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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When will service providers know that our lives and rights matter?

Published on 14th December 2016

Many people have bemoaned the shoddiness of the service delivery in this land and none can tell the reason for it. Is it incompetence, laziness, carelessness, arrogance or a combination of these and more?

Personally, I am simply baffled by how this shoddiness manifests itself in some professionals.

Take the Health Sector. A month ago when a brother who was feeling feverish went to a doctor at a hospital of high standing here in Kigali, the doctor glanced at him and dismissed his affliction as “stress” and prescribed some tablets.

The brother, seeing as the doctor had not checked anything, thought to seek another opinion. Because after all, when you go to a doctor, don’t you expect him to check your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate – the routine – as the first thing?
Even a witchdoctor asks some preliminary questions before making a ‘diagnosis’, surely!

So, the brother went to this simple clinic on KG 169 Street. When the doctor looked at him, he exclaimed: “Don’t say you came on your own!” And immediately put him on the examination table. After elaborate tests he found the brother had a deadly malarial infection in his blood that’d probably have cost him his life!

Considering that the doctor singlehandedly oversees this clinic that can cater for as many as twenty inpatients at a time, can you imagine the difference a little effort can make?

That “little effort”, however, seems to be an insurmountable task to some officials. There is this big referral hospital that the government, on its overstretched budgets, has over time turned around. From an asbestos-roofing death-trap in 1994, the hospital has become a well-equipped, simple but clean establishment – apparently.

“Apparently” because even I, fit as I was (save me derisive chuckles!), was scared to near-death when I saw its Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I was petrified by the threat of getting some infection from the uncontrolled crowd around the patients, during visiting hours. A desolate, half-empty bottle of hand-washing disinfectant is the only deterrent to passing our own diseases to the prostrate patients. No headdress, no nose-mouth-covering mask, no removing shoes, no nothing.

Well, that was not necessarily the reason a nephew didn’t see the light of next day but some measure of hygiene can go a long way in mollifying bereaved souls.

All the aforementioned, however, pale in comparison to the dangerous negligence of some health officials in our villages. And it suffices to recall the case of the woman who, after a caesarean section, was left with scissors and cotton buried in her. Pray, can you wrap your mind around the reason for such terrifying negligence?

Even in India they know that hospitals are hallowed places where hygiene is king and where only the best and most dedicated in the health profession dare to tread.

This, even when reaching that hospital means fighting your way through beggars tagging at you; men answering the call of nature all over; motorists-cyclists conspiring to burst your eardrums…… With all due respect to my Indian bosom buddies, one of whom,if it were not for him, I wouldn’t be walking upright today.

So, anyways, in this clean environment that’s Rwanda, what gives, with some service providers?

Luckily, these bad apples are only few, even if, unfortunately, they are spread across all sectors, not only in Health.

Maybe they should all be regularly inducted in our national Itorero Programme. A pep talk on the values of patriotism and ‘ubupfura’ (dedication to virtues), as practiced in our old tradition, may make them see the sense in “doing unto others as they would have them do unto them”.

But that assumes that the Intore (cadres in Itorero) in charge of these programmes are themselves ‘shyashya’ (any less blame-worthy). Going by the complaints about this year’s last Itorero, sometimes the conditions those programmes are conducted in are an insult to those very values.

Other complaints aside, in this land that’s on the world’s lips for its fastidiousness, where from does an organiser get a venue with bedbugs? And to think that the venue plays host to our sons and daughters during school time! Which, in the first place, should tell an Intore instructor a thing about where to begin with their inductions, if not with self!

All in all, these ‘bad apples’ in Health, Infrastructure, Education, Itorero and sundry other areas, do they pause to remember where we are coming from?

This country is where she is today because Rwandans came together to rescue her from being sunk into the abyss by deranged compatriots. The leadership and the populace, working in unison, marshalled their energies to pull her out of the barbarity of yesteryears, turn her around and place her on the path to civilization.

Now it’s even reported that these ‘don’t-cares’ and self-seekers are becoming so audacious as to swindle this no-nonsense-corruption-wise government out of millions of dollars?

No, the sanctity of a Rwandan’s life will never be violated in any way, ever again.

The sword of justice will come down mightily upon they who think otherwise.

And as the bearer of that sword hasn’t slept a wink since setting off to lead that rescue mission, so is he not about to, in these malfeasants’ life time.

Self-seekers and ‘gross-indifferent’, stand warned!

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Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the best, and with only a little effort

If you have not been in some backstreets of Kigali, where disorder may still be waging a battle to keep residents in ‘garbage bondage’, you’ve started to take cleanliness in other streets for granted.

Sure, you may be telling yourself that if there is still any battle at all, it’s a losing one.

Even then, what you may not know is that even as those streets lose that ‘back’, where you think you’ve seen the pinnacle of cleanliness, soon it may be a thing of the past.

So unrelenting is the continuum of change. In this land, no top seems to be high enough.

Maybe you’ve watched these two videos that have been doing the rounds on social media. If you haven’t, you should. They both show the city-centre—airport street, one in 2004 and the other, mid this year.

The green medians, tiled sidewalks and leafy roadsides that did not exist in 2004, despite concerted cleaning and greening, what a world of a difference!

So, what beauty was I crooning about in 2004? Which tells you this: as you celebrate, always be mindful that this country may not yet be done, springing surprises.

As we talk, the Kigali landscape is graced with Kigali Convention Centre and Radisson Blu, Kigali Heights, Marriot Hotel, Ubumwe Hotel, new housing estates and individual residential houses, etc, that mid-year Kigali may not have reckoned were in the works.

As to the new green roundabouts, greening being my arch interest, I add, once again, my plea for outer ring roads. Concentric rings that will hold those roundabouts, concretes, gardens, etc, in their embrace with the last one hugging the city, for highways to feed into.

And to that plea, I add another for artificial lakes to enhance the beauty of these untamed swamps.

It’s all doable. After all, who would have guessed that that ugly rocky wall at Sopetrad would have leafy plants clinging onto it today? Not to mention the ubiquitous wonder bricks, on sloping roadsides, from which spring plants that regularly break out into joyous flowers.

For, is foreigners’ admiration of Rwanda’s beauty over glass or concrete constructions? Nay, such eyesores are myriad in other places and what charms them is an orderly, clean, green and healthy environment, when we are a country of modest means. They are fascinated by these lines of flowers that decorate the whole road network of the country.

Interestingly, the 12-year space between those youtubes is donkey years, going by the speed of this beautification. The transformation in some areas, especially Kigali, is at such a dizzying speed that there are areas you will not recognise if you’ve not visited for a week.

Take me, self-confessed connoisseur of everything green and outdoor, always seized, as I am, in a strong urge to check out the Kigali landscape every few days and that of the countryside every few months, for I pride myself in being up to the minute in keeping tabs on any positive change.

Yet even I was caught flat-footed when recently I visited the ‘1930 Prison’ side of Kigali, only to find a breezy city, called Down-Town, where the other day there was savannah-land that was home to ramshackle ‘uniport’ shacks housing our “gendarmerie” (police).

In place of those ‘uniports’ has sprouted a spacious centre that brings to mind Johannesburg’s suburban city of Santon and its outlying estates.

The shopping centres of those estates in Santon and their extensive, verdant parking areas are a feast for the eyes. But, alas, considering the direction South Africa seems to be headed, that order and its heavenly cities may not be here for long.

South Africa wouldn’t be the first to see its top-notch cities crumble. Next door, in Zimbabwe, when Mugabe took over the reins of power, he unleashed a destructive machine that has all but ground Zimbabwe to a halt.

Harare, once a crown jewel among African cities, today is in a steep plunge-into-hell effort the reversal of which will prove a complex puzzle to his unfortunate heir.

Nearer home, the beautiful lakeside city of Burundi’s Bujumbura seems to be quickly drowning in filthy Lake Tanganyika, on whose formerly sandy shores it sits.

To the north, D.R. Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, once a sparkling star, and Bukavu nearer to our west that was known as ‘Petite City of Colours’, may soon give up on pretensions of being cities.

In their glorious days, their beauty was only surpassed by Côte d’Ivoire’s Abidjan, known then as African capital of art and fashion. But for it, too, that was then. Today it scrapes by, but just.

To our east, we all remember how in the 1970s our craving of a lifetime was visiting the mystic Green City in the Sun, Nairobi, and the City of Lights, Kampala.

A few years ago, when I revisited Nairobi and looked at how Kenya’s disorderly construction craze was threatening to swallow up its city’s spaces, my heart sank.

And a few weeks ago a walk on Kampala Road during Carnival Day threw me back to 1979, when bullets whizzed over our heads as we chanted “Twagala Lule oba tufa tufe!” Today’s bedlam of litter, roasting meat, muddy water, disorderly constructions, eardrum-splitting music…

But, being resilient, the two cities may be down but never will they be out.

Down or not, though, is it impossible to at least maintain, if not improve on, what the colonialist left?

Thank you, researcher Bernard Sabiti, for showing me that Rwanda, despite starting from scratch, is leading the way in demonstrating this: we can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best.

As President Kagame has put it, “To clean our compounds, do we need donors’ assistance?”

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The expression ‘Manna from Heaven’ takes on reality flesh in Rwanda

The launch early this month of unmanned aircraft to deliver life-saving medical supplies may not have raised ripples but I think it was remarkable. If the drones can save one life – and word is that the one already launched is giving a good account of itself – where the life would be lost with time-consuming land transport, that alone would be significant.

But if no other country has adopted the use of these drones for such services, it’s not that none needs them. Is it for fear of venturing into the unknown? Did anyone burn their fingers using them? Or have the drones proved to be ineffective?

Of course we know how the US government has used its infamous drones to advantage, blowing the daylights out of its real and perceived enemies of the world, especially the Arab World.

We know they are picking out the Al Qaeda, terrorist by terrorist, even if once a terrorist is liquidated in one place, another solidifies in another, signifying need for another approach.

Which latter, of course, is not the reason for the story that’s told of an American who tried to use a drone in his country.

He was met with an inexplicably prickly wall when his drone espied a sludge emanating from a factory and he tried to publicise the ‘eureka’. The small individual realised, to his grief, that in this democracy that owes its robustness to deep pockets, you don’t go snooping around the source of that wealth, however committed an environmentalist.

But our self-professed democracy had burnt its fingers, nonetheless.

You’ll also remember these see-alls (drones) that were brought to Goma by the UN to help it and the DR Congo government pacify the Kivu provinces but, especially, to scare off a stubborn country that would not look away while they were ‘pacifying’ a rich neighbour, a feat that had eluded them for eons.

The endeavour has continued to elude them as those snoopers mysteriously split into a thousand pieces trying to lift off, leaving the humungous UN mining….sorry, fighting….force to freely demonstrate that if the Congolese people were not willing to be liberated, the stones in their mines were not equally averse to the UN’s kind concern.

But whoever paid for those drones realised, to their embarrassment, that some giants (remember MONUSCO?) do not always necessarily take kindly to unsolicited assistance!

So, when the big boys don’t want these nosy busybodies, where does tiny Rwanda get the audacity from, to navigate uncharted waters? Or, if charted, to open her skies to these modern-day pigeons whose range of uses may be unknown to her?

The answer to that, search me, but I know one thing for a fact. This country’s government as we see it today was conceived and delivered under menacing skies and long ago learnt to thrive and turn such adversity into boon, whatever swords of Damocles hanging over its head.

To take you back, remember when a ragtag force by the name ‘Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army’ (RPF/A) attacked northern Rwanda in now-distant 1990?

Literally from that 1st October, French jet fighters, backing the then-government ‘Force Armée du Rwanda’ and a coalition of African Francophone forces, kept the tiny RPF/A force under a daily hail of bombs for all the four years that it was in the trenches.

When everybody thought it was good and gone, the force momentarily stumbled but rose, thanks to that ingrained conviction that it could manipulate adversity for positive effect.

From there, it turned phantom and coalesced into a formidable force that, after those four years, routed the whole collection of bomb-raining super-power and all its ‘running minions’.

The super-power was left to “cling on the plane”, repetitively crying: “Investigate the Habyarimana crash!” Flogging this dead horse for redemption, however, is like hoping to be pulled out of the cesspool depository of génocidaires the power is in, by clawing at straws.

Even then, expect the tempo of the comedy to rise, what with the erstwhile Francophone ‘minions’ coming to Rwanda in droves, for inspiration.

And the rest is not history, even if the super-power may be; nay, it’s only the beginning.

The beginning because “…we chose to stay together…to be accountable…to think big…”

That’s how, when that plane crash became an excuse (not ‘trigger’) to effect the long-planned Genocide against the Tutsi, the RPF put a halt to the genocide and united all Rwandans into a force (no revenge) that would strive to give flesh to the mythical “manna from Heaven”. (Heaven not being up but all around us, as the world is not flat – i.e. the following are not all from up).

So, this government has emboldened Rwanda to be first in the world to jump on the big idea of openly using drones to drop medicine to the masses; to be first in extracting methane gas from water and it comes down from poles as electricity; proffering universal medical insurance; enabling women to claim their rightful place; pulling court system from old tradition to deliver justice, et al.

And so, all ye ‘guys’, shy not away from celebration: these drones will deliver!

The world is taking note, too. Want anything done pronto? Turn to action-man/woman, Rwanda. Want cumbersome AU reformed; the intractable Montreal Protocol amendment signed?

Reminds you of this song: “Ibanga Abanyarwanda tugendana……” Nay, Rwandans, your secret is out!

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The 21st-century tourist will be a hard nut to attract

In southern USA, between the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, there is a short stretch of road that has become a sensation among Americans, and bagged ‘bags’ of money for residents of the area in the process, for exactly not being a stretch!

It’s said to be an 11-mile long road of “hairpins, blind cutbacks and cloverleaves” that had always been there without attracting attention until a motorcyclist decided these turns and twists, all 318 of them, posed an interesting challenge and let out the ‘secret’.

Today, the road, nicknamed ‘The Dragon’, has become the never-miss destination of motorcyclists, car enthusiasts and all who have an adventurous or curious spirit, money to spare and time for an outing. Residents of the area are said to be laughing all the way to the bank.

Bankers, health providers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, those who sell curios, artifacts, photos, name them – maybe even sim-card sellers and battery-chargers? – are harvesting dollars (not “deplorables”!) by the basketfuls.

Now, if you ask me, that’s exactly what the doctor…, the economist?….ordered for this Land of a Thousand Hills.

For this is not only the land of a thousand hills but also of over eleven million souls eager to be free and weaned off the pittance of donor handouts. These souls need to lure money spenders to this land, and remember to give back money’s worth, if they are to finally sustain themselves.

Lacking in natural resources, we have to borrow a leaf (as suggested elsewhere before) from out-of-the-box thinker countries and places that are rich without being overly resourced. Only then can we wean ourselves off dependence on others’ taxes and stand tall, our dignity fully intact.

There are many ‘leaves’ we can borrow from many countries and places.

For instance, the leaf we can borrow from ‘The Dragon’ is that of projecting ourselves as ‘Adventureland’; Disneyland for the old, so to say.

What many people don’t know is that ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’ is a gross understatement!

Strictly speaking, this is the land of almost as many as 12 million hills, the number of the souls who call it home. The veracity of this is borne out by the fact that our ancestors used to say that every Rwandan had their own hill, such that “Agasozi ka Nyira/Kanaka” was a common point of reference for directions.

These many hills, then, imagine how many turns and twists you can put on them, Karongi and Musanze roads being good indicators.

Adventure, however, cannot be hand-in-glove with smoothness and comfort, which is what asphalt-covered roads mean.

That’s where, once again, we can borrow a leaf from the East African Safari Rally of yore. Those who remember that car rally season will remember the clouds of dust and splashes of muddy waters associated with it. The death knell of the Safari Rally was sounded the moment many roads were covered with tarmac.

Considering how rugged and wild our innumerable hills are, it’d be no sweat etching out new rough tracks that will be hell in the dry season, worse in the wet!

Then, in the bargain, our Gorilla Rally and Tour du Rwanda can also learn to borrow an appropriate leaf, not simply that of being “rally”.

Which is not an indictment on Rwanda for not thinking out of the box for, if there was any clincher to so-thinking, Kwita Izina was brilliant it.

And, come to think of it, somebody in our neck of the woods may have borrowed a leaf from that, our baby gorilla naming ceremony.

You’ve probably heard the story. In Mamba Village, at the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa, wedding bells will soon be tolling in nuptials that will attract the Guinness Book of Records.

Come December, the lucky groom, a 100-year-old, 1,000-kg crocodile named Big Daddy will be tying the knot to his two croc brides, 35-year-old Sasha and 40-year-old Salma. And don’t fret for good old bozo BD; he ain’t breaking no laws. Kenya legalized polygamy in 2014.

It’s said that crowds galore from every known corner of this globe are raring to descend on Mombasa, their money bags on their heads for the event!

If borrowed, this indeed was a good ‘leaf’ and should be a pointer to how many more ‘leaves’ Rwanda can continue to borrow, from herself and others. Lion cub naming ceremonies; wrestling matches between human and buffalo ‘matadors’; ‘skiing’ in the volcano mountains (not with skis); water skiing competitions…… Our youthful brains, those who have ears…..

All of which goes to show you this: gone are the days when all you needed to attract money were mountain gorillas; parks and their game; sandy, sunny beaches and their clear waters, et al.

We need to create more stories around luring money to this land, plus these clean, orderly and peaceful streets must be made to chip in and more loudly tell their story, too.

Well handled, money spenders can sound the death knell to the shackles of donor aid.

But, beware! Attracting the 21st century money spender will call for a whole new paradigm, adorned in a whole new sequence of continually renewed spins.

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Why Rwanda’s swift turnaround should be celebrated

Whenever I visit my watering hole in evenings, I like to take a shortcut near my home as exercise while I’m at it. It’s ill-advised because the steep path can be perilous in the gathering dusk but I relish the challenge of seeing school kids effortlessly run through it while I’ll be panting my way up, breathless.

If you know Kigali’s Kiyovu area, then you know a path that cuts through an unlit thick brush that’s interspersed with eucalyptus and mango trees between what was once Republika Restaurant and Kiyovu Street. I like going up and down the slope a few times before proceeding to Rugunga.

It’s along that bushy shortcut that you’ll always find kids from the many primary schools in Rugunga late in the evening, playing hide and seek or streaming home, in groups or singles, without a care in the world.

Apart from enjoying their laughter and feeling a tinge of shame at the way they make me conscious of my fear of breaking my bones, I like that they can so freely play in this thicket and no one, parent or other adult (here everyone cares about a child as their own), thinks twice about it.

Knowing such feeling of security here, I was eager to see how we fair in comparison with the rest of the world.

But, on seeing this 2015 Gallup Law and Order Index report that’s just out, I was disappointed.

It’s a worldwide measure of people’s sense of personal security and their experiences with law enforcement and Rwanda ranks fourth alongside Spain, after Norway, Hong Kong and Singapore.

So, those rankers, apart from considering answers from respondents, did they have their own opinion, considering the conditions of those countries?

Because if you look at the areas ranked with or above Rwanda, they are all countries or city-states with lots of resources at their disposal and they have had a long time to consolidate their security, where Rwanda has had only a few years.

Still, for instance, if those countries had some dark spots like my ‘exercise spot’ that their kids have to walk through and play in, a dime a dozen in Rwanda, especially in the countryside, I doubt the respondents would have expressed such confidence in their security.

You have probably been to ‘Tarinyota’, that area in Biryogo where you’ll always find groups of loafing youths waiting for an offer of a mechanic’s job from passing motorists, and seen equally big groups of European and American back-packers freely thronging past them.

The back-packers are here as tourists or interns, mostly skimpily dressed youthful females, and live in such dingy areas, knowing they are safe and easy on the pocket.
In areas ranked with or above Rwanda, wouldn’t these females be attracting catcalls, if nothing much worse maybe with a racial hue, even when their unemployed youth are not many?

However, if all these are not considered, it’s probably as well. Maybe ranking top would go to Rwandans’ heads and render them complacent.

Of course no one gives a hoot about making impressions but let’s acknowledge appreciation where it’s due, nonetheless. It does wonders for motivation, when your aim is the apex.

Anyway, all that apart, do we pause to remember how we came to take this security for granted?

The Genocide against the Tutsi that haemorrhaged life out of this land, the mine bombs immediately after and the insurgency attacks after them all, I remember being witness to a small indicator of how they’d all soon be a thing of the past.

It was year-end, 1994, and we were in a then-popular hangout near ‘Payage’, ‘sipping the old year away’. At exactly midnight, gunfire erupted but before we could run for it, someone explained that it was only celebration by RPA soldiers, as was expected every end of year.

Surprisingly, though, that celebration itself ended in no time. Only the following morning did we learn that the celebration was abruptly stopped “Because PC anapanga”!

That “PC anapanga” (Political Commissar is in charge, strategising) would come to define the struggle by this government and the people to provide for themselves and all on this land total peace of mind.

It was an idealistic call but none can deny that it has meant some measure of freedom from harm, want, ignorance, disease, ethnic or racial bigotry, say it – in a word, the pursuit of freedom for all from all ill or abuse of any sort, with physical security as the launch-pad for everything.

While the “PC anapanga” of 1994 meant that Vice-President and Minister for Defence Paul Kagame of then was personally involved in leading a contingent of soldiers in halting those disruptions, he as President today leads a contingent of all Rwandans in climbing out of all forms of backwardness.

That’s why Rwandans scoff at accusations of autocracy and dictatorship by a self-proclaimed world-pacifier Uncle Sam, USA, and its ilk and their effrontery to give Rwanda lessons on democracy.

Consider this: according to a recent BBC report, in some parts of the city of Chicago, USA, never a night passes without a shooting. In fact, on average, there are 12 shootings every day.

But for their high-tech ambulances that whisk victims to hospital as they are being treated, the death toll would have hit the 2,949 mark, the number of shootings this year alone.

Where Rwanda counts one death allegedly at the hands of a doctor gone berserk and one attempted baby-snatch by a childless nurse so far this year, USA counts 500 deaths at the hands of criminal (and police?) gangs.

The count of the West’s cities’ muggings, robberies, shootings, rapes, homicides, etc, Chicago being only the worst case, let’s not rub it in!

Rather, let’s ask ourselves: what’s democracy where life is not assured?

Indeed, we should appreciate and celebrate our steep slope of swift rise from death to tranquillity.

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Mediterranean drownings: the height of human callousness

Once upon a time, there rose what became the scramble for Africa and it came to pass that the continent was invaded, occupied, partitioned, colonized and annexed to European powers. But we all know about that and don’t want to go there again.

Try as we can, however, we cannot ignore that history because it has followed us, seemingly to haunt us for eternity. So now, in a kind of poetic injustice, there is also the scramble for Europe.

“Poetic injustice” because it’s the opposite of “poetic justice”, where those wronged are avenged in a manner that’s ironically appropriate.

In the present case of “poetic injustice”, the innocent are wronged instead, as our African brothers and sisters, victims of that scramble for Africa of yore, in their mad rush for Europe are ending up belly-up in the Mediterranean.

Is our continent cursed that our people should risk turning the waters of the Mediterranean, if they survive the sands of the Sahara, into their own grave just to leave it?

Only the other day, 3,000 Africans were plucked out of the Mediterranean Ocean. As the tiny boat they were crammed in teetered on the verge of capsizing, humanitarians arrived in time to rescue them. The previous day, 6,500, among them five-year-old twins, had been rescued.

During pick migration periods, every year sees close to 4,000 African lives perish in those treacherous waters. These periods seem to have been two so far, with the first being in the mid-2000 while the second can be said to have been after 2011.

The cause of the first pick, search me, but 2011, if you remember, is the year that Muammar Khadafy was killed. That wasn’t surprising, then, since he used to be paid by some European countries as their gatekeeper to keep migrants at bay. Also, we should not forget the fact that a sizeable number of them used to obtain employment in Libya and surrounding countries.

Considering the aversion of European countries against these migrants, perhaps Khadafy’s death mostly at the hands of the NATO forces was the only true case of poetic justice!

Anyway, since these countries are so much into avoiding this dreaded migration problem, why don’t they channel those funds, earlier meant for Khadafy, into addressing the root of the problem? They can instead support the source-countries of migration in solving their problems of conflict, poverty, unemployment, general hopelessness and other such challenges.

All of the above aside, however, these powers should know that they can save themselves a lot of pain and save Africans a lot of lives by simply being human. Being human means being free to sample what the heart desires and not working to deny others similar freedoms.

It’s a human instinct to rebel when barred from anything. Some will even risk limb and life in that pursuit.

Erecting walls, setting up sentinels, paying gatekeepers, hunting down people-smugglers, stiffening anti-migration laws, patrolling the Mediterranean waters or letting these hapless migrants die in them will never keep Europe ‘uncontaminated’.

Before the 2000s when there was no impediment to migration, Africans went in and out of Europe freely and no one was desperate about it. If this showed anything, it was that no one had intentions to make it home. They went for job opportunities and worked or found a way to rejoin their people back home if such opportunities were not found.

Of course an odd one here and there worked or lay-about jobless and stayed but did we witness a desperate rush of this scale then? And, come to think of it, isn’t Europe the richer for it?

Methinks that’s why the Rwandan government, having learnt this little truism long ago, sometimes the hard way, will always be committed to an open-door policy visa-wise.

The hard way came with exile, when a section of Rwandans were forcibly turned into refugees and had to eke out a living in other countries. Otherwise, from the colonial days, Rwandans went “i Bugande” and other surrounding areas for odd jobs but always made sure to come back and build themselves with their earnings – without forgetting the relish of a lit lamp during the day!

Still, lamps aside, that’s why this government holds its Diaspora Rwandans in high esteem. And it’s why it allows all Africans in the country visa-free, while it extends the same gesture to any other country, on any continent, that’s ready to reciprocate.

Europe should learn this little wisdom from Rwanda: an open-door policy on entry into country never hurt anyone; rather, it’s enriching.

It won’t be the first time Europe learns something from Rwanda. Unfortunately, the first time when some countries remembered to put army personnel on the streets, it was too late. But can you hold that against anybody?

No, there is no scramble to colonise and annex Europe. Africans are scrambling for freedom to mix, exploit opportunities and advance as they reciprocally advance societies that host them.

To advance one another, and save one another from fatal waters, that’s only human.

But to tolerate the Mediterranean as a cemetery, that’s the height of human callousness.

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