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……

 

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Leapfrogging in Africa: to leap or not, that’s not the question

In African countries, “The main leapfrogging that takes place is over the open sewers.” Imagine someone entreating us to look before we leap, after making such a comment. They have assured us that when we come down to earth it’ll be back in the mire of our dirty poverty and so, what’s the looking for?

That advice, if you’re lucky and haven’t seen it, is contained in an article in a British newsmagazine of some time ago. But, being so insulting, maybe it should not be popularised, which is why I comment on it this late.

For, tell me, why should an outsider think that Africans cannot remember that leapfrogging anything alone, without thinking of putting their poor infrastructure ‘house’ in order, is futile?

And, to rub in the contempt, the article is illustrated by a drawing of a famished Africa, weighed down by a famished frog, the continent’s spindly legs already sunken in the sewer, all the fancy inventions of today like drones, mobile phones and the like, sunken with them.

It’s an article that makes for depressing reading because it insults our confidence and honour but, why not? Maybe it does us no harm not to “leapfrog” it, for introspection purposes. Or maybe we could find the advice laughable, by its uselessness.

Should we “leapfrog” anything, anyway? Or, to use a less fanciful expression, should we “skip” any phase of our growth, “jump over”, “hop over”, etc?

Because, what’s the hype about “leapfrogging”? Down the length of history, humanity has been leapfrogging. Where humans reach a stage of development before others in one area, those others abandon their own to jump to that stage.

That’s how China may soon overtake USA or Europe in development, even when it’s still dealing with its backwardness in some areas. That’s how India is advancing fast, when it has yet to pull many in its population out of dire conditions.

That’s how the Japanese auto industry is among the biggest in the world and the South Korean mobile-phone industry is equal to the best, both in a short time, after hopping over the many phases Western companies had to labour over, navigating.

So is it with African countries: wherever possible, people therein will not go through the motions of reinventing the wheel.

When mobile telephony hit the scene, the continent, to a country, happily and quickly abandoned the wiring-up and pole-planting that Bell’s invention would’ve called for. We joyfully went mobile and now everyone is connected to the world in ways that Motorolla, or whoever the mobile’s inventor, never imagined.

And it has not meant that that wiring-up or pole-planting was totally abandoned, far from it.

When it was seen that fast internet helped in education, health, trade, or whatever, and it required broadband, then the earth was wired up for that. Just as phone masts were planted when mobile telephony needed them and satellites alone did not ‘bring it down to earth’.

But, most importantly, it didn’t mean that life as Africans had known it ceased. Clean water, lighting, educational institutions, health facilities, transport and the rest of our ever-mocked shaky infrastructure have continued, and will continue, to get their fair share of boosting.

Africans have seen that it’s possible to skip back and forth, leapfrogging whatever is unfinished or is obsolete here and there to hop to the latest technology, without forgetting to dive back and deal with the unfinished business; at the same time if possible, later if not.

So, yes, “In Rwanda, where most of the population live in cut-off villages, the government wants to skip straight to drones.”

But, before we go “skipping’, is there any village that’s completely cut-off? To my knowledge, none that’s not accessible by a dust road; difficult to navigate with a two-wheel drive, all right, but not with a motorcycle, a four-wheel. The drones’ added value of speed – and reduced cost? – cannot be skipped over a near-inaccessibility.

What’s important is that even as they hop over to drones, Rwandans continue to deal with these roads. Which is no cause for alarm, as the mud/dust track system is slowly but surely diminishing.

If drone medicine-delivery will supplement the insufficient road system delivery to serve the sick better, as mobile phone banking has supplemented the existing banking system, then let’s roll. Let’s equally go for solar panels, as they are supplementing our deficient power stations.

Meanwhile, no one ignores the fact that “leapfrogging has limits.” Rwanda will not cease to train her professionals and technicians as she has always done; doctors, engineers, teachers and others.

She’ll not cease to improve her infrastructure and she’ll not cease to work with investors and other partners, if they can help in hopping over whatever is obsolete on to the latest technological invention.

The audacity to try what’s new, without flying blind, and supplement what exists has put Rwanda where she is today. And these ‘wise’ dispensers of unsolicited counsel will not deny that this is a much better place, for daring.

Africa, let’s leapfrog away! When we come back down to earth, it’ll be a better earth, bet on that.

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All-round cleanliness is not an unachievable ideal

Last week when I was jolted out of my ‘cleanliness reverie’ (my musings about outsiders’ admiration of our cleanliness) by a sharp retort, I sat up and thought. Indeed, how could we talk about cleanliness for our cities when they do not enjoy central sewage systems?

I know that plans to build them are in the works for all cities, starting with Kigali, but shouldn’t they have been our starting point? Since getting the whole country clean is a much bigger hurdle, why didn’t our government get this little obstacle out of the way first?

As Rwandans say, you can’t eat a cow and fail to eat its horns. But before I invite the wrath of animal-lovers on myself, I hasten to add: it’s only an adage. For a Rwandan adage is never taken at face value and since Rwandans jealously defended the rights of animals, especially tame, and hardly ever ate beef leave alone horns, it’s not meant as it’s said.

But to continue, when you carefully observe the turning points that delivered this country where she is today and how resolutely and slowly but surely they were effected, you realise that all in good time, all waste disposal systems will be in place.

Said turning points have set this country on a trajectory whose magnitude, significance and implications are yet to be fathomed even by many of us Rwandans, methinks.

But, what turning points?

The first turning point was the birth of the Rwanda Patriotic Front.
Itself an evolution, as it germinated and gradually developed in many minds from the time of the massacres and expulsions of a section of Rwandans of the 1950s/60s and manifested itself in many forms after that, the revolt against dictatorship crystallised into a liberation movement in December 1987, on foreign soil.

From an uncoordinated group of individuals to an elite one that was ill-prepared to attract popular membership, now it became a liberation movement.

This became a veritable turning point when masses of Rwandans, in and out of the country, joined up and gave it the confidence to launch an armed struggle. Even if, excruciatingly sad to recall, immediately after, the RPF/RPA as we’d just known it was almost wiped out.

But from ragtag survivors of that launch, an elusive guerrilla force emerged that became the second turning point.

Pitted against a whole government army that was supported by no less than a super power, without mentioning the power’s African minions and cover of diplomatic support from other super powers, the RPA did not only repulse this whole mishmash of mass murderers but was going to rout them when it was hit bang with another dimension of the government’s ugliness: an elimination campaign of part of the citizenry.

When the RPF/RPA stopped the Genocide and, instead of engaging in revenge killings, installed a government that embarked on bringing victim and perpetrator together in a process that later was coined ‘Ndi Umunyarwanda’ to solidly unite all Rwandans, to all intents and purposes an impossibility to any other society out of similar strife, that was a turning point to cap all turning points.

To some of us who had been watching all this with apprehension, knowing any RPF/RPA failure at any point would have meant the complete obliteration of this state, with the success of these efforts, the rest of this galloping growth and cleanliness in the whole management of this society were a fait accompli.

A society that has developed from this lost hope has many priorities all right but, ever so methodically, will see them all delivered whatever time it takes.

Rwanda’s attention may currently be consumed in the effort to boost investment, tourism, trade with the region and beyond, etc, so as to generate her own revenue and do away with dependence on handouts from donors. However, it will not be at the expense of any detail.

This cleanliness we see is the face of an effort to fundamentally transform this land and must be comprehensive and must not ignore the littlest frills.

For, to come to the deeper meaning of the adage, your cow cannot grow into a beautiful animal if you don’t care for its horns as you care for it (the belief of then).

Similarly, you cannot care about your cities when you have predicated them on the powder kegs of waste, which is the meaning of a dependence on septic tanks. A simple tremor will send them into the sinkhole of shame.

I dare posit that the next turning point will be when Rwanda achieves cleanliness in the full sense of the word.

By this I mean not only total physical cleanliness but also total clean governance: no corruption of any form, no iota of injustice, complete absence of lethargy, blameless service delivery, etc. In short, having got rid of the smallest lingering shortcoming in the management of this society.

And last but by no means least, finally having said bye to handouts from donors.

Total all-round cleanliness is not impossible to achieve.

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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 times!

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 appealing 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, so that we can demonstrate that we are not a cursed continent?

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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