Self-confidence, self-respect spawn hard work

Africans seem to despise themselves. What else can you call it when they get excited about being compared to Europeans? Or when African commentators think that everything good looks European, not African? That’s the message you get on hearing or reading the many comments by participants in the AU Summit that ended last week, here in Kigali.

The commentators, especially those who were visiting for the first time, seem to be admiring of the spotless cleanliness and faultless organisation of the summit not because they are by Rwandans but rather because they look European. And Rwandans, going by their reactions, seem to cherish that.

Of course we, as Rwandans, are grateful to these commentators for stating things as they see them, even with the small insinuation of African incapability. It’s a welcome repose from the pollution of distortions and falsehoods by foreign reporters and rights activists that are the daily dosage for this country.

My point, however, is that we, as Africans, should not be self-denigrating. Africans are as good as anybody and, at least in Rwanda, our President’s constant reminder should be our permanent wake-up call: “Rwanda may be a small country but Rwandans are not a small people.”

In spite of this, take the case of this advertisement on Rwandan radios and TVs, for example. Mr Dismas Mukeshabatware, in his trade-mark high-pitched voice, wonders where to get a jacket good enough to wear in a European country he is visiting! In short, he can wear rags in Africa but not in Europe!

Indeed, a comic commentary on our view towards our continent.

But there is a vile kind of not only self-denigrators but also self-haters that other Africans should avoid engaging in conversation. The Ugandan media personality Timothy Kalyegira is perhaps the worst example of this self-hating lot who, being educated and extravagant with ‘opinionated opinions’, need to be shut from our societies.

A man who sees nothing wrong with being a diehard Idi Amin Dada apologist cannot be anything but dangerous. For Amin was the Ugandan dictator, as we caring neighbours bleed to remember, who was responsible for the death of thousands of Ugandans.

And true to Mr Kalyegira’s character, he also dismisses Rwanda’s achievements as amounting to nothing beyond functional traffic lights and zebra crossings. To this dear neighbour, what we and outsiders see as sterling effort in poverty reduction, hunger eradication, multiplication of educational institutions, 90+% community health insurance cover and other accomplishments, in under 20 years, count for nought.

No, we in Africa should have a positive view of ourselves because we are equal to the best. We only need to apply ourselves to hard work and to cultivate self-respect and self-worth.

Otherwise, faulty organisation, for instance, can be African as it can be American, Asian or European.

I remember being witness to chaos at its worst, in organisation, in a European country. To be exact, it was in the Spanish city of Barcelona, during the AIDS Conference of 2002. All the attention of the organisers seemed consumed by ex-President Bill Clinton and no one seemed to give a hoot that there were serving Heads of State; European, African or otherwise.

In the stampede of entering or exiting the conference hall, only the still nimble Heads of State made it unscathed, as they were saved by the fire escape steep stairs!

Unfortunately, when it comes to such chaotic organisations on our own continent, some of our people seem to relish pandemonium multiplied umpteen-fold!

It must have been 2000, when the OAU that had intentions to transform into the AU was hosted by this West African country that’s best kept unnamed. The bedlam that reigned in the conference hall was nerve-racking for the Heads of State but what ensued on attempting to access rooms in the 22-storey hotel, acha tu! (as the Waswahili say.)

Of the four lifts originally built for the hotel, only one functioned. That meant that waiting out for an orderly use of the lift would have meant hours upon hours of waiting, an inconvenience the security detail of a Head of State worth their training could not subject their boss to.

The result was a punch-up that could have been the envy of today’s South Sudanese fighting factions. At one time I espied an aging, ‘platformed’ Head of State throwing a ‘vicious’ punch at his hapless bodyguard, in the mistaken belief that the bodyguard had pushed his First Lady down. In truth, the lady had been caught in the mêlée of the bodyguards and fallen down.

As for the other Heads of State, accessing the 22nd floor through the fire escape was not for the weak-kneed. But the alternative wouldn’t have been very appeasing to you either, even in your humble station.

In a word, in trying to miss no detail in organisation, to leave no stone unturned in cleanliness, in pushing for rapid overall socio-economic growth and good political entente with other societies, Rwandans are trying to distance themselves from such mess and any other shame.

And since they are giving a good account of themselves in this regard, why can’t any other African society?

If we can’t realise positive transformation together, at least we can learn from one another.

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Kudos all round for a successful AU Summit!

Rwandans should take time to give themselves a hearty pat on the back. Then, after that, they can go back to their favourite preoccupation. The preoccupation of driving the processes of placing their country and society among societies that take hard and smart work, and its resultant good standard of living, for granted.

Whatever the verdict of the usual negative public opinion that never fails to find fault may be in the end, the hosting of this AU Summit was a brilliant success. The showers of praises from leader after leader who had opportunity to talk, and commentators wherever they expressed themselves, were not simple platitudes of a modest guest. All guests were happy and the sentiment was evidently felt deep in their hearts.

That this can happen in this country, and happen so impressively at that, is nothing short of a miracle to some of us.

There was a time, not long ago, when Rwandans could hardly host their own internal meetings of any ample measure. It was not because the will was not there – even if that was not abundantly in evidence! – but rather that finding a venue to host them was a monumental task and so was organising them.

To take some of you who were there back, as I am wont to always do, you’ll recall a place that was known as Centre Iwacu Kabusunzu, in Kimisagara towards Nyamirambo, here in Kigali. Whenever there was any sizeable meeting of the leaders of our land, that was the place to host it. Unfortunately(!), today you won’t find it in its state of then, to refresh your mind.

Then it was a dusty hillock peppered with iron-and-brick classrooms around it that hosted side meetings. On the knoll that was the dusty compound was usually erected a shaky, large tent that served as the plenary hall! Dusty as it was, though, the venue was not necessarily the biggest problem.

When it came to the manpower that organised the meetings and prepared the venues, that ‘man’ in manpower was perhaps the trouble. It was a soldiery of mostly men, aging ones moreover, who, when they moved, shambled around in confused circles that only managed to embarrass their country’s leaders.

And now that I recall, I shudder to imagine the humiliation (no less!) we subjected our leaders to. “We”, yes, because I was probably the arch protagonist in that tragicomedy of errors!

Moving the meetings, when they were small, to either of the only two hotels of the time never helped matters. One could do without water or electricity in open spaces but in multi-storeyed hotels, that was something else. This, especially when water tanks and generators reserved for emergencies also got exhausted.

That “something else”, however, was nothing when it came to most of the leaders. Excepting a limited few, the rest were generally in a permanent shambles!

When any of their bosses convened a meeting, they could only make it in time to listen to them (the bosses) if they were lucky and the boss was equally disrespectful of time. If the boss was the then Vice-President and Minister for Defence, who was always at any function he was leading dot on the scheduled time, by the time some of them sauntered in he was done and gone.

It took months of training in retreats by a variety of firms, mostly foreign, to create in these leaders a sense of direction and a way of putting some seriousness in their work. In fact, that may have been the birth of today’s famous retreats that have become incubations for good practices.

From the core of leadership, infused with the rightful place of women and youth, good methods of work spread out to all areas of the management of this society, especially through a multiplicity of now functional institutions, commissions, et al. Then it was all systems go and the dream of becoming a model of good governance became a realisable quest.

Those were the gripes of growing. But you can be sure that this country is nowhere near the end. “We still have a long way to go,” says President Paul Kagame, the Vice-President and Minister for Defence of then, “but we have not been doing nothing, only it’s not enough.”

So, hopefully, our visitors who have been here for the AU Summit are not yet done, crooning praises. In the topnotch organisation, punctuality, efficiency, hospitality, transportation, accommodation, care for all and courtesy to all and unshakable security, all in a spotlessly clean environment, they are crooning about, they “ain’t seen nothing yet”.

I am also intrigued to imagine what hosting a major summit in ten, twenty years from now will look like! Will traffic congestions for Kigali motorists have become a headache of the past, too?

From dusty venues with tents that were at the mercy of the vagaries of wind-gusts and rainstorms to world-class facilities like the KCC.

Shambling, aging men happy to mismanage meetings and venues and nothing but to agile, methodical youth, women and men together. Leaders who cared more about foreign missions bounties than about lifting their country out of its basket base and rendering it functional to hardworking, selfless(?) leaders only set on improving the lot of citizens.

Truly, it’s a long way from the 1990s!

Kudos to all involved for being where you are, today!

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KCC, symbol of marriage between modernity and tradition

As our eminent visitors here for the AU Summit meet to discuss our continent’s problems and contemplate solutions, I hope they’ll take time off to listen to the humble dome that hosts them.

The Kigali Convention Centre has a story to tell.

When I got occasion to tour this new facility, it was with my usual cynicism. The world has seen many construction wonders – cloud-camouflaged skyscrapers, miles-long sky-hanging bridges, apparently-unending tunnels, etc. So, how could a simple hall impress?

But, after touring it, I saw that Rwandans are coming of age – traditional age!

‘Uti’ how? It’s exactly that lack of effort to impress that’s impressive about it! That domed structure summarises the story of this country’s adaptation of positive modernity and fusing it with what’s relevant in tradition in a simple way.

In the hall you’ll see a similitude of twigs, tree-trunks and rope coming together to form a spire, ‘agasongero’, atop a modern building that looks every inch traditional.

The round dome as home goes as far back in history as Rwanda’s birth. It was the habitation of Rwandans until colonialism came and put paid to it, with modern architecture.

As a complete habitation it was not much to look at, appearing, as it did, like any other primitive improvisation for shelter. However, in producing that ‘improvisation’, people would have come together and painstakingly put all loose bits of Mother Nature together to produce an amalgamation that was simple yet beautiful in a rather sophisticated way.

Those who’ll have occasion to visit the King’s Palace Museum-Rukari will see how it can only be a product of the accord of many hands. Of course, KPM-R has more intricately-made bundles of twigs, ‘imbariro’, where this one has only one ‘rubariro’, as it’s only an imitation.

Anyway, from time immemorial, that simple dome had not only kept the elements and wild animals at bay but also gathered and kept Rwandans together as a family, whose members formed a web, ‘injishi’, in which they were all connected, in their lives.

It was not the way Maasai put together their ‘manyata’ or Eskimos their igloos, for instance.

Which answers the question of many an analyst: how have a people torn by a devastating genocide managed to come together again in a mere twenty years?

As to why Rwandans don’t vigorously highlight the fact of how suspects of Genocide perpetration are embraced in government and how victims and perpetrators live together, to counter allegations of a government instigating fear through autocracy and human rights abuse, who doesn’t know those are empty claims?

But these Western accusers make them, anyway. There is an agenda to fulfil and they’ll always ignore what they see to fulfil it, correction rejoinders or none.

Otherwise, a return to traditional values is incompatible with the prevalence of fear, autocracy or rights-abuse.

Traditionally, that domed ‘residence’ may have belonged to one family but it was home to every Rwandan.

As an example, whenever you travelled, usually for many days, apart from your loincloth and stick, you took nothing else on you. Of course, there were men whose thirst (!) always required a gourd of some brew near. Otherwise, a traveller knew that their every need would be catered for.

And, sure enough, the family head would rouse all the able-bodied inhabitants of that dome out of slumber to assure your comfort even in the middle of the night. Often that included hurriedly preparing a meal of chicken for you! Friend or total stranger, you were at home.

Understandably, this ignores some selfish and malicious rogue elements, ‘abasasamigozi’, who would wrap you up in a mat in your sleep and dump you in a swamp, just for the pleasure of it! Indeed, today these malfeasants are a dime a dozen, as in other societies.

Luckily, though, as everybody knew everybody else, those were known and whoever momentarily managed to escape society’s retribution was avoided like the zika virus.

And, like those ‘basasamigozi’, unclean compounds were given a wide berth.

So, as everybody strove to be exemplary in society, they tried to play host to many travellers and to keep their compounds spotless clean at all times. The dome’s residents thus swept their compound every so often, including kilometres of paths that led from it, thus this ubiquitous cleanliness you see today.

Look at those marbled floors; they, too, existed. When you mixed clay with green leaves like those of sweet-potato plants, you came up with a ‘green marbled floor’ to beat modern floors!

That domed hall represents the story of how Rwandans returned to their traditional values to liberate themselves from the evils wrought by colonialism, its accompanying foreign religion and the genocide they brewed.

Esteemed visitors, know that you are in one of the safest places on this globe but remember to guard your property against that occasional modern malfeasant. And also remember to call out the head of the Rwandan family, President Kagame, on that chicken any time!

In fact, even the Thursday of every week that’s otherwise reserved for Rwandans is at your disposal. That’s how seriously Rwandans take their visitors.

‘Ikaze mu’ Rwanda, a blend of past and present!


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Liberation continuum: the reconfiguration of a nation

This after-long-holiday feels like that euphoric time after being, not reborn but, born as a totally new being. To be exact, it feels like what we commemorated: the time after the forces of hope triumphed over the forces of evil that had sunk Rwanda into a deep, dark hole.

A lot has been said in these pages about independence and liberation but enough cannot be said. Rather than a celebration of a people coming out of bondage, independence here was a celebration by colonialism of the success of its architecture, its design.

It was worse than a mockery of independence.

The intention of colonialism had been to divide ‘les indigènes’ (as they called us) and thus reign over them. So, before their departure, the colonialists made sure Rwandans’ traditional head, who had overseen the cultivation of strong unity as had been done by others (sometimes not so well) down the line, imperfections of traditional rules apart, was no more.

But that was not enough. For extra assurance that their design had been fully successful, they assisted a section of the citizens to set upon their compatriots. That’s how 1959 marked the first time that a Rwandan killed a compatriot and the country generated mass refugees.

A divided people you couldn’t wish for better. When colonialists granted independence in 1962, it was with satisfaction for a job well executed.

They may not have been happy to leave their colony at the time they did but Belgians knew that, in the elite left in power, they had good students who would serve their every whim. Which, to be sure, they proved to be, perhaps even beyond their (Belgians’) brutal expectations.

With independence, the campaign of division went full throttle and by the end of thirty-two years, if there was any line along which Rwandans were not divided, it was because that line had not yet been conceived!

The perceived lines of ethnicity, as crafted by colonialism, were strengthened and some Rwandans were turned into more distant second-class citizens. They were totally ignored and whatever little development – meagre by all standards – took place, it passed them by.

They were spectators in their country’s affairs and a promise of iron sheets is the only thing they could hope for from its government. A promise which they good-humouredly turned into a discourse pastime (the illusive amabati ya Habyarimana) since, even if they’d got them, they’d probably have turned them into “bed-mats” (!), anyway, being of no use to them as firewood.

For what use could they have been, since you couldn’t put them anywhere on a twig-and-grass shack?

These sideline-spectators, however, could at least say they were in their country, even if that meant a “protected natural habitat”, a euphemistic term for wild forest.

Some Rwandans were not allowed the luxury of calling their country theirs. The “lucky” ones of these were those of 1959, and episodes after, who managed to escape those colonially-assisted massacres, which consumed none-too-few, and went to roam foreign lands

As to those confined in the ferocious frontiers of their ‘alien’ motherland, their lives revolved around eking out a living quickly before their expiry date. When time for their allotted life-span was up, as it was for some in 1962, ’63, ’66, ’73, etc, then they were in for ‘cropping’ in a “creeping genocide” that culminated in the final horrendous Genocide against the Tutsi.

Meanwhile, in the house of the ruling elite all was not well. Here, too, this destructive discrimination reigned supreme.

When the elite of the south were in power in the first republic, the elite of other areas, when not favoured with tolerance, were used for target practice for assassination. Their people, which is what citizens of their regions became, were ignored or harassed, or even sent to blissful heaven, if they tried to assert themselves.

Those, too, were no longer Rwandan. And, sure enough, the reverse became the norm, if only more vicious, with the ascendance to power of the elite of the north, in the second republic.

As things stood, Rwanda was headed for the precipice.

Then the Rwanda Patriotic Front and its fighting wing, Rwanda Patriotic Army, struck.

And France struck back and all but put to an end the existence of us all.

For, had the heinous Habyarimana forces with their fighting father figure, France, and the Francophonie collection of fighters called to the rescue by France, succeeded in wiping out the RPF/RPA forces, this country would be no more.

The Genocide against the Tutsi wouldn’t only have been totally consummated. Its Rwandan perpetrators would’ve turned against one another in a slow, apocalyptic slaughter of their own, to place the country squarely on that precipice.

In the end, from the precipice, Rwanda would have hurtled to her death.

Now, remember how the RPA reorganised into an elusive phantom fighting force that became unbeatable to the mightiest of this world. And how the RPF honed its development strategies into galloping advancement realities we see today.

Then, pray, tell me: isn’t liberation an understatement?

That mediocrity, that think-small, think-dependency, foolishly greedy beast of death and destruction of yore, does this clean, confident, prospering and burgeoning big-league player of a country have anything to do with it?

Nay, this punch-above-self’s-weight country is a new reconfiguration, if not a new creation.

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The West need to rethink their democracy

June 29th 2016

Rwanda may be happening too fast for some of us, no matter how we thought we kept the closest tabs on the smallest of developments. But first things first, though all are equally important.

I remember hearing a news clip about President Kagame opening an Ekocenter (whatever that was, I said to myself) in the company of the Coca-Cola company CEO and the perennial activist-cum-politician-cum-pastor Jesse Jackson and going on to listen to the music following the news.

In the music, the crooner laments his inability to provide care to his household as he is too “bizi” (busy) searching for bread to put on the table.

Without giving the news another thought, I mused over that care and bread and how to balance them for the household but, finding no answer, let the music drop, too.

A few days later as the world got gripped as if in a vice by news of the UK voting in a referendum to leave the European Union, I found myself thinking back to that Ekocenter opening and the basic theme of King James’ “Umugati” song.

These three ‘households’ – King’s, the UK and Rwanda – did they have anything in common?

We can’t say our ‘royal’ crooner’s household necessarily has a problem, of course. King’s dilemma over balancing bread and care provision is a creation of his fertile imagination.

However, it’s imagination that’s rich food for thought because, for sure, that dilemma is common to many a household. Doubtless, success or failure to balance bread provision and care provision may make or break families or even societies. Management of the balance is crucial.

Connecting this balance dilemma to the British ‘household’ and their exit from the European Union may sound far-fetched. After all, the ‘household’ is one of the developed countries that have enough ‘bread’ and more to spare (in form of aid) and we are the happier for their caring about us.

But we must wonder: our beloved benefactors, since they are not afflicted with this dilemma, what ails them? Is there a disconnect in that balance?

Because you cannot suddenly ditch an organisation that you have been part of for over forty years, even as a budding common market, and say all is well as some Brits are insisting. This, especially considering how you craved to join it in the first instance.

You cannot have so many in the top management of your politics, especially the ruling Conservative party and the main opposition Labour party, resigning because of that decision when enjoying better times. To wit, I’m made to understand the Labour party members are up in arms against their chairman for having shown lukewarm support for “remain”.

Whoever is saying all is well, then, is either saving face or oblivious to the undercurrent of uncertainty obtaining. The public is split right down the middle, the markets are in turmoil, parliament is restless. Business, civil society, politicians, all are jittery. The last time I checked, Northern Island, Scotland, Wales, all wanted out of the UK.

The rest of Europe is mad at PM Cameron for having dared to test his “I’ve always been a winner. I’ll win this one.” His plea to the EU for a “slow and constructive divorce” was receiving a cold shoulder as of last evening. All are scared of being contaminated, with the rise of their own extremist, insular right and want a snap split.

Our benefactors, confident dispensers of lessons on unity, democracy, wealth creation, say it, in short, the expert balancers of bread and care provision that engenders harmony, what ails them? How did this disharmony, this discord, this dilemma, arise?

In Rwanda, “home of the Ekocenters”, how do they go about dealing with such dilemma?

That Ekocenter, for instance, will have happened in one of many ways. The community of that village will have met in Umuganda, or hosted their local leader, or any other leader from the sector head up to the country’s President, or any of those or all of them come to them, and in a forum discussed their requirements and ways to meet them.

From there, the leadership will have lobbied anybody, from local to foreign organisations, private companies to countries, for partnership.

And thus will have come the Coca-Cola company, with others like Ericsson falling over themselves to together piggyback on it, to create a quality hospital, 3-G internet, purified water, electricity, a lit stadium, etc, in the middle of the countryside.

That’s how come, Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence in the middle of the northern border-area, and myriad others. And that’s how government functions in all areas: through consensual processes.

In short then, whatever happens in this land is a creature of all involved. Leaders and the led, together we are the creators of our political, economic, social, say it, recipes. Recently when the citizenry called for a referendum, it was agreed upon and held. None can ambush the other in a referendum, or whatever else, whoever calls it.

And in this collaboration, all are partners: Rwandans, foreigners, migrants, immigrants, all; individuals, companies, organisations, countries – developed, developing, all everywhere.

In forums where the generators of that bread are thought out, with that constant communication and physical exchange, there care happens for all involved and there cannot be any dilemma.

That’s why Rwanda has opted for consensual democracy over confrontational democracy.

“Free-for-all” democracy, where societies lack constant physical inter-communication, is dilemmatic democracy! Lessons on democracy? Shove them!

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Kigali, the city of a thousand rings?

June 22 2016

Time was when I used to bemoan our incapacity to work hard as Rwandans, when you compared us with the Chinese, for instance. When you read stories of a fifteen-storey hotel being built in six days in China, prefabrication notwithstanding, and then thought about how our single-storey buildings took none-too-few years, you couldn’t help despairing.

Today, this desperation has vanished. The other Monday I was pleasantly surprised to find three roundabouts where there had been one, the previous Friday.

Late on Friday evening we were kindly requested not to use sections of some roads only to find those sections had begotten two roundabouts and their accompanying roads in two days, flat.

Of course, cynics will sneer at it as having been a single instance whose urgency was petitioned by rushed preparations for the African Union (AU) summit hosting this July.  However, AU summit or none and whether or not there are finishing touches to be done, the point is that the work could be done day and night.

You’ll appreciate this if you remember that there was a time Kigali residents did their things so languidly that you couldn’t spot one moving about before eight in the morning. At midday on the dot, it was a stampede as everyone, in government and in private business, rushed home for their precious two-hour ‘pause’ that involved a tipple, a generous ‘bite’ and a one-hour-‘short’ siesta.

Woe betide thee if you interrupted a shopkeeper’s hurried journey to their midday nap at closing time, enquiring about the price of anything — you risked being trampled! The law itself prohibited overtime work, no less. Not even the additional pay involved could dissuade the law-overlords from exacting punitive measures!

If there was urgent work to be done, workers had to be shipped in from neighbouring countries, far-flung ones too, as was the case during the construction of the Serena Hotel building.

Only in the village was life somehow animated, though it meant nothing more than tilling land unproductively. Still, productive or not, most people were happy to kill to appropriate that land or any worthless property in towns from others, one of the reasons 1994 happened.

So, it’s worth celebrating when, twenty-two short years since, we see that  Kigali is among only a few cities in the region that do not fret, hurriedly cleaning up, when there is an event to host. Its name is now synonymous with cleanliness, as is the country’s name, and the authors of this cleanliness in their shifts are hard at work from dawn to dusk and dawn to dusk.

It’s especially laudable that the private sector, which paradoxically latched on late, is slowly catching up with the public sector in embracing hard work.

Talking of roundabouts for Kigali, then, this new-found energy should be directed into creating beauty with a traditional theme through them, taking a cue from the Kigali Convention Centre that has been inspired by our traditional round-hut.

And while we are at it, is it the ‘Queen’s English’ “centre” or the American “center”? And if we have Urugwiro Village, for instance, why not Isangano Centre?

Anyway, if the big roundabout near the city centre and the ones at the Convention Centre and at Gisimenti are any indicator, roundabouts don’t only look beautiful (especially taking a bird’s-eye view) but also reduce gridlocks, as are common on road junctions.

So why not replace these gridlocked junctions with roundabouts, making sure to make these latter big enough to accommodate floral beautification?

The priority casualty junction list could include ‘Sopetrad’, Gishushu, ‘Prince-House’, Giporoso and ‘Kuri Km12’ (here with a flyover, leaving existing road to heavy-load traffic). Then there is ‘Yamaha’ and at Kinamba to the right, or directly at Nyabugogo and Gitikinyoni.  (Here throw in planting a new tree ‘for the birds’.)

In Kimironko there is ‘Le Printemps’ junction and the one to Kibagabaga. Towards Kicukiro, there is the junction to Gikondo, that at ‘Rwandex’ and the one at Kicukiro centre, without forgetting pacifying the sloping road down from Inyanza.

With more roundabouts, who knows, as we have “Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills”, so could we slowly begin to talk about Kigali as the city of a thousand rings.

Maybe not the most savoury for a brand, but the resultant greening could add to the green places promised by our city mothers to blend in with the green-rolling-hills of the countryside.

Come to think of it, how about ‘domed roundabouts’? As mentioned, Kigali has always set the trend for the rest of the country. It could as well summarise the story of the country: its history, its geography and its projected development path.

Moreover, those green roundabouts can neutralise the gritting effect hurled at our eyes by these concrete and glass structures that seem set to completely colonise this, our humble capital.

Apart from reflecting our rolling hills and round huts, some of the domed roundabouts can represent our valleys, waterways and even volcanoes.

And if it’s true that the volcanoes used to experience eruptions in their history, this also can be brought out. I’ve seen colour-lighting schemes play interesting tricks on fountains like our own in the big roundabout near the city centre; let’s build more fountains.

Roundabouts and the Convention Centre can tell our re-energised story.

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It’s true: Rwanda is the universe

June 15th 2016

Pray, where did “baton” go? Senior citizens will remember it as a rhythmic gymnastic sport that they may have enjoyed before the 1970s. But everybody else knows it as “baton twirling”, a common and interesting sport in many countries of the world.

Alas, today “baton” is a literal unknown in this country. When “baton” was introduced to Rwanda by colonialism, Rwandans took to it with high gusto. And for seemingly taking it over and fashioning it on the Intore dance, they quickly made it their own and identified with it.

Soon, if Rwandans were not referred to as “Those Intore people”, they were, as “Those ‘baton’ people”!

I first saw “baton” in exile in Uganda in the 1960s. It was a gymnastic sport that involved the manipulation of a stick, in place of a rod that’s used in other countries of the world.

However, the rod-lookalike went so beautifully with the manipulation of the body that it fused into a rhythm that was a marvel to behold. It combined dance, agility, coordination and flexibility to present a maze of figures skipping up and aside in quick succession and sequence.

Seniors in refugee camps in Uganda those days will also recall Mr. Bwankoko. Bwankoko was a “baton” instructor to beat all instructors. When in his deep baritone he belted out his commands, the valley of Nshungerezi reverberated with the echo: “Un, deux, trois……!”

Ugandans loved Rwandans for it, as they loved them for Intore. There was never a big occasion anywhere near the refugee camps, like when receiving the Ugandan president, where our twirlers and dancers were not invited to entertain.

The big fuss I am making about “baton” is that it should be reintroduced in schools.

And if I place everything in Uganda, it’s because that’s where I lived. That’s why I make everything and everyone there representative of others in other places where Rwandans lived.

Both Intore and baton made a name for Rwandan refugees of the time. But combined with many other sports and school subjects taught by fellow Rwandans, they developed the youth and shaped them into an embryo for a future Rwanda.

That’s why “baton” here is used as one seed that combined with others to form a bigger entity.

For instance, when in the mid-1990s the government encouraged the citizenry to take cleanliness as seriously as they had earlier in their tradition, hardly anybody paid attention.

We all knew that cleanliness had been vulgarised by the preceding governments. But now that it has been taken to heart again, see where it has put Rwanda; perhaps the cleanest country in Africa.

Rwanda’s beauty, however, is not simply skin-deep. She is a humble country whose beauty is cleanliness, unity, security, health, education, growth and many such small cells forming a body that’s moving slowly towards middle-income.

But “baton”, a little cell, is where it all begins.

“Baton” was a cell or, otherwise said, a subject among many minor and major subjects, like Mathematics, that were taught by volunteers like Bwankoko. Bwankoko or, otherwise said, a refugee cell-teacher teaching their refugee cell-children. One volunteer among many Rwandan refugee volunteer-teachers.

And Kyandere School, where Bwankoko volunteered as a teacher, was only one cell. It was one school out of many in the Nshungerezi-Nyakivara refugee camps of Uganda’s Ankole District.

But there were other camps in Toro District, as there were others in Bunyoro District. All of them together formed what you could call a branch, à la the naming of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), in its formative years.

All these were replicated in many other countries and in Rwanda.

There were other refugee camps in Burundi, like Mushiha, and there were many other schools, like the superior and more famous St. Albert in Bujumbura city. This was true of Tanzania, too, where there were refugee camps like Mwese and schools like Muyenzi School. Inside Rwanda, there was Bugesera for internally displaced Rwandans, also with its own schools, like Ecole de Maranyundo.

All the schools were taught by volunteer teachers or, if at all they were paid, the pay was minimal. In other countries where Rwandan refugees were not in defined camps, there were many volunteer teachers, too, who taught young Rwandans in one way or another.

All these teachers are unsung heroes, a few of whom we are lucky to have amongst us today.

For, in all the camps and other areas there were branches that formed regions whose youth congregated into the congress that launched the 1990 armed struggle. And during the duration of the struggle, the vast majority inside dictatorial Rwanda who had not yet fused with the ex-refugees all coalesced onto this new Rwanda; it became “Rwanda inside Rwanda”, as one journalist put it.

As vulgarised, dictatorial Rwanda grew into a decaying shell, a new Rwanda rose inside it and so, here we are.

The dead vulgarised shell is symbolised by the pieces of the plane lying in the compound of the chief genocide architect, ex-President Habyarimana. Indeed, when the government decreed that there be a museum called The Presidential Palace Museum, it knew what it was doing.

Now, when you think of all those cells that make her what she is, isn’t Rwanda truly the universe? And isn’t it amazing how our ancestors saw all this, when they declared: “Rwanda is the universe”!

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