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.