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?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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…..er, 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Of the mysterious, and not so mysterious, allures of this land

If I waxed poetic about my journey to the north last week, it’s because some areas of this country never cease to amaze me, however long and often I’ve been seeing them. There are some interesting features of this land that our tourism promoters seem to overlook.

Yes, an eye-to-eye encounter with the mountain gorilla, a Nyungwe canopy walk, a rush of apprehension at an Akagera lion roar, a laze around Kivu waters and other such tourist delights are an experience to treasure. However, they cannot beat the pleasure of standing atop a high point in any part of Rwanda to take in the panorama of varying sights before your eyes.

Even then, though, I have a curiosity about the people of this land that’s always itching to be satisfied, before all the above. There is an intriguing nature to them that I seem unable to explore exhaustively, even after my long years of reconnection to them all, together.

I think the high point of tourist attractions is the Rwandan, as a human being. Rwandans have some uniqueness to them whose close observation should be encouraged.

For instance, on that journey, I witnessed a spectacle that I was not used to. Yet how I deluded myself that, for the umpteen times I’ve visited that area, I knew everything about it.

The camaraderie the people showed my group and I, from Kigali; the stories of old they willingly and happily shared; the excitement in taking group photos; all these were new to me.

What’s the big deal about old memories and what’s Old Geezer on about, you’ll ask. Well, I am on about memories of the days of 1995, when the northern area was still in the grip of insurgency, even if fast weakening, compared to that recent visit.

Perhaps a recount of what happened in 1995 will explain my bewilderment.

New from exile, when a few of us dared to venture into that area, we were puzzled to see no old person around. Then, as we stood there, a lone old man emerged from a house to greet us. When we recognised him as our neighbour of the years before 1959, year of our exile, we all took rounds to excitedly hug him but we could see that he was guarded in whatever he said or did.

To our question, he quickly pointed out our pieces of land of those days and then, inexplicably, immediately bid us bye and shuffled away.

Back in Kigali, the following morning we were shocked to learn that the old man had been killed.

Three of us at once rushed there but we were met by a menacing group of mostly old men who seemed ready for war. We called out to a soldier nearby who shot in the air but this did not deter them. However, when one of us made to take a photo, surprisingly they all vanished.

A few days later, the killers were apprehended and punished but, to this day, I am at a loss to understand how a camera could scare them, where the risk of being shot couldn’t!

Was their conduct due to the hatred they bore for us? Were they just afraid of losing the land they had appropriated to themselves? In not fearing guns, was it because they knew that the new RPF government and its army could not target civilians, even where these were ready to kill? And in cameras, did they fear being identified?

Surely, in all the above instances these villagers would still have felt too ashamed to show such warmth, even if belatedly.

I could not comprehend this delayed happiness, nay, excitement, at a reunion, knowing their hostility of the past. It could not be due simply to the fact that politics of division is long past. Nor that the emotive land question has been cleared, with every citizen now having a UPI number to identify their piece of land.

On the contrary, the bond in Rwandans seems so strong that wrong politics cannot break it. However hard one group may hurt the other, however hard one may be bruised, they’ll find it in themselves to repent or to forgive and reunite.

Because, make no mistake, that camaraderie is not unique to any particular area; you’ll find it everywhere. In reconnecting after an ‘own-inflicted’ calamity, it seems ‘impossible n’est pas rwandais’!

That’s how you find that, despite over fifty years of a concerted effort to divide them, driven by colonialism with help of the Catholic Church, in addition to over thirty-four years of the Kayibanda-Habyarimana divisive and oppressive regimes, Rwandans can still live as one.

That’s how you find Rwandans who were for over thirty years torn from one another now living together as if that long hiatus never happened. That’s how you find genocide survivors who have not only pardoned confessed génocidaires but have also gone ahead to marry them.

My guess is that that bond perforce unites Rwandans, with or without their knowledge; wanting it or not, they are destined to be one.

If it can, that should be packaged as a tourist allure!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A journey of discovery and rediscovery

And so it goes……

It goes that time comes when I’m seized by this irresistibly compelling ritualistic urge to pay homage to my soil. And when it strikes, I must thither go post-haste, for my soul will never rest (don’t get ideas!) till it sees the slopes of Mt. Muhabura.

The urge is even stronger when spurred on by a chance to hitch a ride on a car that, if used, is not mechanically abused like those that have been turned left-hand from their original right. In those abused, read the Dubai hand-me-down jalopies whose tyres, in old age, rebel and go straight even as you are negotiating a left turn on a steep incline – where “straight” means off the road and towards a literal ‘cliff-hanger’!

If you’ve ever seen the twists and turns on the way to Musanze, you get my drift.

Anyway, that’s how I found myself atop Buranga hill, beholden to and smitten by, as always, the expanse of vista that stretched before mine eyes. Imagining more than seeing, at a distance to the right, the ‘terraced’ twin lakes of Ruhondo-Burera, ringed in by the hills that border Uganda.

Straight ahead and towards the left, the chain of volcanic mountains with their summits shrouded in clouds, telltale sparks from Mt. Nyiragongo regularly piercing the sky to the west. The shimmering asphalt road snaking its way through gleaming iron-roofs, to disappear in the hills of Bigogwe, one of them complete with its ‘breast’, Ibere rya Bigogwe.

And, to cap it all, the street-light posts (a night marvel, with lights on) continuing their uninterrupted journey from Kigali all the way to Rubavu, to stop dead at the DR Congo  border.

That spectacle will charm you, however indifferent to Mother Nature you may think yourself.

Yet the charm to beat other charms is Ruhengiri town in Musanze, more so if you knew it in the 1950s, like donkey-years-old yours truly. For, with its spotless cleanliness and dirt-free, orderly crowd, wide streets, storied structures and world-class hotels, it’s not the Ruhengeri you knew.

Gone are the black volcanic-soil streets and roads, dusty or sticky depending on seasons but always cosy for lice that colonised your feet, toes and hairs, however meticulously you scrubbed your body. Gone, too, are the kids with bulging navels on ballooned-up tummies and grime-caked faces with running or ‘mound-blocked’ noses, a ceaseless feast for swarms of flies.

And increasingly history is a crop of aging adults with cracked feet, set at an outward angle, that boasted ‘knock-berried’ toes (amano y’ubuhiri, victims of jiggers), as they boasted no acquaintance at all with shoes.

Ruhengeri: gone is the “Yuk!” that’d likely have been your involuntary reaction, which’d have been only a little less impassioned any time up to the mid-1990s.

Today, wonder of wonders, trucks water that loathsome dust away, wherever it may attempt to rear its ugly head!

Which reminds me: Kigali residents, anyone of you know that, long before our army of broom-manipulating experts appear to furiously sweep away any stubborn litter (bless their work), such trucks will have mopped this capital’s streets in the dead of night, as you blissfully snore away?

But we aren’t done with our journey of re-engagement with the soil.

The 27-km stretch of road from Ruhengeri to Canika (“Cyanika” to proponents/students of Bavuga, Ntibavuga!) is glaringly un-Rwandan, being worse for wear. This, in a land whose lexis is allergic to a whiff of the word “pothole”.  That whiff, gladly, will soon be history, word has it.

In any case, it can’t get anywhere near dampening the ecstasy of taking in the view of the majestically gigantic mountains that loom all over you, to your left. Nor can it, the view of the elegantly tall-slender hillocks that seem to play hide-and-seek with Lake Burera, to your right.

With these views competing for attention, Canika appears to annoyingly come rushing to you, like a noisy kid interrupting an interesting conversation to cling to your legs.

And noisy, Canika is. And cling to you, it will. Now a blusterous beehive of activity in construction, it is set to play host to a one-stop border post and an international market that will turn the harsh hustles of cross-border activity into distant history.

Detach yourself from this din and a short distance towards Mt. Muhabura you’ll be in Umudugudu Amajambere (-jya- to you), the soil that’s cradle of my pedigree.

Once here, look around. From Mt. Muhabura to the hills across in Uganda, to those to your South-East in Cyeru, to those beyond Ruhengeri and to the chain of mountains that join Mt. Muhabura, they all rise to hug the sky and form a womb, wherein you’ll be sealed. You’ll be in a world of your own.

When you finally tear yourself away and depart for your Kigali, it’ll be as a re-energised, if not reborn, creature. A healthy creature, enriched by the abundance of tourist attractions you’ve imbibed!

A communion with this soil reveals many of its secrets and enriches your life.

But, remember, this is but one ‘soil’ out of the myriad other ‘soils’ of Rwanda that are a feast for a tourist, local or foreign.

And so it goes……

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment