Presidential hopefuls, who is up to the task of safeguarding Agaciro?

As a Rwandan, especially presidential aspirant, or friend of Rwanda, have you all taken time to think deeply about this word Agaciro? What’s this hullabaloo many are making around Agaciro, the Rwandan word that means their dignity and more?

As is the wont of oldies, unfortunately, in form of opinion I’ll drag you back into the past – hopefully not kicking and screaming! Where we meet a 19th century man who came face to face with, and got to know, about Agaciro probably better than most, despite himself.

Whom, when you think of it, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) leadership must’ve had in mind when they set up this government. For, when they took on the mantle of heaving this country out of the cesspool, they adopted the mantra in French called “reculer pour mieux sauter” (to jump higher, you need to step back).

And when they stepped back into history, they must’ve seen that there was a time this land was known as “Nchi ya Bwana Mkali” (Land of the Fierce Warrior). That title was coined by a man by the names of Tippu Tip.

Now, if there was any abhorrent quantity that Africans in this region lived in mortal fear of, that quantity was that 19th century man called Tippu Tip. He was a monstrous region-rover whose gun-toting gang all but laid bare this entire region ‘harvesting’ slaves. Slaves who, in the bargain, functioned as freight haulers of his looted ivory.

Sadly, the lot of Africans was such that some of their leaders needed no gun-scare. They were the slaver’s willing salesmen, gathering their own people for sale.

Not so in Rwanda.

At the sound of the first gunshot at the border with Burundi, Rwandan warriors descended from their ridges to spray Tippu’s gang with arrows and, when they cut and ran, Tippu’s slave-hunters never looked back towards Rwanda, ever again.

To this day, the area from where that shower of arrows emanated to put these gunslingers to flight is named Ibwanamukari (“bwana mkali”). Rwanda’s “ukali” (fierceness) had won the day!

In “Bwana Mkali”, Tip may have referred to one leader but behind that leader was an indomitable army of highland warriors. And they were unconquerable because they came from a bonded community where no Rwandan could hurt, betray or in any way harm or wrong another, let alone sell or kill, in their coveted dignity, their Agaciro.

Rwanda was a country of “fierce foes” if you were spoiling for a fight.

But welcoming to, and respecting of, well-intentioned foreigners. Which, sadly, proved to be her Achilles’ heel when colonialists faked friendship, having been tipped off by Tip.

That’s how this otherwise unassailable land was for a century put in the doghouse and turned into the sick man of Africa by colonialism, only to close the century as the pity pet of the world at the hands of its surrogate barbaric leadership.

That during those lost years it could get leaders whose vision was to wipe out part of their compatriots will forever remain a dirty blot on Rwandans’ conscience.

It’s how when they state that they have regained their dignity and confident respect for anybody of good will, it’s no political gimmickry.

When they sing about their Agaciro, they are invoking their ages-old culture. For when they dig deep into their culture and marry what’s appropriate with what they find appropriate in modernity, miracles begin to happen.

Gacaca, for one, that resolved millions of genocide crimes, in the process uniting victim and génocidaire, all in less than a decade, a first anywhere.

It’s how, from the abyss, Rwanda has emerged into “a country of heroic people…..who triumphed over colonial hangover….[to become a society that,]….with determination, audacity and hard work,…..[has achieved]…..great socio-economic development”, to quote a message from one of Rwanda’s bosom-buddy countries, Tanzania.

Tanzania being a fusion of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, where this latter, in an interesting twist of history, was home to the fearsome Tippu Tip, that long ago!

Rwanda’s achievements are a result of a combination of all heads and hands working together to serve dignified common cause as, from the quote again, a “solidly united people….in whom what one sees is what one gets”.

Never again hollow heads whose idea of development was to kill off compatriots, so as to monopolise alms from Western “papas”. Nor naïve sorts who only took pleasure in hitching plane rides from powerful guests as an end in itself and to hell with seeking gainful cooperation.

He/she’ll have our ears, who believes in the equality of all men and women of this earth.

To the point that, if a visiting president from a powerful country you are hosting lays that patronising arm around your shoulders, you patronisingly respond with an arm around theirs, too. A tiny gesture, but one that makes a statement on partnership of equals.

Such statement, we’ve seen. And its loud, clear message: Rwandans must be equal to the best.

Whichever party, whichever aspirant, all should put country before party or self as we, the citizenry, wish them to. So, they must put their heads and hands together, too, to support the best among them, even if it means coalitions beforehand.

The best is that who leads us in our journey of “Rwandanising democracy” and not seeking out those who “can democratise Rwanda” for us, to slightly misquote another message!

As it is, we stand on the shoulders of giants whose 27-year (yes, not 23) track record says that what they say is what they’ll do. And “I will give it my all” tells us volumes.

For that track record, today we are “Nshi ya Mabwana na Mabibi wakali” (country of great men and women)……….thanks to “Agaciro k’Ibwabimukali”?

Need we ask who is equal to the task?

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Our army is our kith and kin, not dogs of war

There is a saying in Kinyarwanda that goes: ukize inkuba arayiganira (loosely, when you have a brush with death, you’ll never tire in telling the story). And with the life-threatening experiences each of us has undergone in this region at the hands of killer soldiers, who wouldn’t harp on the story?

This thought came to me after seeing the camaraderie among civilians, active-service soldiers and army reservists as Minister for Defence Gen James Kabarebe chatted them up last 24th May, after he had officiated over the inauguration of affordable houses built by a company belonging to the army reservists.

Knowing the minister, I could imagine the roars of laughter all round as he, with fellow veteran Generals present chipping in, offloaded the repertoire of hair-thin escapes they’ve made in practically this entire region.

It’s a long recount, even if they cannot give it in full as much of it is older than they.

In this country before July1994, an encounter with a soldier out of the barracks was a stare into the jaws of death. In Uganda, the hell soldiers visited on citizens in the 1970s and early 1980s is well documented. Then the harassment in Kenya one time in 1982 when soldiers went amok. Maybe also in Tanzania in 1964, before the mutinous army was disbanded.

Burundi, South Sudan and DR Congo, need we say anything? We can only pray that their leaders finally find the formula to create a rapport between solders and citizens, so the people can get to tell their chilling stories.

It’s sad but true that soldiers can render life worthless, once out of barracks, in some societies.

My glimpse at this was in Uganda in 1978 at one of the dreaded roadblocks of Idi Amin’s infamous soldiers when once I was accosted thus: “Chacha wewe nini? We kwisa kuwa tajiri natumia dora?” (“You are so rich you deal in dollars, eh?”)

My smattering knowledge of Kiswahili (still, better than theirs!) was going to bail me out after pleading a case of only carrying dummy plastic dollars but my Ugandan fellow spoilt everything. He produced his university ID (soldiers couldn’t tell!) and blurted out: “Wona, mimi muyizi.”

I quickly pleaded that he meant “student” (mwanafunzi), not “thief” (mwizi), but also that we were not students but simple villagers. The latter fib was to save us from being branded “Ayino tu mach” (I-know-too-much), a capital offence of claiming superior knowledge that was punishable by death!

But for my Kiswahili, my friend and I would be singing Halleluiah in Heaven prematurely!

All of which goes to show you why that mirthful banter of the group around our minister for defence is telling a long story.

A long story, to see the ramification of which, you need to walk the streets of Kigali in evenings as an example. When you extend your hand to any soldier patrolling the streets, their handshake will be with both hands, yet without once blinking in their alertness.

That Rwandan ‘both-hands’ handshake is a sign of high respect and, in it, the soldier will be telling you this: nothing can go between you and your peace and comfort without removing me.

However, that removing him/her is easier said than done, as any French soldier who was in Zone Turquoise in 1994 will tell you – another long story, the telling of which needs pages!

Anyway, without even going into examples of how, for instance, whereas some European governments (may God help their victims) have learnt to copy our government and bring their soldiers out on the streets among the people, they’ve never remembered that pre-emptying these terror attacks is a permanent, collective business. It serves no purpose, doing it after the fact.

Which is why here the army is in sync with the populace at all times. The Rwanda Defence Force is one with the people, kufa na kupona (life and death).

Where other armies are kennelled in barracks and only unleashed when war and other attacks break out, to the extent that once out they can’t tell who is or is not enemy, in Rwanda the army is folded-sleeves, working with the citizens, at all times.

In their Rwanda Military Hospital that’s set to be one of a kind in the region, they are busy treating any patient who comes to them, soldier or civilian. If you can’t come to them, they’ll come to your village for free medical care in their outreach activities, whatever distance.

In the army week initiatives, they are providing whatever can develop their people: modern houses for genocide survivors, other vulnerable groups and those relocated from risky areas; building schools, roads and bridges; providing biogas, modern cooking stoves and clean water.

The RDF and its Reserve Force are contributing to the Girinka Programme; planting trees and digging trenches to play their part in protecting the environment.

Their rescue missions within the borders and in foreign lands have become something of a legend. In all the aforesaid, not forgetting themselves and their self-advancement, of course.

As Gen Fred Ibingira once quipped, even if they were attacked in their sleep, the RDF would defeat the enemy and only wake up to clear the mess. He may have said it in jest but, having cheated death innumerable times like us all, he should know.
To the RDF, for having internalised the ethos of being one with the people, “impossible n’est pas Rwandais”.

That, if you ask me, is our story. And it’s a story worth telling.

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Tribute to the heroines of these highlands

I remember a fellow columnist musing in these pages that if she were not married, she’d consider marrying Rwanda.

Well, ma’am, I have good news for you. Even in your happy matrimonial state, you’d not raise your loving husband’s hackles, marrying Rwanda. Because I think he wouldn’t hate a similar conjugal union, either. So, both of you, why don’t you go for that nuptial knot?

For, to allay your fears, Rwanda is actually not “he” only. She is also “she”!

Yet again, neither of you need think of a case of polyandry, polygamy or gay union because you’ll be joining the long list of close to twelve million Rwandans of all gender who’ve laid claim to her/him as their spouse. The truth of the matter being that when you marry Rwanda, she/he doesn’t become your spouse as such.

She/he becomes your mother/father! Jamaican or any nationality, acquire and uphold her/his values and, as motherland/fatherland, she/he’ll be yours for the asking.

However, at the risk of inviting the wrath of men on myself, I’ll state my honest opinion and stake my life on it: Rwanda, being strong, is more motherly than fatherly. And I base my venture of an opinion on my observation of women generally which, according to many, I do not hold a monopoly of.

But, in particular, the women of Rwanda have a kind of tenacious strength that they can only have been favoured with by an equally strong motherland.

It suffices to visit any office in this country or see the streets of its towns or the ridges of the land and homes thereon. The biggest number of people who’ll be at busy-bee hard work will be female. And so will that of those of ripe age, who’ll have survived ravages of such taxing tasks.

As for being the fittest in the Darwinian sense, take these rains that were recently pounding this country day and night. Now think back to April 1994, when they were more merciless. Among the survivors of those terror days, submerged in disease-infested swamps or later scorching under the burning sun, the majority are women. In all survival situations of then, the same holds true.

And that’s not all. Rwandans, almost to a woman or a man, have been refugees at one time or another.

Talking for myself, I recall how in the 1960s it was practically impossible for our parents to adjust to the hardships of exile, having come from a life of comfort, or even affluence, back in Rwanda.

Those days, it was every refugee family for itself. The whole coterie of humanitarian refugee organizations had given us a wide berth, for reasons only known to themselves – or did agitation for self-determination have anything to do with it?

Anyway, back then, these organisations that today, in addition to pampering refugees, entice them with creature comforts that are enough to lure level-headed citizens into a permanent life of statelessness, wouldn’t have touched us with a 10-mile-long pole.

Yet on our own as we were, when we thought we were getting on the verge of starvation, wasn’t it always our mother who somehow made food materialize from thin air?

Faced with the indignity of failing to provide for family, many fathers opted for suicide. Those who persevered, to their credit, could not betray their honour and integrity, looking beggarly. But they lived in despair, even if they went about their near-starvation business in their spotlessly clean clothes, however worn and weather-beaten, rather than appear wretched.

Not so our mothers. Eschewing despair, while sharing the men’s honour and integrity, they were ready to ‘cook’ towels to make believe it was food, so as to give hope to children but also dupe ill-wishers, as cooking was in the open. Still, they avoided that men’s ‘ready-to-die’ stoicism by grimly working to somehow magically procure us food.

May they be celebrated every day, not only once a year!

However, after all is said and done, there are unsung heroines that no one cares to acknowledge. The young ladies who sacrificed themselves, body and soul, to sustain family and educate siblings. Many were a young lady who gave of herself to a foreign brute of a man, who abused her as wife or otherwise at will, and yet stoutly bore it all, that her people could have a future.

Senior citizens who were witness remember how these sacrificial lambs were sometimes used as ‘conduits’ for contraband minerals and drugs. And how sometimes these ‘conduits’ were not live – need we be too explicit?

The women of this land are, and have always been, the pillars of our society.

Luckily, “this man right here”, President Paul Kagame, envisioned all this, that long ago.

That’s how, in his thankful job that has inspired Rwandans, the women have taken their rightful place to use their gentle but tenacious work methods to temper the regimented rigidity of men’s work methods. The increasingly evident result of this is an overall resilient society.

For emerging from kitchen relegation early enough, our strong women have joined men to put the bad times behind this country, “for good and forever”.

Sister and brother of any nationality, feel free to tie the knot with these gender-balanced highlands known as Rwanda, dual nationalities even if it may mean.

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Why do some governments prefer to pit their security forces against the citizenry?

I don’t know about you but, personally, I found the cartoon that was running in this paper some time ago interesting.

A family stands in the doorway of their house late in the night, kid crouching between father’s hairy legs and pulling at mother’s hems, all startled (I imagine) by responding to a knock on their door, only to open and be confronted by the sight of two policemen carrying a heavy object.

Their faces only break into wide grins on hearing: “Don’t worry; we have come to arrest darkness!” Before reading the caption, the sight of the cartoon alone had conjured up disturbing images of an encounter with a pair of policemen at any hour, in my days of exile!

In my long and ‘fleeing’ life, being tossed hither and thither in different countries of switched refuge, if there was any nightmare I dreaded the most, it was an encounter with anybody charged with keeping the peace and protection of their citizens and us, their ‘guests’.

Pardon me, therefore, if I seem never to get used to some situations in this country.

Seeing security personnel not only doing their duty as they were mandated to, but actually going the extra mile – many miles! – to give a helping hand in ensuring the comfort of citizens or even in improving their lives still catches me unawares.

The wide grins in the case of the cartoon were a kind of illustration of a story that, in part, read: “Rwanda National police….to provide solar home systems to 3,000 households in remote areas and one health-centre in each of the 30 districts of the country, in the coming month”.

Come end this May, then, this story having been out in April, and to these households and health centres, darkness will have turned into a thing of the past, courtesy of police.

That still amazes me because my idea of security officers, wherever else I lived, had crystallised into something like what follows.

For instance, you are lazily window-shopping after a day’s hard work as a law-abiding teacher, when you feel a none-too-soft object poke your ribs. On turning, a pair of police officers, their ndembos (truncheons) on the ready, demand to see your identification papers.

Produce your national ID as citizen or “PI” ID as refugee, the latter cynically describing you as a “Prohibited Immigrant” but still legal, and you’ll be dragged off to a detention facility, no questions asked. Your only rescue will lie in having some “tea” on you, which otherwise spells as h-a-r-d c-a-s-h!

If not, – misery of miseries! – this being Friday, you’ll be produced in court on Monday, charged with being found “idle and disorderly and behaving in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace.” If you are wise, you plead “Guilty, my Lord!” to the bleary-eyed judge.

But if you are the stubborn, miserly type unwilling to part with the “guilty fee”, then be prepared to cool your backside in remand with hardcore criminals until cows come home. Which cows, unfortunately for you, won’t, without you finally dipping your mean hand in your pocket!

However, that’s child’s play when you think of other scenarios. Apart from police soliciting the seemingly mandatory bribe for next to nothing, you’ve seen them mercilessly bludgeoning innocents to near-death; painting them rainbow-colours for God-knows-what; yanking them up by their belts like sacks of trash; blinding them with tear gas; shooting them with live bullets in their crowds; et al.

All these, if for any plausible reason, not one that cannot be resolved amicably.
Our police force, therefore, should not be taken for granted. Their discipline and humaneness should be recognised. Granted, they owe it to the system that put their institution in place but that should not deny them their due respect.

And yes, there may be scattered reports of soliciting bribes here and there, but it’s more likely that they’ll be stamped out than that they’ll be allowed to proliferate.

Otherwise, you’ve seen how traffic police help children or wheel-chair-bound persons crossing roads; the odd tourist unable to read their map; a local unable to get their bearings; and more. Sometimes it may be to the chagrin of impatient motorists but going by reactions in the social media, most are appreciative.

Our police have been seen recovering bundles of money lost by passengers at the airport. In peacekeeping missions, they’ve done Rwandans proud by doing their job admirably and going beyond that to immerse themselves in the populace, as they do here, to introduce home-made solutions like the communal umuganda.

As for developmental activities, apart from police in said peacekeeping missions building schools, etc, here the activities had become the preserve of our boys and girls in military uniform. So, have police plunged into them for purposes of reciprocity?

Remember the story early this year of Rusebeya sector residents handing over a 30-million-Rwf-worth police station? The Gatsibo District ones later handing over keys to 10 police stations? And those in Gisozi and Gikomero sectors, after that, constructing a police station each for their sector?

Whichever way you may choose to see it, our security forces and citizens are working in symbiotic concert and Rwanda is the better off for it.

Why do some governments prefer it that their forces and the citizenry always be at loggerheads?

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We should guard against playing in the hands of genocide deniers

Appeared in The New Times on 26th April 2017

While many kind people have all along been by Rwandans’ side in their time of painful remembrance of the hell that engulfed them in 1994, some have sometimes fallen prey to those intent on refusing to call that horror by its precise name, for dubious reasons.

“Dubious reasons” which, when carefully pulled apart, will be found to be subtly trying to draw some into the murky waters of those who purposely bandy around meaningless names, titles and phrases in an effort to deny, negate, belittle, or otherwise distort the genocide for what it was.

“The Genocide against the Tutsi” is so called because it refers to exactly what took place.

Without engaging in the scholarly comparative discourse of how genocides take place, let’s confine ourselves to Rwanda, where there was a long-drawn out campaign mainly by Rwandans to totally eliminate their fellow Rwandans, as whoever has cared to understand it knows.

For long before what many deceptively call the trigger of 1994, there had always been what experts have called a “creeping genocide” whose stealth spark may be traced as far back as 1883.

This was when King Leopold II of Belgium, among other efforts, addressed a group of Christian Missionaries and sent them forth with a contingent of administrators with the mission of taming Africans, simple “nègres” who could be bent to the will of the colonial master, as he saw them.

To quote him in part and with some alterations for less cold-hearted readability: “Reverend Fathers and my dear compatriots.….. The principal aim of your mission….[is] not to teach niggers about God….They have their Mundi, Mungu, Diakomba….they know that killing, stealing, [etc]…..are bad. Your essential role is to facilitate the task of administrators and industrialists.”

And thus the king bid the missionaries to go and inculcate into “these black savages” these maxims from the word of God that seemed to have been written with his aim in mind: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, because it is they who will be comforted.”

The crux of it all: make the colonized “natives” submit to every whim of this kingdom; make them subservient to you and to wish nothing of the riches that abound in their continent.

And, with the future in his sights: “Your actions must essentially be brought to bear on the youth that they may never think of revolt.”

The evil-intentioned king may not have had Rwanda in mind when he thus poured his venom. But after World War I and the defeat of the Germans that had ‘acquired’ us at the infamous Berlin Conference, the misfortune fell upon our society to become his kingdom’s “protectorate”.

The “protection” totally tore up the fabric that bonded together our society. The moment the colonialist managed to debase the values that webbed together Rwandans, with the help of his gun and Bible (per king’s instructions), the success of his divide-and-rule crusade was a fait-accompli – in fact, in our case it was ‘divide-and-ruin’.

As a little example of their devious tricks, the colonial chiefs used to summon their appointed Rwandan assistant and subject him to, say, eight strokes of the cane (kiboko) for any number of reasons, like failure by he and his charges to plant coffee. From there, the assistant was ordered to go and similarly torture his charges (hundreds), the trick being that none of the charges would be convinced that the order was from the colonialist.

It was thus and in many worse ways that Rwandans lost their values. Now belonging to one clan (Abasinga, for instance), blood brotherhood (kunywana), neighbourliness (gutura ku gasozi kamwe), sharing their Imana y’u Rwanda, etc, meant nothing. To many a young Rwandan schooled in new colonial values, their society’s values were rendered obsolete.

The near-harmonious existence before colonialism, little distortions and imperfections, as in any other society, notwithstanding, became nil and the chant was up for this “évolué”, native who had evolved into a new Rwandan, to partner with an equally evolved colonialist and “purify” Rwanda. To these elite, there was no Rwanda for Rwandans; Rwanda was for a pure-Aryan-type section of Rwandans and death to the rest!

For these ‘Aryan’ “évolués”, other Rwandans were ‘foreign impurities’.
To cut a very long story short, that’s how, when the call for independence swept over Africa, in Rwanda it paradoxically meant repeated massacres of Rwandans by fellow Rwandans in 1959, ’62, ’63, ’66, ’72, ’90, ‘91 and 1993 that culminated in the Genocide against the Tutsi.

Talking about ‘purity’ and involving oneself in the barbarity of the genocide perpetration, that’s something else, of course, but that was your Rwanda then.

Anyway, to honour the survivors of the horror, we should have the courtesy to be unequivocal about its name, especially when intimately associated with Rwanda.

When we see people passing that hell off as “a genocide in which nearly one million people, the majority of them Tutsi, were slaughtered…” What does it mean; who was targeted? 400,000 Tutsis and 300,000 Hutus?

In this Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed 1.07m, and counting? (There are many victims whose remains, wherever they were buried, have not yet been discovered.)

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We honour our departed by eradicating the barbarity of their time

Surprise, surprise! This was my first reaction on seeing destitute-looking boys hanging precariously on a moving freight trailer at the Giporoso junction, here in Kigali, the other day. I should’ve reacted with alarm and sadness I know but you know me and how I am always tickled by any reminder of our frighteningly atrocious past. If for nothing else, to get a full grasp of the vast contrast of today.

As for alarm, the kids weren’t hanging high up and the vehicles were soon stopping at the lights, anyway. And for sadness, I know mentioning it alone will immediately attract the attention of our hawk-eyed government – or else, what’d be national retreats, dialogues, etc, for? If these were not school-going miscreants playing dirty games, then this mention is a clarion call for officials to do the necessary pronto, or risk a severe tongue-lashing from their seniors.

So, as the habitual past-dwelling yours-truly, now that my memory has been jogged, trust me to take you back to an era that’s fast fading from your memories.

How many of you remember the menacing mayibobo (street urchin) of the Rwanda of 1994 and before? Who recalls those dazed-eyed little louts sniffing glue and holding out their hands to plead “Wamfunguriye”, begging for a morsel of food?

Sadly, they’d been accepted as an inevitable feature of this country, freely roaming the streets, foraging for food in rubbish dumpsites during the day and resting their pitiful dirty little bodies wherever they found a hole, at night. And if it was any comfort, Uganda had its own ‘abayaye’, Kenya its ‘chokora’ and Tanzania its ‘watoto wa mitaani’.

Remember, too, that our young villains had their ‘seniors’ who not only sniffed but also smoked and drank dangerous illicit substances that had turned them into walking zombies. If this version engaged in any gainful work, it was as a ‘karaningufu’ (cart-pusher) for market-goers, which gave them earnings to buy those substances.

But, while Karaningufu was in that gainful engagement, woe betide thee if you did not heed his “Tsiiii!” ‘siren’! If you didn’t jump out of his way in time as he hurtled down a street with his hundred-kg cart-load, you’d end up as a mangled heap of market purchase, cart, flesh and bones.

If you frequented the chaotic mess that was known as Nyarugenge market, then you must have once witnessed an abominable sight. There, in that messily busy market and in full view of everyone, one of those zonked brutes trying to rape a smartly dressed lady!

Amid horrified shrieks and howls of disgust from everybody, the ruffian was immediately seized by the crowd and set upon with kicks and punches. All were ready to administer mob justice.

Unfortunately, security officials intervened and whisked away the vermin and, by a whisker, saved him from a definite lynching.

But the dreadful attempt had been made.

And it propelled everybody back. Back to “that place that exists at the final limit of destructive human experience; Genocide is the place,” to quote someone. For, remember, this was only a few months after July 1994, yet here was a demonic maniac ready to re-enact the horror we’d just emerged from!

Yes, the memory was fresh then, as it is today, as it’ll always be.

Of having been witness to the most heinous crime that in a mere 100 days counted 1.04 million of our innocent compatriots, and still counting – NOT 800,000.

Of how bleeding men, young and old, after their bodies had been bludgeoned with knobkerries and lacerated with machetes, were buried alive up to their necks and heads left to feed dogs and vultures.

Of how women of all ages were gang-raped by mostly HIV-positive diabolical hooligans after which broken glass, jagged wood pieces, stones, pepper, ants; everything excruciatingly painful was inserted into them, before their necks were ever so slowly, ever so agonizingly, severed – with survivors hating the very idea of survival.

Of how foetuses were cut out of wombs and kicked around like footballs, or tossed against walls to totally shut out their yet-unseen light. Babies and children held by their tiny growing limbs and heads repeatedly knocked against tree trunks, walls, rocks, metals, tarmac, etc, to forever remain smudges (yes, of innocent beauties) that ‘soiled’ their land.

Yet, the pain suffered, the 1.04-plus million wiped out, all that ignores the yearly-recurrent massacres stretching back to 1959. Pray, who has put a number to the totality of those deaths?

Oh, who doesn’t bleed, on remembering? No wonder, then, that we’d been baying for blood.

But wait, remember and think. Think of that RPF/A soldier who fell upon his entire family bleeding and groaning – if not cut into pieces that couldn’t groan – and breathing their last.

Despite this, imagine him watching the mob of génocidaires with hands and death implements dripping his family’s blood, all at his mercy, and holding back his hands from his machinegun and grenades on hearing that voice ringing in his head:

“Utaumia, hata waweza kapoteza maisha, ila chunga! Hawa ni ndugu zako. Usichukuwe sheria mikononi mwako.”

And, bleeding plasma and feeling red-hot-cinder pain, to have heeded the voice: “These are family. No revenge.” Yes, no revenge anywhere.

And for that, dear reader, breathe easy, today is civilised 2017! We are not captive to the past, even if we shall forever remember.

But without needing any iota of the barbaric vestiges of that past for reminders: mayibobo, hawkers running helter-skelter, disorder, corruption, cow-hacking, rape, negation…….the junk-load.

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This leadership has touched our society in ways many may not fully fathom

The effects of this leadership on the Rwandan society are manifest in many ways and those who put their lives on the line to rescue it know best. Uti how?

I was shuffling along KK104 Street doing my routine exercise when, on looking to my left, I burst out laughing, startling passersby who, looking at me, seemed torn between fleeing and carting me off to a psychiatric asylum.

Good souls, they didn’t know how, in the mid-1990s, a friend and I once literally tore our way through a forest in this area known as Nyarugunga, a stone throw from the airport, as I escorted him to a hardly habitable hovel, but which was going to be the sorry home for his family.

My laughter was prompted by seeing my famished-looking friend of then, now with ample paunch sitting on the porch of a sizeable mansion in a lush garden.Bordering the garden is the wide asphalt street on whose equally wide walkway and under whose bright street lights I was walking.

The forest of prickly nettles of that long ago, does he still remember? It’s the path in that forest that has turned into a veritable boulevard today.

Truly, times have changed!

But, not wanting to disturb a friend’s peace with those nightmarish memories, I continued with the evening walk past his house and then back towards my new abode.
Unbeknown to me, I was soon going to hear many stories similar to the evolution of his condition from the horse’s mouth, so to say.

When it started raining near a place popularly known as Estate for War Veterans, I ducked into the veterans’ common hangout for shelter and, finding them in happy conversation punctuated by guffaws of laughter, decided to sit the rain out and – why not? – eavesdrop!

A veteran was good-humouredly chiding a fellow veteran for lamenting about not completing a second house fast enough, knowing he already owns one. It’s ok to want another house, said he, but, more importantly, we are alive and are here and for that alone you should be happy.

Yes, interjected another veteran, our fallen heroes did not die in vain. They died, and we fought, to rescue Rwandans’ destiny from negative forces and build happiness by winning back our rights as sons and daughters of this land. We mustn’t betray that cause.

And, added another, he should never forget: outnumbered, outgunned, out-resourced, nationally outcast, internationally diplomatically ignored, generally existentially threatened, in his heart of hearts; did he in the least believe as a tiny rebel group we’d outfox all and join others and all together as Rwandans be here again?

Ariko murasetsa, shot back another, if it were a matter of just being here, so are some neighbours, distant Syrians, name them, and some may be happy.

We are not just here; we are here big-time, making a statement of deliberately maintaining our chosen leadership that’s proven capable of mobilising us to together craft a future of progress and prosperity.

We are doing a great job of that crafting and that’s cause for joy.

It is indeed an insult, as even the lifetime oppositionist Faustin Twagiramungu admits, for some in the international community to posit that we deserve the likes of what he calls a ‘mupishi’ wielding a cooking-pan or a lady he calls an unprintable, flesh-related name for better leadership.

“Bugger the negative world opinion! What contempt!” spat out a lady interlocutor.
Who has not been confounded by our unexpected rise from devastation, a rise which is unprecedented, considering our context? Can you divorce our leadership from that rise?

For this leadership and our rise from shame to honour, the president of China, first lady in tow, has rolled out his rare red carpet, not for fifty-four African presidents but, for one.

Pope Francis, in all his holiness and splendour – his trademark humility, too – has stooped to a level un-stooped to before by any pope for any sin in the short space of 23 years, rather than hundreds, to ask for forgiveness in the name of the Catholic Church.

Yes, noted an aging veteran, justice may come later rather than sooner but now, more than ever before, it beckons – and, even if delayed, it won’t be justice denied. The world’s conscience is stung and the writing is on the wall for countries and organisations still harbouring and shielding genocide fugitives, clergy and lay alike.

From genocidal human ‘nettles’ of 1994 on to the consolidation of the security, healing and unity of a dislocated people; consolidation of institutions to govern it and a constitution to protect those institutions by 2003. Thirteen years hence (yes, not 23), we have built “one of the most promising [economies] on the African continent” as stated by “the most famous rabbi in America”, Shmuley Boteach.

Talking of Rabbi Boteach, shouted a veteran, did you hear what he said about President Kagame, the man at the helm of this leadership? “Few personalities alive have brought healing and harmony to such a devastated people.” He and his mostly-Jewish community should know.

I shyly rose from my seat to shuffle on home. Indeed, our veterans and those like the quoted rabbi appreciate the impact of this leadership on our society more fully than some of us.

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