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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can current individual countries’ political tectonic shifts deliver the prosperous integration Africa craves?

Some of us heaved a sigh of relief when Robert G. Mugabe went with a whimper and not a bang. He was past his sell-by date and there are so many tumbles a man can take, true, but we’ve to admit we always cheered when, once on the rostrum, he tongue-lashed those superpowers that lord it over us – and did it more eloquently than many a polished Englishman/woman could ever hope to!

The equally linguistically agile Winston Churchill, once British PM, must still be booing his compatriots derisively on recalling this, where he lies in his repose!

He knows, jolly chap, that much as Mugabe cannot be spared the flak for lacking a vision for Zimbabwe’s future, the UK, too, shares the blame for grinding it down. Moreover, Churchill’s quintessential “my word is my bond” was glumly disgraced when the UK went back on its pledge of helping to build the newly independent country that it’d abused so.

But of course, when even your young wife or bodyguard cannot be swift enough to rescue your knee from a none-too-soft connection with the airport tarmac, it’s time to call it quits. Sadly, our Mugabe had to wait until he had to be nudged off that thankless throne.

Even the all-time-impossible-to-kill Fidel Castro of Cuba (RIP) on another continent, when he suffered such a tumble, knew it was time to withdraw his trademark military cap from the ring. Strong as he was and despite a sterling job done of advancing his country, he immediately saw that true as it may be that revolutionaries never die, it’s only in as far as they live on in their ideas and ideals; not in their mortal ‘housing’.

So, may the successors of our revolutionaries continue from where they left, after plucking their people from the yoke of tyranny, and now build progressive societies.

And the “man down yonder”, Jacob G. Zuma? Well, he zoomed onto the helm of the biggest African economy, gathered dishonest, even criminal, friends as he stuffed up his pockets with the wealth of his country and his Nkandla harem with its fair gender. So, he happily executed a few jigs of his Zulu dance but before he could finish with his hot shower, he’d been rudely prodded to throw in the towel.

By that time, though, South Africa, once a pariah Apartheid infamy but an economic giant, now as a near-democracy was at its knees so scandalously that it suffers electricity power-cuts and dry water-taps. It’s a fading shadow of its discriminative but heyday era self.

President M. Cyril Ramaphosa and your team, bring down this wall of division, racial disharmony, abject poverty for the majority and stinking riches for the minority. Demonstrate that personally, though of feet dripping with the ungodliness of that minority, you can build a classless and flourishing South Africa and anchor it in an optimistically integrative continent.

An integrative African continent whose seat (Addis Ababa for the AU), alas, looks shaky.

No, Ethiopia, in the name of Africa, don’t go down that route again!

The scandal of 1983-5, when Bob Geldof and his group of dark-glass-and-long-hair sporting yodellers were the last hope to come to the rescue of bare-boned Ethiopians in a devastating famine. The group’s “Do they Know It’s Christmas?” song saved some, yes, but what a shame for Africa!

Africa’s kin, Harry Belafonte, chipped in also to up the ante by doing the same with another group of songsters who added on the meagre £ 8m with their own $ 141m in the song “We Are The World”. So much for the effort, however; the hand-outs evaporated in the hot embers of the dearth that was consuming much of Africa.

From Mengistu H. Mariam’s Red Terror (1974 -11991) and the famine that counted in excess of 1.5m deaths, to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that turned around everything to put the country back on the road to advancement, despite sailing in choppy waters, Africa has been watching keenly with rising hope.

So, what’s all this, pan-Africanist Hailemariam Desalegn, that you should just go as PM and no byes? What is amiss in the EPRDF house? What could comrade Meles Zenawi hold together that you can’t? A united EPRDF can sort out these protests, surely.

With a robust near-constant 10% growth economy, a focused investment in public infrastructure and industrial parks, Ethiopia is a hub for light manufacturing in Africa. Despite sporadic bouts of hunger, the mainstay of exports is in agricultural commodities.

Ethiopian Airlines, with its sprinting growth in the industry, is the largest on the continent. The kilometres of road network and extensive rail network, even connecting to the port of Djibouti, without forgetting the light rail of Addis, all are the envy of the continent.

In electricity, Ethiopia is projected to generate more than 10,000 MW. Some of which, if it weren’t for some quislings along our connecting way, as Rwandans we’d now be tapping into.

Ethiopians, you can organise your politics to all, without exception, share in this wealth fairly and together make your economy even stronger.

These political tectonic shifts in our countries need must birth a truly rising integrative Africa.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Volunteer leaders at the grassroots, our unsung heroes

There is a cadre of workers that we take for granted in this country. Few of us really appreciate the profundity of their work’s impact, especially to the ordinary citizen.

I was awakened to this truth recently in a conversation with a friend, who is head of Umudugudu. As a village (so-commonly translated into English, a misnomer in the context of a town), Umudugudu is not in the formal administrative structure as it’s a communal voluntary coming-together of neighbours. So, its leaders are volunteers, too.

The self-organisation of neighbours chooses their hierarchy of a volunteer leadership and gives it the powers to be in command. And so the leaders freely exercise the powers to organise umuganda but also do a lot more.

The enthusiasm of these leaders verges on excitement. For leaders who are not paid for their pains, to sacrifice so much energy and time to fulfil their obligations is nothing short of astonishing.

You will hear one boast about how their village is always the best in everything. There is no insecurity, no theft, no homes with problem couples or children, no clogged culverts, no unclean streets, no poverty case that’s not addressed expeditiously.

During the elections, their polling station was the most beautifully decorated. Their women organisation is the most active, advising one another and together identifying family problems that need solving, always working with men, in evening meetings called “akagoroba k’ababyeyi”. It’s the same for their youth organisation, for the youth’s specific interests.

And truly, all villages may not be excelling in their performances but it will not be for lack of effort by these village leaders, our unsung heroes.
It’s not that there are no bad apples among these leaders, far from it. But when it comes to implementing government policies, it’s my conviction that they beat some of the paid local leaders at higher levels, hands down.

Always thinking of new ways of making sure any personal or family query is responded to sooner than before, for example, the village leaders have divided up the villages into zones (amasibo). Every zone (isibo) can get together and solve their problem if possible and, if not, the leader takes it to the village level.

So, from zone to village, to cell, to sector, to district, to province, to the many government agencies and non-governmental organisations, civil society, et al, all the way to the three arms of government and up to the president, the lowliest citizen and their word ride unhindered. And that’s what makes the village leader’s day.

If you ask me, our villagers may not be opinion leaders but ‘baravuga rikijyana’!

All, of course, will have started at the grassroots. When in my friend’s village recently a helpless old couple announced their son was getting married, close to 1m Frs was instantly raised through a whatsapp group by the village members. And many graced the occasion.

When an old widow lost her life, the village members garnered just under 2m Frs, much as they are not rich, and everybody was involved in the bereavement, as one family.

For assistance that villages are not capable of dispensing in their combined effort, the poor and vulnerable, having been identified in name and condition, are forwarded to government programmes in charge of uplifting their state.

It’s thus that the smooth voluntary leadership at the base of our society helps the vulnerable to access all services the central government has laid out. The village members thus feel as empowered as those who count themselves as rich and powerful.

Among these community leaders who have helped propel the lowly into this feeling are also mediators (abunzi) who resolve simple disputes, as well as health-
counsellors (abajyanama b’ubuzima) who advise on healthy living and swiftly connect with health facilities.

The gratitude of the vulnerable groups, in all its innocence, has spread loads of mirth for the elite, especially on social media.

Which maybe should call for a fee to be levied on that free entertainment! The mongers and consumers of this ‘uncopyrighted’ comedy should start coughing up some dosh to help finance those government programmes.

In the model villages spreading in the country by leaps and bounds, for instance, you’ve seen the excitement of an old man over a modern house that was dished to him. No, he says, he had to sleep under the bed at first, until he had repeatedly rubbed himself clean enough to be worthy of his kingly beddings!

Or the old woman who excitedly recounts how she only needs to flip a button and sunlight floods into her house (i.e. electric light). As for cleaning herself, she only needs to twist something and rain falls (shower). Moreover, she need not go far from there for any other ‘convenience’ – (you dig?)

All in all, we should appreciate the contribution of our volunteer leaders in advancing a progressive, egalitarian and democratic Rwanda. For them and the highest levels, we are a happy, united family.

As for our African leaders still choosing hate over a continentally united family, down yonder and elsewhere, one down, how many to soon go?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The West may be going west; let’s look to youthful East

Everybody will tell you Dubai City is the destination of choice when you want to purchase anything under the sun, on the cheap. It’s the go-to place when you want pickings at rock-bottom price, especially used vehicles, to ship home for personal use or as merchandise.

What no one will prepare you for is the spectacle that’ll explode before your eyes after touching down at the Dubai International Airport.

The expansive, modern airport may not move you if you’ve globetrotted a bit, even with all the records it holds. But what’s sure to amaze you, considering its location in the volatile Arab region (though some neighbours are peaceful, too), is the near-absence of police on Dubai’s streets and all around.

And yet as you will attest, the city is the epitome of calm and serenity. As a Rwandan used to your country being praised as an oasis of peace and order, it’ll definitely deflate you some!

Until you look very closely. The whole city is under camera scrutiny. Only the odd traffic accident or other mishap will bring police out, racing in their famed Grand Prix choice of cars, from their stable of millions-dollar-worth wheels that are otherwise a preserve of film and sports stars with money to burn.

Yet again, these entrepreneurship savvy Arabs have more tricks up their sleeves that only they can conjure up.

Those insanely-priced cars double up as a public relations gimmick. It’s said people are flying in from all over just to take a selfie with a Dubai cop leaning on a Bugatti Veyron, a Ferrari FF and other such dream cars that we only see in films.
People even plead to be arrested for the simple pleasure of riding in them!

So, why are traffic transgressions rare? Under those watchful cameras, the littlest traffic offence will dig a $260-size hole into your pocket!

Enough dough to move you around in Dubai’s swift metro system so that you can marvel at its crazily outlandish architecture and other man-made wonders that have turned it into a tourist’s paradise.

Not even the know-all Google search can prepare you for the heady feeling of being in the majestic presence of those man-made miracles!

A 7-star Arab-dhow-sail-shaped hotel that seems to be in motion on the Persian Gulf. A man-made set of islands shaped like a palm tree. The world’s tallest building that’s pyramid-shaped. The tallest 90-degree twisted building. The largest dancing fountain in the world. An indoor ski resort, the largest flower garden in the world, etc.

The above are in a desert, remember? Yet today Dubai is almost greener and more wooded than Kigali. Without that freshness and naturalness of our highlands, alright, but green.

Otherwise, anything out of this world, Dubai has it. And it’s not done yet, for it’s a busy construction-site. In the offing: an even taller building and more superlatives of everything.

But methinks the wonder of wonders about Dubai is that its population is 96% migrants, putting to shame all the xenophobic countries of this mean-spirited and naïvely self-dwarfing world; a world that’s going west or, in a word, dying.

While others are cocooning themselves inside barricaded walls – Western countries, especially – Dubai is not only the global investors’ magnet but also a magnet to all and sundry: consultants, architects, bankers, big business, small business, big traders, petty traders, workers, all. All of them in their special economic zones, with their own laws, to boot!

And the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is becoming a powerhouse in great part because of the outlandish idea that visited those Emiratis: to lure the world to themselves.
Yes, there was oil (no longer drilled), a regional port, some gas, even talk of being haven to terrorists and their money. But today’s global-leader Emirates Airlines, starting off in 1985 with a laughable two aircrafts and hired staff, and other state-owned enterprises, without forgetting being open-borders, are said to have been the spark that set off this galloping growth.

So, wherever you are from, you’ll find a home. To the extent that as a Rwandan, you’ll find that familiar ‘bife’ (buffet) with a range of cassava, arrowroots/taro (amateke), peas, beans, all.

Thus satiated on your home dish, you squeeze yourself in a corner at the entrance into Dubai Mall, at the bottom of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and watch.

That rarely-seen police will have come out in force to direct the ceaselessly enormous traffic – human traffic of tourists! And that’s only at one spot of innumerable other spots. With the likely ultimate tourist attraction of all being ‘screamingly surfing’ the sand dunes of the desert.

So you think back: continually expanding Rwandair and other state- and party-owned enterprises; new bigger airport; investment giants like car manufacturers; unrelenting extension of all infrastructure; special economic zones; open-door policy; cameras being erected; expansion and variation of national parks; etc.

And your eyes open. Yes, Rwanda, the entire country, can go the Dubai way.

In fact, when I came to think of it, I pinched myself with muted excitement (kwicinya icyara)!

Unlike Kigali, Dubai ain’t got those ‘cool’ three-lane sidewalks; traffic lights counting down seconds; humane police to assist a vulnerable kid cross streets; backstreets without an iota of litter like cigarette butts; all-year-round sunny but mountainous breezy climate; etc.

Most of all, UAE ain’t got a come-together-camaraderie monthly muganda nor a youthful bureaucracy, even as it looks generations ahead.

“[Politics] thinks of the next elections. [Statesmanship], of the next generation,” as somebody said. Methinks we concur with the Emiratis on this, dubbed an absolute autocracy, though it be.

As for the self-trumpeted democratic West, it may be going west!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Africa, Action Man at your service!

“If it’s not the old fogy himself!” yelled Sylvetre Semajeri, on seeing me on one of Kigali’s sidewalks. “Come,” said he as he yanked at my sleeve and led me to a corner in a nearby joint.

By now you know my homeboy of the slopes of Mt Muhabura, I’m sure. So, as is his wont, hardly had we settled down than he started rattling off his ‘lecture’: “And I thought I knew him!” said he unceremoniously.

Knowing him, I knew better than to interrupt. Rather, I settled down to obligingly surrender my ears to him!

You see, resumed he after seeing he’d ‘subdued’ me, I got the story from a source that’d picked it straight out of the man’s mouth, at his birthday anniversary. We have heroes. And then we have President Kagame.

Tell me, can it begin to penetrate your dim mind how somebody, in a split second, can decide to ‘drill’ an opening through the thicket of unknown hazards and eventually come out scathed, all right, but still in one piece?

He was ready for anything because the time had come. The time to end the illusion of a cosy life in a top-rank military academy and homely flat for him and his newlywed. And, to the hilt, she took it in her stride equally easily and selflessly: the couple were as similar as two peas in a pod……

Yes, son of my soil, I can see your foggy face clearing; you now understand of whose life I talk. Indeed, who’d have thought those two would be President and First Lady of this land today? But we are getting ahead of ourselves…….

First, there were many inconceivable traps to escape on the way from USA before Kagame could join the rebel group of comrades whose story had become a black hole. For all he knew, they could’ve been wiped out. Dead or alive, though, he was part of them.

And so the man went to the elite military academy officials and said no, please excuse me but I have to quit. In truth, I’m not he of the passport I hold!

While they were chewing on that incredulity, he explained how he was in Uganda as a refugee and how now home was calling; many Rwandans faced danger from the existing regime.

Seeing how adamant he was, yet worryingly wondering what one man could do in the face of such odds, the officials reluctantly cleared him and wished the couple well, sending them off with gifts of books on war strategies for him.

And so began a journey of cliff-hanger perils straight out of the pages of James Hadley Chase novels, those thrilling adventures you so-called intellectuals read strictly as fiction. Unlike you, one true one was seeing reality in the fiction and taking notes.

Anyway, to cut a very long story short, as the couple waited for a connecting flight from London to Brussels, a sixth sense sounded a siren. Belgium, bedfellow to Habyarimana’s Rwanda as its former colony, was no place to pass. Officials there must be on the alert. And they were, actually.

The excruciating experience of tearing himself away from a beloved pregnant newlywed, abandoned in the departure lounge of an airport in London to proceed to Brussels on her fragile own, few, if any, couples would be willing to imagine, leave alone undergo.

That the two agreed on the spur of the moment and did it for Rwanda is beyond imagination for many.

So, discarding the ticket for Brussels, he somehow secured one for Addis Ababa, only to land in a city on red alert about a dangerous element with intention to transit through.

Still, when time came, he unobtrusively slipped around the detector machine and at the airport tarmac snitched his war-books-incriminating suitcase from between the legs of a security officer to place it on the conveyor belt, always unnoticed by the walkie-talkie chattering security lot.

That and how he smuggled himself onboard that heavily-guarded Ethiopian Airways flight bound for Kampala would have left James Bond green with envy!

Once in Uganda, he was on familiar terrain and so our protagonist easily manoeuvred his way through immigration and over the highway to the border only, on crossing, to be greeted by the spectacle of a shambles of death and despair.

That from there this desperate ragtag band of bleeding fighters that he commanded grew to run rings around the superpower-led multitude of armies and finally rout them remains a phenomenal exploit that has befuddled all war experts.

Even as the small band of fighters grew in strength and size, was it his heightened intuition that was responsible for their success and his umpteen hair-thin escapes?

Other examples apart, the creeping feeling on his back that made the high command vacate a tent in the nick of time before it was bombed to shreds. The huge rogue rock that he repeatedly barely escaped as it coasted down dangerously every time a fighter behind accidentally stepped on it, on a treacherous descent in the dark.

Much before that, as an exiled toddler, the narrow escape as the would-be commander mistakenly uprooted a local’s groundnuts in the name of being of use in contributing to work for food for family!

From a military strategist to a statesman unafraid to try anything in pursuit of the dignity for the down-trodden, President Paul Kagame remains a humble human whose power of action is only now beginning to be fully appreciated outside Rwanda.

Are AU member countries ready to embody their Chairman’s mission-impelled service?

As today, 1st February, is Rwanda’s Heroes’ Day, so can this be a Heroes’ Year for Africans if we can together determine to start resolving our conflicts and outgrowing the begging bowl.

All his life, the realisation of those goals has been one of Kagame’s coveted ideals.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rwandan mountain summits daring mountaineers to conquer them!

There are humans living amongst us and looking every inch like us but who, interestingly, do not belong to our world; they are otherworldly. With your wits about you, can you voluntarily tempt death by plunging right into the belly of the beast that’s boiling magma?

Memories of Nyiragongo Volcano in 2002 and the devastation its eruption visited on the border town of Goma, D.R. Congo, are fresh in our minds. The resultant relatively small-scale molten lava flowed over and melted buildings and all else in its path and its vicinity.

It killed 157 people despite early warnings and evacuations.

Yet for curiosity, sport or a living, there are people prepared to undertake the suicidal venture into that simmering lava without thinking twice!

The other morning I listened in stupefaction as a voice on radio explained how a German lady goes about this death-courting business for Planet Earth, the series of documentaries that put you bang in the midst of Mother Nature. The clarity of the photos of, and proximity to, the splendours and mysteries of nature bring them to life in a way your physical sighting cannot.

However, behind those spellbinding wonders that you observe in the comfort of your sitting room will have been sometimes bloodcurdlingly risky acts by a unique species of humans.

That lady is living example. To get the best close-up photo of an active volcano, she goes so deep into the volcano’s cone that the boiling lava’s sparks will be licking at her feet. At temperatures in excess of 1000°F, even with a custom-built industrial proximity suit as protection few daredevils would be ready to try it once, leave alone make it an occupation.

This world can count few braves capable of such spine-chilling stunts.

However, ordinary adventurers are legion, which brings back memories of days when colonialists used to climb Mt. Muhabura, one of our chain of mountains. The mountaineering enthusiasts were leaders, priests, teachers and their students; these latter sometimes being local.

Rwanda should try and revive that attraction to mountaineering enthusiasm for the tourist world.

True, mountaineering cannot compete with gorilla trekking as the latter combines the excitement of the treacherous climbs through brush and nettle with an exhilarating socialisation with our gentle giants and the jeopardous descent back.
All the same, an addition to a variety of tourist attractions never did any country any harm.

Only, if it were to be reintroduced, caution must be exercised as, indeed, it is in gorilla trekking.

I remember stories of how one time the descent down Mt. Muhabura cost the lives of two Rwandan students.

It must have been 1953 and the case involved students from a college not far from the mountain, Ecole Commerciale, Kinoni. After insisting on climbing the mountain despite the locals pointing out it wasn’t the season for it, the colonial head-teacher and his students followed the local guides up, headed for the summit.

Stamping your claim on a piece of ‘summit-territory’ by planting your flag there was the ultimate triumph of all!

Midway, however, all of them except four found the conditions too harsh and backtracked. The stubborn four were given leave to continue, with a guide, but also soon gave up. Without alerting their guide, they sneaked back, thus opening themselves to the hazards of straying into unknown danger.

Two of them somehow found their way to a base across the border into Uganda, almost frozen to their bones, but the others were not so lucky. They were found in the forest the following day, frozen to death.

But that sad episode aside, imagine this wonder of wonders.

The guides were loin-clothed inhabitants of the forest at the foot of the mountain – a kind of cold-defying hunter-gatherer group of tiny Tarzans that knew the mountain footpaths like the inside of their, er….loin-cloth folds. Even the heavily furred gorillas never ceased to marvel!

Anyway, all that now past, the freezing temperatures; the slippery footpaths covered in bushes that slap back together (or slap distracted you, behind!) after a climber has parted them and passed; the itchy nettles that sting every part of a climber’s thinly-clothed body; the ever-dripping canopied trees that afford no location of anybody’s bearings.

They are heavenly gifts for world adventurers and any amateur climbing-enthusiast, plus the odd student given to studying the mysteries of Mother Nature, since now there is gear to guard against any danger.

And, like the landscapes in Tour du Rwanda, the mountains need no advertisement.
Just get close-up photos of climbers tackling those terrains and vegetations, even if it means hanging on helicopter winches precariously, and transcribe the mountains’ challenge in their own words: “I am Mt. Muhabura summit, reach all of my 4,127-metre-tall stature if you can! Negotiate the capriciously slippery path to me: prickly brush, stinging nettles, dripping forest canopies and freezing temperatures and you can plant your flag on me.”

“I am Mt. Karisimbi summit. At 4,510 metres, I am taller, steeper; a meaner proposition. Plant your flag on me if you can!” I am Mt. Bisoke summit, Mt. Sabyinyo, Mt. Gahinga……

Even yours truly, with that protective gear of today, would readily drag creaking bones up there to answer such a challenge from any mountain!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment