7th January 2014
There I was, in a café in a Kigali suburb, ruminating as I took in the evening view of the Kigali skyline and wondering how somebody had managed to ‘steal my vantage-points show’ when, who breezes in?
“My brother from another mother!” exclaimed Sylvestre, bursting into my thoughts to grab me in a bunny embrace, before taking a chair.
“So,” exhaled he, “son of a gun, how are your reportedly waning brawn and brain?” Doing justice to the translation of Sylvestre’s exuberance would be beyond you too, so, bear with me!
First, though, what’s that “steal my vantage-points show”? Many of you may have seen photos of the Kigali-skyline doing the rounds on the internet.
I am talking about those vantage points from where the photos were captured: Rebero, Mt Kigali, Shyorongi, Mt Juru, Kinyinya, Kinamba…. They have been my haunts for the last twenty years.
In the silence of the evening, you can literally hear Kigali City breathe and see it slowly grow.
However, Sylvestre Semajeri (for that’s the one, if you recall my homeboy of the slopes of Mt Muhabura) was carrying on with his monologue, ignoring my attempts at a response: “…..I know you are captivated by the continually changing Kigali skyline. But, like the elite of our land, you’ve never let it cross your mind that that skyline is telling you the story of a much more profound occurrence that you tread on without seeing….”
Bemused by Sylvestre’s lofty delivery, I tried to interrupt but he waved me into silence.
You see, he continued, you seem to live in the clouds. In romanticising over that skyline alone, you do not notice the clean and green places that are mushrooming around you.
You even forget that only a few years ago, you could not have thought of sitting in the dirt, dust and danger that was this place. The bright places and cheery faces you see around you did not exist.
But, especially, remember that the light, order, cleanliness, green and tranquillity mark all the routes that radiate from here to every nook and cranny of this land.
Take me, from one of those ‘crannies’ – the slopes. Before 1994, coming here wouldn’t have involved me getting up and taking a minibus commuter-taxi and bang! I’d be here.
No, sir, it’d have meant getting a ‘laisser-passer’ (pass) from my local chief. Before getting which, I’d have needed to oil his (always male) dirty palm. Before which, I’d have needed to scrub my old clothes into shreds and scour my gullied, jigger-infested heels into meaty sores to look presentable.
Before which, I’d have needed to sell off part of my poor harvest, a few chickens or a goat, at throw-away prices, to acquire the requisite dough. Before which…
Anyway, after the whole of the above laborious exercise, I’d not have been able to meet you: you’d have been in exile. You’d not have been part of the class of Rwandans allowed to enjoy the above privileges because you’d have been born wrong!
And I talk for many, save for a handful – hardly more than a hundred – that monopolised all rights. Twenty one short years ago, there were Rwandans who had been born to seek permission to move about in their country; to be poor; to be uneducated; not to be treated when sick……. Even then, these were privileged!
There were others who were born as an inconvenience to be ignored. And, worse still, there were those born simply as eliminable pests.
Brother, that growing skyline should never lull you into forgetting where your land and your people are coming from. Rather, its continued growth should make you see the power you have so as to look at that primitive past with courage and the future with hope.
That power is now in your hands.
Today, we, in our entirety as Rwandans, are holding fast to that power and we are not going to transfer it to anybody, ever. Led by our born activist and lifelong organiser, we grabbed it by dint of our collaborative force from that unforgiving history and it’s now ours for keeps.
We, and only we, decide on who exercises its authority, influence and force on our behalf; and when, and for how long.
But, think about that above-mentioned activist-organiser. As a toddler, seeking to know why some Rwandans were refugees; how those who sought to lead them back home had failed.
As a teen in first year of secondary school, bearing in mind that victimisation, organising a Rukerinyange group of older boys to protect younger boys, Rwandan and others.
Think of what’s today common knowledge: activist-organiser contributing in a neighbour’s liberation; leading the revival of a good-as-dead home liberation, the defeat of a Francophone onslaught and its super power, the halt of a genocide, the shunning of revenge killings, leading the haul of a primitive economy into a 21st century economy, now winning global accolades……
That unrelenting vision pursuit, undying patriotic fervour, unblinking eye for detail, steadfast stance in defence of what’s right, et al. These qualities are from a man like no ordinary other.
A nod from President Kagame is the best New Year message to the united citizens of this land!
Brothers and sisters on planet Earth, Happy New Year!