Away from the usual bravura that Rwandans like to throw at the Western countries and their organisations, a point to ponder. What’s the source of this love-hate affair that these Western institutions prefer to court on the leadership of this country? One time they are praising it for diligently doing its work of serving the people of this country and of others in the region and beyond. The next, they are choking it on a barrage of accusations of causing death and disorder to the same people. Then the storm dies and it’s all praises, only to rise again.
Interestingly, this was not the case before 1994. Immediate post-independence Rwanda enjoyed unconditional love with Western institutions that today she can only dream of. In fact, suitor competition was so steep that the West literally ran everything. France seems to have won out at some time but NGOs from other countries were in every nook and cranny. Whereas France dominated in politics and the military, socio-economic sectors were almost wholly run by a line-up of Western institutions. Rwanda was a darling of the West.
What happened to this undying love? What today attracts engineered venom rather than the unbridled amour shown after independence and before 1994?
For some reason, today’s yoyo relationship reminds me of the stories of the past of this country. And, especially, of the small spats that took place between individual colonialists and traditional leaders, in the first years of colonialism.
Skewing detail, for instance there lived a clan chief called Rukara, son of Bishingwe. He was respected by his clan and only paid homage to the overall king of Rwanda. Much as they were feared, being possessed of guns as opposed to traditional rudimentary weapons, colonialists could only deal with him on equal basis. Imagine then when a Catholic priest ordered his land partitioned without so much as an acknowledgement of his presence. When Rukara was informed, he took his men to uproot the planks dividing the land.
Father Lupias, when he got wind of it, could not believe that a colonised man could defy his orders and that he be produced before him. But Rukara was not a man to take orders from some come-lately stranger and it took protracted persuasion before he could accept that they meet halfway between both men’s residences, on different ridges.
When they met and the priest greeted him with the Kiswahili “Yambu, Rukara”, Rukara took that to be an invocation for the death of his children and, through interpreters, insulted him ‘back’. The hot-tempered Lupias slapped him, a cheek that Rukara could not swallow and so he jumped him, grabbing his neck and squeezing life out of him. Rukara walked home, reciting his bravery proclamation (ikivugo?).
Such an abomination had never been heard of in any other colony but Rwandans were not surprised. Mark you, it should not be understood that such an act meant a bent to violence as it should, a demand for equal respect. Rukara, like his people, was known for his hospitality and his protectiveness of his guests. However, a man does not insult you in your house and you laugh and say “Ndiyo, Bwana” (Yes, Sir), as Lupias expected. You anticipate what he’s ready to do and jump the gun. It’s not an eye for an eye, either. It’s stating your terms of co-operation clearly.
As expected, of course, colonialists visited mayhem on Rukara’s clan but let’s not go into the gory details. Talk about an eye for an eye. It was your clan’s collective eyes for my man’s eye!
Still, honour is honour; dignity is dignity. Rwandans may have changed tactics but they continued to be defiant of colonial bullying. Some with comical effect. Like when warrior Basebya was asked to recite the catechism. Asked who killed Jesus Christ, he protested: “You killed your relative and now you want me to be accused of withholding evidence?” Or when King Musinga pulled the beards of a Catholic priest – they used to wear them long! – simply because he detested a messenger who did not take a message back to his boss: “As a messenger of God, how do you stay put in Rwanda instead of taking back a report?”
In general, the above incidents may have been minor in nature but they showed one thing. The need on the part of colonialists to devise a long term strategy. The threat was not so much in what Rwandans did as in the fact that they were unanimous in conduct: the three characters cited above represented the three ethnic groups as fashioned by colonialism. The logical strategy that came out of all this, therefore, was to favour one ethnic group and project it as the real oppressor of other groups. The fruits of this strategy were a torn Rwanda in 1959 and a stare by Rwandans into the face of the self-immolation of 1994.
Thus, the yoyo relationship with Western official and proxy institutions. A Rwanda set on restoring her values must be shown love and hate, tossed hither and thither constantly and kept on a short leash, so as to lose direction. Or else she may break free of Western ‘management’ and that’s not good as an example for the rest of Africa. Luckily, Rwanda is sharply aware of this, even as she keeps doors open for a mutually respectful and unwavering relationship.
As I see it, this unwavering relationship may come later rather than sooner. But, oh resilience, it’ll come.