Every survival story must be publicly proclaimed

Wednesday 4th May 2016

However much we may want to avoid overly dwelling on the hell that engulfed Rwanda in 1994, we must know that decency alone, if nothing else, demands us to publicly proclaim and repeatedly recite all who endured it, especially during this season of sorrow.

For, not doing so is playing in the hands of those who deny or minimize the Genocide against the Tutsi.

If 1,074,017 victims have been confirmed to have perished, why does the world continue to insist on quoting “800,000”, not “over 1m”, if it’s not to minimise it? Yet, even today, every so often victims are discovered in hitherto unknown places.

Just as every so often we encounter a hitherto unheard story of a survivor that still manages to convulse us, as I did, and was duly overwhelmed, only the other day: a story like the following, which I happened on last Friday, on a visit to a friend in Mageragere.

In April 1994, Leititia, at seven years old, was a blossoming, vivacious and beautiful thing in second year of primary education.

As Leititia recounts, today there being no school, rather than engaging in seeking to fulfill scholarly aspirations, she was busy in family chores, carrying water drawn from a river on her head. “Today” here refers to 20th April 1994 in the then Butare Prefecture, where Leititia had lived in a happy family of six.

That “today” would turn out to be the beginning of an unimaginable darkness that she’d live for the rest of her life.

At the family house doorway, she found her father and siblings lying mutilated, in a pool of blood. She could hear noises inside and so, walking gingerly back, she climbed up a tree in the compound and hid in its branches.

When Interahamwe/rapists were through with her mother, they killed her and, on leaving the house, they noticed the water container. They knew the girl was hiding somewhere but their search yielded nothing. They left, promising to return later; more urgent ‘work’ awaited them.

When night fell, little Leitia climbed down and, like a zombie, just walked away from the house until she collapsed and slept on the side of the path. She was roused awake in the morning by a gendarme going on duty, who took pity on her and left her in the care of his wife.

However, “care” was far from the wife’s mind, as Leititia learnt when she overheard her talking to neighbours later, and at night she set off again, on her ‘zombie walk away’.

Excruciating details apart, a month or so later she ‘miraculously’ found herself in Kigali, after walking more than 250km, scrounging for bits of edibles on the way. Relatives from Kigali had always talked about living near Gitikinyoni.

But, unknowingly, she found herself around Remera Giporoso where a ‘good Samaritan’, an elderly man, offered to ‘shelter’ her.

That’s when she realised that, as words, ‘work’, ‘care’, ‘miraculously’, ‘good Samaritan’ and ‘shelter’, in this “land of milk and honey”, as she had been taught to recite in class, had lost meaning. The “milk and honey” bit itself was a sick misnomer.

In fact, equating hell to that Rwanda was an insult to hell!

Recounting the agony little Leititia went through in Remera with the ogre of a “Samaritan” is not for the weak hearted. Suffice it to say that from that night, her tender, seven-year-old body was subjected to nightly torment that left her dead to all senses.

It was the same nightmare every night: clank the door open; tear at her; sometimes throw crumbs of food at her; assure her death awaits outside in form of Interahamwe; lock the hovel from outside after about an hour; bam and scram.

For eternity, her bleeding, starving body lay in the dark dungeon and underwent that torture without even a mat to lie on. And, needless to say, without water, fire, cloth, anything.

It was in these conditions that she gave birth to a baby girl four years later, assisted by the “Samaritan”. And another baby girl, five years later. And a baby boy, seven years later.

Wrap your mind around this: at fourteen years of age, bleeding-skeleton Leititia was mother to three bleeding-skeleton babies, fathered by a génocidaire-killer of thousands of her kith and kin.

When the rotting foursome emerged from the dungeon covered in maggots, rescued by neighbours who heard the cry of a baby, it was 2001! Rwanda had seen the fall of the génocidaire government and the RPF government was in its seventh year of existence!

Where the vampire “Samaritan” is, whom Leititia wouldn’t recognise, anyway, she knows not.

“My biggest regret is that I’ll never be able to see President Kagame!” says now-blind, HIV-afflicted Leititia. Her plight is no longer on her mind; she has learnt to live with it.

She is happy that her children are going to school free; she is on free antiretroviral drugs; has a brick house with electricity and running water; survivors have seen their dignity restored; many killers and their victims have reconciled; she lives in a clean, prospering Rwanda…..

However teary our eyes and often our telling, we must bring out these stories.

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Genocide ideology, a leaking house that must be abandoned

April 18th 2016

I’d seen it all, God knows I had. What I’d not seen in the heat of the horror, I’d seen in pictures. The Genocide against the Tutsi was a barbarity out of this world.
The repeated hacks at humans as if at dead logs; the punctured skulls that were then smashed against walls; the still visibly scarred, unseeing eyes; the raping; the disembowelment; the splintered bones; the rotting flesh; the overpowering stench, etc: the savagery that gripped this land in 1994, was there anything about it that hadn’t assaulted my senses?

See, those were spritely days when I was light of limb and so, among my duties, I was charged with taking visitors to Rwanda around the country.

From a practically unknown quantity, Rwanda had exploded on the world scene as the bloodiest monstrosity recorded by recent history. So, everybody wanted to see: what newspapers had screamed in headlines, radios blared in loudspeakers and television sets splashed on screens, was it real?

That’s how they came in droves and, together, we crisscrossed the country, as many of them fell in my charge.

We had been to Nyarubuye, near Tanzania, where, when you thought you stepped on a stone covered in algae, the ‘stone’ turned out to be a skull when the rotting flesh and its hair gave way.

In the church, in buildings around and in the bushes, bodies stacked on top of one another freely slid on the ground, as they rotted away.

The presence of victims’ dried blood in dugout-canoe-shaped containers (imivure) was explained off as having been “an offer of milk” to victims before their death, to mock them for having owned cattle.

As for Bisesero, to the south west, the whole hill seemed to be one huge reek that dared you to climb up and visit it. And, indeed, few were prepared to take up the challenge.

In Murambi, also to the south-west, you had to push against the tide of a stench that rose from the church and the classrooms around, to have a ‘blindingly pongy peep’ inside. A few paces away from classrooms was a mass-grave on top of which French “Opération Turquoise” soldiers had played basketball.

Their heartlessness reminded you of the UN abandoning victims in ETO Kicukiro, in Kigali.

In Ntarama Church, near Kigali, a barrage of grenade explosions had drawn patterns of death in the walls.

Bodies lay spread-eagled on pews, in aisles and in bushes outside.

To the left of the church’s altar, the blood-spattered statue of the Virgin Mary stood in supplication prayer, as if asking for forgiveness for inability to intervene.

Her bullet-punctured gaze was fixed on a pick-axe lodged in the skull of a victim, to this date still clearly marked: “Don de l’armée française”.

As if not to be outdone, Nyamata Church, further south, held an abhorrence of a spectacle of its own that, I am sure, still shames the Virgin Mary today.

Right in front of the altar lay the grotesque body of a woman who had been gang-raped, after which logs and other ‘unprintables’ were inserted into her. After the gory detail, Interahamwe severed her head and that of the baby she carried.

But, even then, the two faces managed to retain an angelic innocence that recalled the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.

In a word, every inch of the Rwandan soil was a house of horrors.

And yet, even after hightailing it into Zaïre (DR Congo), some of the authors of that gruesomeness never let up on their effort to consummate their macabre project.

It must have been in 1996 when there was an attack in Gisenyi. They even caused panic near Kigali, burning a commuter-taxi minibus in Shyorongi and infiltrating the Rwanda Patriotic Army in the Gatsata suburb.

Well, they all met an end that did not encourage a repeat but, still, we all had reason to expect the worst – unfounded fear, as it turned out.

I relived all this in the short time it takes to react to a question: “Is this happening?”

It was towards end-1996 and the question was from one of my charges of the day, as we were about to descend into Gisenyi town, near Zaïre. To our right was a column of Genocide-suspect prisoners in pink but the columns had become such fixtures of the Rwandan landscape that we hardly ever gave a thought to them.

This time, however, the lone policewoman was on the back of the head prisoner! She had fainted as they were working in the field, he explained, and so he was carrying her on his back, taking her “home”.

God knows that was new to me! And it explained the lone-policeman-guarded, peaceful, single-file columns everywhere.

Erstwhile hackers of their brethren had now disassociated themselves from evil and accepted prison as their home. Repentance, not insurgency, was their home. Gacaca court system, unity and reconciliation, working together for self-advancement, shared vision for the future, Ndi Umunyarwanda, etc: that’s their home today.

Home is the communal fight against genocide ideology.

France (my bête noire!), The Catholic Church and the United Nations, who’d have stopped this horridness with a lift of your finger, and powers harbouring unbendable perpetrators, when will you join Rwandans’ home, “on the right side of history and justice?”

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All ma/patronising powers should be faced eyeball to eyeball

April 1st 2016

You know the idiom: “But me no buts”. It’s said if you are fed up with unending objections, like when you say: “My Girinka cow is well fed and it’s giving me plenty of milk”. Then somebody unnecessarily qualifies that with: “Yes, but its big udder looks ugly!”

At one time Rwanda was so constantly faced with instances which called for such a rejoinder that she must have heaved a sigh of relief when they began to die down.

Mind you, she was not making the chest-thumping; the praises were being showered by ‘experts’ from the West.

They always pointed out the meteoric economic rise she was registering but never failed to turn around and ‘but themselves buts’: “The country is making rapid progress but the government is autocratic” – a contradiction, but that’s for another day.

To all intents and purposes, those “buts” had died. And, interestingly, I was beginning to miss them! I used to keep my ears peeled, waiting for another ludicrous “but”.

Then, only the other day, I sighted a title of an article that, coming from the respected news magazine The Economist, seemed set to feed my nostalgia. Considering the title, “Rwanda, a Hilly Dilemma”, it promised to be “explosive” (Remember the “explosive” Mapping Report leak that died in ‘its leaking’?).

But my excitement was immediately dealt an ‘interruption blow’ when Rwandan and some outsider commentators went up in arms, with unnecessary protests.

Surely, why can’t these commentators let these “buts” be? Haven’t they heard of this old African saying? With apologies to you all, I’ll repeat it: “The higher the monkey climbs, the more it exposes its ugly behind”. Similarly, leaving alone the fierce critics to ply their favourite trade will eventually expose their dark side.

This far, for instance, we know that this crusade (yes, we know it’s that) doesn’t have anything to do with journalists or the media houses they are piggybacked on; nor the rights activists and their rights organizations. We know that after an appearance of a “Hilly Dilemma” in a London news magazine, there will necessarily be a pronouncement in New York of a “deep disappointment” about Rwanda’s “dictatorship” from some government official.

And, indeed, after The Economist’s “Hilly Dilemma” of 12th March 2016, as sure as the hills of Rwanda, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was there on 21st March 2016 with “epic scale of achievements” but Rwanda not “promoting civil and political rights”!

Which means these media and rights organisations are hired guns. They are in the service of a Western government. And when one government talks, it’s talking for all.

We know that if we had these governments’ satellites, we’d sure as hell have seen a collective nod from the other Western governments.

Just as we know that they were together jolted by the swift, short and sharp rebuttal from Rwanda to Ambassador Power: “Ms Power doesn’t have power over Rwanda!” Of course that, and the sober explanation of how achievements cannot happen in a vacuum, was meant for them all.

And, I must say, I relished that, in spite of myself!

So, this harem of like-thinkers united against the progress of Rwanda needs to be taken on eyeball to eyeball, after all. They are showing us something ugly and we must show them we are seeing it. Because, a few days later, isn’t this a revelatory tweet from the same magazine: “@TheEconomist: 93% of Britain’s one-year-olds were vaccinated for measles in 2014. In Rwanda, 98% were”?

It’s true what a Sri Lankan ambassador said one time: “There is a clear trend of the displeasure of the opinion-making elite in the West…..against strong, independent-minded…..[third world] leaders who strive to build……strong sovereign states.”

“Strong sovereign states”. Methinks this is the elephant in the room: the anathema of such states.

Fortunately, Africa is spawning such leaders and countries by the month. Leaders who are not ashamed to look to the good actions of their colleagues on the continent and to emulate them in building strong states.

There may be some Western powers still peddling the crude coup-d’état and assassination threats and managing to scare some ‘rebel’ African leaders into submission but it won’t be for long. Hasn’t a French tentacle been severed in our neighbourhood to the east, even if it still grips some simpletons in our immediate south and some scandalous spectacles at the southernmost tip of our continent?

In any case, the markets are on our side. These powers will soon come down from their high horse and talk co-operation. If Cuba has shown us anything, it’s that we are all better off humbling ourselves together than being eternally at loggerheads.

It’ll soon be clear, too, that with the threat of global terror, harbouring terrorists because they are from a “tiny East African country” and creating conditions that generate migrants in other countries is not the best form of insurance.

Working together to empower one another, as one common world, is.

So, Rwandans, gather together all honest-to-goodness citizens of this single civilised world (from first, second, third) and together let’s shout it to ‘twitter-high’ heaven: #WesternPowersButRwandaNoButs!

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In the words of a villager……

7th January 2016

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!

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Opposition in exile not of any consequence

28th February 2014

There is no doubt that Frank Kagabo’s column that appears in Rwanda Today, a weekly on Rwanda carried in The East African, is usually expressive and balanced on Rwandan issues. However, perhaps for not being a daily close observer of Rwandans’ interests and struggles in building their country, as he is mainly based in foreign lands, sometimes his articles miss the point of what exactly matters to the Rwandan government and people.

This may be the case in last week’s article entitled “Politics of convenience and hardball political games live in harmony”.

When you miss the point of what matters to Rwanda, you cannot get the grasp of where the “Kigali charm offensive”, as Kagabo terms it, is directed. That “offensive” is aimed at nothing except what advances the interests, and improves the lives, of Rwandans. To Kigali, ‘exile-opposition’ shenanigans are a laughable pastime to turn to for comic relief, in between serious business. Those pranks were long ago seen for what they are: futile efforts at dividing the people of this land for opportunistic ends. Who doesn’t know there is nil value to draw from them?

If the Saturday BBC Imvo n’Imvano programme is popular here, it’s because it plays to the tune of those whose single survival strategy as opposition politicians is to sell such high-jinks. For that alone, in Kigali and all around, they are a source of amusement.

That “old hand in Rwandan journalism”, Ally Yusufu Mugenzi, would have been good at his job but for the fact that he is schooled in the divisive politics of a Rwanda gone by that incited hatred among its citizens. There was no shred of objectivity in the journalism of then and there isn’t, in the journalism of that “old hand” today.

“Entertaining” it may be, in the sense of ex-PM Twagiramungu’s “Ariko murasetsa”; “informative”, it is not.

The newly ‘out-of-exile’ lawyer, Evode Uwiziyemana, after waking up to the sense of joining his compatriots here “to serve the good cause” (his words) that Rwanda is today, has revealed all. So he says he used to be paid for his services. And the services? To adeptly play around with his legal knowledge and ‘expose’ Rwanda as misusing her laws to “curtail civil rights and freedoms of the country”. That way, our “old hand” and his raft of oppositionist buddies hoped to ‘legalise’ their opposition arguments. It’s no wonder, then, that these opposition elements are almost always the sole guests on Mugenzi’s programme.

How he manages to con money out of a respectable institution like the BBC on this, one wonders. Do the foreign institutions host these programmes in African vernacular languages for purely altruistic reasons? Or do they have an agenda of shaping the thought in the citizenry vis-à-vis their governments?

None should miss the point that the Rwandan government cannot take oppositionists in exile seriously, playing hardball or convenience games to win any of them over.

Apart from making vague nuances about government abusing its people’s rights and freedoms, usually picking them from international actors who have their own ill-veiled agendas, no organised opposition group has presented any appreciable alternative programme to that of the government. Their constant shifts of “sides and views” thin their credibility even further. If our self-exiled oppositionists want to be taken seriously, they should consolidate their multitudes of single-or-double-membership parties and come home and present a formidable opposition against the other parties here.

Otherwise, that self-exiled individuals come home and are received with open arms, or even offered juicy jobs when they have something to offer, should not surprise anyone.

We know that from the outset, unity and reconciliation for the progress of Rwandans have been the hallmark of this government. If in coming back those individuals encourage others to follow suit, especially those held hostage in the jungles of DR Congo and others in foreign capitals who may have unfounded misgivings over their activities in 1994, they should be welcomed. After all, in building their country, Rwandans need all hands on deck.

As for “those who were previously inner-circle members of the ruling elite” now being bitter enemies, maybe that’s evidence that there was no inner circle in the first place. Which would mean there was no “divorce”, bitter or otherwise. Rather, maybe the body-politic of this nation-state rejected their manner and method of serving and they found they had no place in it.

Still, north or south, home is best. No doubt this land will accommodate them when they are visited by a change of heart, even if they might need to account for their past conduct. Before he took to exile, Ntashamaje Gerald must have thought he was bang inside that “inner circle”, having participated in the liberation war. Today he is back on the soil, in the humble service of his people.

Rwanda has no time to play hardball with oppositionists in exile. They are not of any consequence to anybody.

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Rwanda will not tremble

28th March 2014

When you are trying to sympathise with all those suffering in senseless wars and other human-induced tragedies of the world, so as to that way get the courage to appreciate the day, your ears are split by noises of how your country is a monster.
You are trying to push back memories of the monstrosity of 1994 before fully plunging into the genocide commemoration season that’s upon us, but no. Those who have made it their duty to deny you peace are up. The hunter’s horn is blaring and so hate mongers; self-seekers; genocide deniers of all description; they are all gathered to attack.
Hunted Rwanda must be made to tremble.
The genocide commemoration is here and so, if yesterday she was accused of killing in the DR Congo, today she must be accused of killing in South Africa.
Nobody has shown evidence of how she has the power to walk into any country any time she wishes and kill whomever she wishes but this is Rwanda and, therefore, the verdict is out. She is guilty as charged. In South Africa, North America, Europe, condemnation is up.

What all those accusers don’t pause to ponder is what the majority of Rwandans think about it. Because if they did, they would maybe realise that many Rwandans wish it were true; they wish they had that power.

But you, reading this, lest your sense of decency is assaulted, should consider one little thing.

You and your honest-to-goodness family are walking from church, where you prayed for the world. At the bus stop, as you move to a candy stand to buy something for your innocent little ones, a grenade blast goes off. When you make to rush back, you notice to your horror that your family has been reduced to tattered, meaty pieces.

Your family, good citizen of this world, has joined the statistics of those who died a senseless death. An awful death that was ‘skilfully’ premeditated in the criminal mind of someone whose sworn mission is to give you “better life, democracy, freedom of speech”, whatever.

Pray, what good can come out of killing innocents in the name of rescuing them out of a “dictatorship”; in the name of serving a “democratic mission”?

Now stop imaginations and remember the harsh reality of when grenade blasts were rocking Kigali and other Rwandan towns almost every day.

Remember those maimed and those killed who joined the more than a million of 1994.

Remember, especially, that, in truth, those are not mere statistics. They are kindred who were maimed or murdered inanely to satisfy a fiendish mind.
Fighting an enemy responsible for such fiendish terror is not a commitment peculiar to Rwanda. It’s a calling for every country.

That’s why President Kagame’ message should ring true to every heart of this world; any soul that values the dignity of humanity:
“My main responsibility is to ensure the wellbeing, development and security of [my] people.”

Indeed, all leaders should know that they are not musicians who are in their business “to entertain” murderers of their people. They are not “accountable to NGOs” that feed “those who compromise the people” of their countries.

Leaders are the individuals who have been called to lead the fight in defence of the dignity of their people.

Thus, the unequivocal message from Rwandans who care: none will accept to suffer the primitive indignity of yesteryears, ever again. Who can serve this order will lead them; who seeks to reverse it will be fought tooth-and-nail, wherever they may be.

As they remember, Rwandans renew their passionate dedication to the protection of their own and to nullify any effort to divert their attention, in any way, from this mission.

However, the shrill of a few evil voices should not be allowed to drown the boom of warmth of big hearts that are with Rwanda. Rwandans should rejoice in the knowledge that countless individuals, organisations and countries are with them in their fight to restore their human dignity.

It is heart-warming, for instance, to read a message from Francine LeFrak, an American who founded an organisation called SAME SKY:
“In observance of” what here in Rwanda is called “Global Umuganda” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi, “SAME SKY is hosting ‘Umuganda Under the SAME SKY’ on March 29th…….an opportunity to stand alongside genocide survivors and perform an act of kindness in remembrance.”

Of course, there are myriad other individuals and organisations similarly inclined in North America.

Can anyone forget the work of a French citizen, late Jean Carbonare, in exposing the genocide suspects holed up in France? Nor will anyone forget his compatriots who have devoted their lives to carrying on with that mission, Mr Alain and Mrs Daphrose Gauthier.

This does not ignore others in France and in other European countries.
On all the continents of this globe, many are with Rwanda.

And that’s reason to have courage. So, let’s appreciate the day!

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National Leadership Retreat: for leisure or for labour?

21st March 2014

Last Friday 7th March was ‘exodus day’ for our leaders. From the lowest to the highest, in the public and private sectors, the leaders were packed together in college buses, bound for the north-east. Gabiro, in the Eastern Province, would be their hibernation nook for three days.

Meanwhile, it was interesting to see the countenances on the faces of the citizens who thronged the Kigali-Kagitumba roadside, as they watched their leaders’ convoy rumble by.

Some wore that déjà-vu expression that said they remembered the same ‘migration’ last year and others elsewhere before. However, there were expressions that betrayed anxiety and one couldn’t help imagining. Perhaps some citizens feared that, with these irregular rains, their leaders were hightailing it to greener pastures, leaving them to the mercy of a looming famine that, inexplicably, they anticipated?

And, indeed, it would have been flight to comfort if it were not for the distress of crowding in buses and vans. And, for those with generous girths, ‘compacting’ themselves to fit on narrow double-decker beds in common dormitories. For those without, dealing with the painful contact between an un-fleshy bone and wood/metal, with only the intervention of a mean-sized mattress.

Still, though, when time came, the leaders seemed to glide comfortably through their power-point presentations. Execution of the government’s well-thought-out programmes was going on without a hitch.

To be sure, the leaders were here for the good times. Or were they?

Led by their president, the leaders put each presentation and its presenter under what one can only describe as ‘brutal scrutiny’.

Why were projects and programmes that should have been completed six years ago still limping on today; buildings still incomplete, five years beyond completion deadline; the beasts of corruption still breathing, even if haltingly?

Where was improvement in agriculture, the mainstay of the economy? Where, affordable housing; electricity expansion; facilitation of teachers; equipped classrooms, hospitals/health centres; investor facilitation; communication and collaboration across the board? On and on.

Where is the sense of urgency? Where the leaders have promised to take the country as if it were an emergency case, did anyone dare enjoy the luxury of dilly-dallying?
After the self-inflicted grilling, many of the leaders whose department-performance was found wanting looked like victims of a devastating hurricane. The celebration of those whose departments posted positive scores was not without trepidation, either, as they knew that if they hadn’t faced the grill in the eleven retreats before, there were yet others to come.

Even as they fretted, however, the leaders knew they had history to draw inspiration from. The significance of that first day of October 1990 will never be lost on them. That’s the day a few Rwandans set off on an improbable journey to coalesce all compatriots around the cause of unity so as to haul themselves and their country out of their primitive state.

The journey was traumatic but, knowing they’ve come a long way, the citizens of this land know they will never look back. Mistakes here and there notwithstanding, the leaders should know that as long as the citizens are behind them, they can never go wrong.

However, unfortunately for our leaders, to keep that trust they have to stay fast fixed on the grill!

For, lest they forget, December is nigh, when this time they will account for the performances to their citizens and the wider world. After all, the National Leadership Retreat (Umwiherero) in March is only a dress rehearsal for the National Dialogue Council (Umushyikirano) in December.

But if our leaders demonstrated how they engineered the drivers of the transformation of this country, they did not forget to show the ‘reforming’ they’d done to their Kinyarwanda so as to speak the same language. For, owing to their diverse backgrounds, in exile in different areas or inside the country, it so happens that some of them find themselves speaking “Icirimi” (no such word in Kinyarwanda!) rather than “Ururimi” (language)!

That apart, one cannot help wondering. In a country where leaders bare their all to the world in this form of accountability and transparency rarely found in other countries, where do some foreigners base themselves to call Rwanda a closed autocracy? Or are they referring to the ‘brutal scrutiny’ mentioned above?

If leading this commitment to serve Rwandans is what some foreigners call the “steely rule of President Paul Kagame”, who wouldn’t enjoy being so “ruled”? Especially if, that way, they are part of “a modern Sparta whose economic management is as widely admired as its disciplined army”, to quote a South African commentator on Rwanda?
The yearly retreat and dialogue may be unfamiliar forms of transparency and accountability particular to this country. But, considering where she was in 1994, hasn’t Rwanda undergone unfamiliar transformation to be where she is today?

Where other leaders get busy to conjure up patronage networks once out of sight, Rwandan leaders know they cannot engage in political gimmicks. They must stick with their people to drive the transformational growth of this land.

Rwandans, haunted by their history, demand it of them.

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