Mutuelles de Santé (universal medical insurance); Bye Bye Nyakatsi (that was eradication of indecent habitation); Girinka (offer of cows to poor families); VUP (for alleviation of poverty); Umurenge SACCOs (village cooperatives, for savings and credits); and more.

They’ve all been effected to empower me, the all too important citizen of this land but, most importantly, with my participation.

Pray, these new presidential aspirants, have they sat down to examine these programmes and study ways of offering better alternatives or, at least, improving on these?

For when and if they do, it’ll be like opening a Pandora’s Box; they’ll discover there is lots more to study.

Some of which more, they’ll begin to understand only if they go back to the history of this leadership. This leadership rose from the RPF/A infancy, where it survived and grew thanks to ‘udutendo tudasanzwe’ – audacious sting operations.

Like on 3rd November 1991 when a few dozen guerrilla fighters stung a celebrating Habyarimana army and its powerful backers at the northern border town of Gatuna and left them in a quandary. Or when on 21st January 1992 they struck again and freed all of late Habyarimana’s enemies to leave him in a panic that still survives as his eternal souvenir.

Add to that the daredevil assault on the outskirts of Kigali in February 1993; the ambush of the French soldiers in their last-ditch ‘Zone Turquoise’ rescue effort that so humiliated them; the triumphal halt of the genocide this French effort sought to help consummate. Before this humiliation, they used to come openly, not in the silly sneakiness of Cameroon!

Anyway, only on examining the aforementioned will these aspirants understand how come, these daring firsts: medicine delivery by drones; milking electricity from methane gas that’s extracted from water; a burgeoning airline where others are sinking; and more.

Also, it’s no small matter that this government can furnish my house with solar power with my token payment of 4000 Frs and, with a little more, biogas power.

These sparks of modernity premised in an environment of traditional values like Gacaca of yore, Umuganda, Ubudehe, Imihigo, Umushyikirano, Hehe Na Ruswa, Ndi Umunyarwanda, et al, have combined to birth a growing form of ‘demokarasi’ unique to Rwanda.

To parachute into Rwanda, hop on a ‘moto’ and hope to present your democracy; to cry to high Heaven at airports about your desire to deliver democracy; to gather all Greens of Europe to give you democracy to pass over, etc, I don’t think any of these will impress anybody.

Mzee’s grand finale: “In this land, there has developed what’s known as ‘Participatory Democracy Made In Rwanda’ that’s been wholly embraced.

“As I see it, any other form of imported democracy will be a hard sell.”

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Film-makers should always respect the subjects of their stories

When your travel ambitions ‘collide’ with more pressing needs, you cede, sit down and occupy yourself by lazing around. It was while I was thus lazing around during my holiday last December that I chanced upon this captivating story in the film, The Queen of Katwe.

It’s set mainly in Kampala’s slum area, Katwe, which was made famous in the days of Idi Amin Dada. The story is the usual rags-to-riches kind, and lately we’ve seen many a similar offering, say the India-based Slumdog Millionaire, but in a way Katwe so pulled at my heartstrings as no other Cinderella-genre sort of story had done.

It’s not the story line that gets to you, of a slums girl realizing her dream of making it among the chess grandmasters of the world. Nor is it that, if you are an old-timer, you’ll necessarily identify with the Idi Amin era just because you lived in Kampala during his time and partook of “Radio Katwe news”, the rumour mill that was more relied upon than official news.

Personally, it’s when I thought back to other films I’ve seen that were based on reality, and that should have touched me but didn’t, that I saw its real attraction.
The first one was Gorillas in the Mist, a story about famous conservationist Dian Fossey and her life among our very own gorillas. Her death at the hands of a government that should have lionized her for her work but didn’t because it had no direction should surely be touching.

But imagine it. One of the locals, as portrayed in the film, called out to a fellow local: “Aterere! Nũmwũnire?”

On hearing the language spoken, the Kenyan friends I was with laughed me out of the cinema hall!

That was in the 1980s when I lived in Kenya and I’d just explained to some Kenyan friends that the animals they were calling baboons were actually gorillas of Rwanda, where Dian Fossey had lived. The irony was that those portrayed as locals were speaking Kikuyu, one of a number of Kenyan languages. It still shames me to recall.

Then there was Hotel Rwanda. The story was going according to the reality of what took place inside Hôtel des Mille Collines – minus the hoax of a hero it was based on, who had duped the film’s producers – until the scene moved to a taxi park, supposedly downtown Kigali.

Instead of the familiar ‘Twegerane’ (Kigali’s minibus commuter-taxis) with their green dotted-line bands of the time, the minibuses were spotting unbroken yellow bands. That and the language spoken in the crowd betrayed the fact that the scene had been taken in South Africa.

Combined with the fake on whom the story is based, a fake who had actually used the chance of managing the hotel to collaborate with the génocidaires in their gory enterprise, you can imagine what the film did, and still does, to the feelings of the survivors of that hell.

A weighty subject like the Genocide against the Tutsi, a vile occurrence of the century, treated so casually? What’s the essence of film making if it’s not that it should be faithful to its subject?

We know that these American and European film companies are flush with funds. And we have seen how they are ready to deploy them to get the facts behind their stories. Why do they sometimes entertain this amateurish oversight, if at all it’s an oversight?

In The Queen of Katwe, what is truly delightful is the way life in Kampala and the exact conditions the hero of the story lived in are captured and shown to a minute but correct detail.

You see Nakivubo Channel with its dirt-choked waters; sufurias packed beyond their rims with banana-leaf-wrapped matoke; humanity swarming around minibus-taxis that so easily ‘dig’ a route through and around them; et al. You lose yourself in the life of the area if you’ve been there or, if you haven’t, instantly recognize it when later you visit.

But what’s most convincing about a story probably are the people who tell it; their common mannerisms and their language.

And so in Kampala, where Luganda dominates other local languages, in the film you hear that language often or hear it mixed with their English, which is invariably peppered with that unique Ugandan accent that the actors convincingly affect. In fact, even their common mistakes in English are not ignored and so where a team beats another, you hear: “We won them!”

So, here in Rwanda, why don’t we demand an apology, in the form of remakes, over our vulgarized and abused stories? Is it impossible to get legal redress?

But then again, the way I see it is that there may be complications if, for instance, the producers of the two films were to ask for our assistance in the realisation of remakes. Where, in this Rwanda of today, can you get the primitive conditions of those days?

Still, the way respect has been accorded Queen of Katwe should inspire us to demand justice for Gorillas in the Mist. But as for Hotel Rwanda, may it go the way of those brute times!

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Are Rwandans in Kigali finally turning into urbanites?

My, how time flies! Whoever coined this phrase didn’t know the half of it.

Tell me, isn’t 1994 only the other day, when some of us were emerging from a 35-year hibernation of exile and gingerly treading onto this place that was called La Ville de Kigali? And, at the hearing of which, you looked around and saw nothing ‘ville’ (city) about a scattering of villages?

Whereupon you concluded: in this corner of the earth, a ‘city’ is defined by many hills dotted with few, solitary buildings.

Because, remember, on the many hills, as you see today, were buildings like the incomplete Kwa Kabuga, which still stands today, albeit with a massive haul-over. Then there was Hôtel des Mille Collines whose facelift hasn’t been much in the way of ‘lifting’.

There was the Central Bank, BNR, today more or less in its original form, and Telecom House, both buildings holding their own as good architectural pieces.
Unfortunately, the bizarre leadership of the day was such that the architect of the latter two sole buildings that were reasonably good was hunted down like a common criminal and killed simply for being who he was. But shank the barbarous leadership!

There were hotels Diplomate (now gone), Merdien (current Umubano), Chez Lando (hauled over) and that was about all, save for motley heaps of brick-and-iron semblances of buildings housing government offices and a post office.

If you’ve seen a 1918 photo of Quartier Comerciale (a misnomer for Kigali’s business district), where loin-clothed ‘Kigalois’ tended herds of goats in between attending to their grass-and-wattle ‘shops’, you’ll admit time seemed not to have budged an inch between then and 1994, as opposed to after.

However, if the hills of Kigali showed that they were villages, the residents went beyond that to conduct themselves in ways only attributable to villagers of the Stone Age. This was most demonstrably evident during your journeys around ‘town’, especially in the few minibus commuter-taxis that rattled on dust roads as they plied the area.

Say you are sitting at the window to catch some fresh air and, inevitably, some dust, from the many avocado trees along the roadsides……..

Those trees. You’ll remember that they were ostensibly planted to ‘feed’ residents while they roasted in the sun or drenched in the rain, waiting to cheer the then country’s president on his triumphal journeys out of, or back into, Kigali.

“Triumphal” because those days all business, including schools, came to a standstill as everybody was out to line along the road whenever the country’s head travelled.

On such occasions when avocados were in season, people happily munched and chanted as they waited for the “Omnipotent who had defied all gnawers” (Ikinani cyananiye abagugunnyi) to pass. Moving on the road alone was headline news, not the quiet affair of today. As for jostling for a lane with him on the road, blasphemy of blasphemies! But we digress……..

We were talking about you, ensconced in the back at the window in the commuter taxi, with no apparent vacant space next to you. Even then, woe betide thee if you were not a smoker, for a passenger was literally ‘grafted’ onto you and the passenger next to you. And this new loudmouthed arrival did not think twice about blowing all of their reeking traditional smoking-pipe fumes in your face, as he puffed away.

The loudmouth would have entered with a younger, more ‘civilized’ cigarette-smoking friend, who would be ‘folded in two’ , standing at the front, all the seats having been taken.

After briefly breaking their chattering with “Mwaramutse/Mwiriwe” they’d resume their conversation, raising their voices to hear each other over the din already in the taxi: “…So, like Rukuba, you remember how yesterday the man had zoned off part of his food so that nobody could touch it…”

At that point the whole taxi went dead silent, as everybody picked interest in the story. And the story-teller would warm up to that, clear his phlegm and spit through the window, narrowly missing you, then ceremoniously resume: “…When he came back to see that his food had been touched, it was the first and second world wars both combined. Hahaha!”

Poor you, everybody joined him in his burst of laughter at his inane joke while you bled with disgust inside but what could you do? Those were the times.

So, when this is where you are coming from, it’s interesting to sit and observe life in Kigali today and, especially, the conduct of the commuter.

An elder who shouts “Haroh!” in his phone will receive combined looks that will literally drill holes into his skull. In any case, with everybody silently bent over their laptop, tablet, smart or ordinary phone, etc, as if in prayer, who dares breathe into that gadget?

Gone is the obnoxious cigarette and pipe smoke everywhere; the phlegm tossed out at will; the answering of the call of nature everywhere; generally the dirt, disorder and darkness. The Kigali resident has mutated into an urbanite.

Of course, occasionally there are those of us still seized in our old village-bumpkin ways of the 1950s, rekindled in 1994, who may impulsively ‘answer that call’. But it’s enough that it touches off a national concern. Maybe it serves to push our planners to consider multiplying these so-far mean public conveniences!

Otherwise, that this place is in so short a time an emerging metropolis is nothing short of a miracle. Truly, time flies!

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May 2017 herald the end to aid dependency!

Today’s few remnants of gloaters at the misfortunes of this country must have laughed their scornful heads off a few days ago, on hearing this call: “We should resolve to set a deadline…[when we]…will no longer be waiting for what others hand out to us.”

But so did a murderous cabal of compatriots and their foreign backers twenty-six years ago, when they heard a call to this effect: “Tutakomboa nchi yetu. Inatubidi tu tuwe na uamuzi na nidhamu”. Roughly translated, with determination and discipline, we shall liberate our country.

Such a call made in 1990 sounded ever so much more hollow, of course, considering it was made to a tiny guerrilla group trying to get a foothold on the surface of a homeland they’d long been denied. With a world that was totally indifferent to their plight from the 1950s-60s, they’d been left to roam the earth, mocked and ridiculed wherever they went.

When theirs had always been a thin line of survival then, how could they dare talk about liberation?

After over 30 years of this borderline survival, however, they were determined to claim their rightful place in the future of their country, knowing their compatriots within it were not faring any better, either. All of which meant that the struggle’s intent was to coalesce Rwandans around a common cause that could see them reclaim their destiny.

Alas, having resorted to forceful self-repatriation after all other options had failed, the group was repulsed with such force that they were almost wiped out.

Their determination could not match the countering force mounted by practically all African Francophone armies, led from the front by France, all backing the regime of the time. It was all the group could do, to pull themselves together again.

Still, they’d survived the overwhelming lashing and could live to fight another day.

And, indeed, the Rwanda Patriotic Front and its fighting guerrilla wing (RPF/A) did not only survive but was growing into an ordered, strong organization that was quickly earning diplomatic clout, as it took over more territory, when again the shock hit them whack in the face.

They were ‘punished’ with the hitherto unfathomed apocalyptic horror of horrors, the Genocide against the Tutsi, even as success was in their sights.

How the ruling clique could punish what it called ‘foreigners’ by eliminating a section of its own people, right inside the country, no one among the regime’s supporters and in the wider world cared to ponder.

For the RPF/A, it was a stack reminder, if any was needed, that no one cared for Rwandans but they themselves, unless maybe it was in internecine annihilation. And that gave them the burst of energy to rise and halt the horror.

From there, the RPF went on to remove the whole genocidal machinery from the surface and system of this land to post an epic feat of survival.

Discipline, determination and right had triumphed over arrogance, greed and might.

Nevertheless, a nation does not live on battleground success alone, however sterling.

The new RPF government, saddled with a devastated economy and the herculean task of uniting their people, had a whole population to sustain. It had no alternative, therefore, but to swallow its hard-earned pride and turn to donors and foreign NGOs.

Talk about handouts! Donors and their NGOs came out in droves to dole out ‘gifts’ and made sure to make the fact abundantly clear.

So, everything was emblazoned with the name of every Santa Claus bearing a gift in wide, glossy letters. “Gift of the US”, complete with that ‘multiracial’ handshake. “Don de la Belgique”, with its country’s royal court of arms – but without mention of its perennially shaky governments!……

The gifts came in form of a motor vehicle for a government official here; sacks of rice, maize meal, beans, etcetera, there; tins of cooking oil; discarded jerry-cans for fetching water; name it.

I even remember seeing tin-cups, used to pick rations for individual families from those sacks, which were marked “Regalo dell’Italia” or “δώρο της Ελλάδα”. Come to think of it, shouldn’t Rwanda think reciprocity today, seeing the economic doldrums Italy and Greece are in?

That, however, is for the birds. What’s for real, the government was fed up with this donor and NGO ‘magnanimity’ and booted out most of the NGOs, even before a year was out.

Now, from total dependence to accepting about 30% donor assistance today, isn’t it a feat to beat other feats?

But 1995 isn’t where it all began. It was the end of one lap and beginning of another, in a succession of laps of a journey that will end when, finally, Rwandans can sit among prosperous societies as equals. That’s the meaning of that sworn “ukombozi”, liberation.

A pipedream? To pick one sentence from Habyarimana Joseph’s lengthy delivery: “Haki ya Mungu, with our leadership that’s the envy of the region, as my neighbours never tire to tell me, there is no height we cannot scale!”

Joseph is a villager in the remotest village of remote Rusizi District, at the border with D.R. Congo. He was speaking at Umushyikirano2016, in the ultra modern Kigali Convention Centre.

Methinks the story of this land is being written in the village. Indeed, the transformative power of good leadership should not be underestimated. The journey so far is testimony.

May 2017 be the harbinger to beckoning aid-less days to come!

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